A Life of Value:  5 Steps to Define, Name, and Claim What Matters

At three pivotal moments in my life, I was asked the same question: What are your top 5 values?

The first time, I was sitting on a therapist’s couch and I stumbled and stuttered like an idiot. I really, really wanted to be a person who knew my values, and could provide them on command, but it turned out, I couldn’t. Most importantly, I wanted to be a person who lived by those values.

But that’s the funny thing, if you don’t name things and claim things, then you’re probably not living by those things. Right?

My face got really hot, and really red, which is what happens when I feel ashamed. But my therapist, who was also kind of like a fairy Godmother, said “Don’t feel ashamed—first of all, that’s not allowed here, and second of all, a LOT of people can’t name their values.”

Great! I wasn’t alone! Isn’t that what we all really want to know— that there are others out there plugging away too, others who fail but try again?

When my cheeks cooled, I set off and I made a list. A LOOOONG list. It was three pages in very small font, and it was a TREATISE to my values. Somehow I missed the top 5 thing. Still, like ever the good student, I strolled into my therapist’s office and triumphantly presented my homework. Luckily, she didn’t say what she probably really thought, and instead told me that I did a great job, and it might be a worthwhile exercise to continue to think about which values were most important. Maybe, say, PICK 5?!

The second time I was asked about my values, I was reading money and budgeting books and blogs voraciously, trying to get a handle on our family finances. Interestingly, my two favorites by Farnoosh Torabi and Lauren Greutman asked me to write down my values as a way of reducing spending and building wealth more wisely.

And there it was again, that values question. I decided to take a new approach this time, and just focus on my values when I came to money. This time, I saw that my money list didn’t really connect to my treatise. It was too limited and disconnected from the other parts of my life. It was what I thought a money values list should be.

I failed. Again!

The third and final time, I was asked this question was in an organizing book called Organizing from the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern. And this time I thought, okay, I REALLY need to get a handle on my values. This question had been nagging me for long enough! But this time, something finally clicked. It could be because I love organizing, and I found it much easier to define my values in this particular aspect of my life than the other two. Or maybe it was because my mind had been working on this question for the past few years.

Either way, I made a list of five values, and it has been a game changer! My values list reminds me of what matters when I lose my way, and helps me chart a course when I want to start something new. It makes me feel empowered. So, what are YOUR top 5 values?

The steps below will lead the way:

Step 1: Write it Down

Get out a pretty pen, and some paper you won’t lose in the paper ether. You’ve got to write this down. Thinking about it in your mind is not enough.

Step 2: Choose Your Angle

Instead of asking what your values are in all areas in your life, choose one aspect of your life you feel the most passionate and clear-headed about. For me, this was organizing.

Step 3: Make a list

Write down what draws you to that particular area of your life. My list went something like this: ease, balance, “stop and smell the roses,” take time, service oriented, it forces me to decide what I want and to be resourceful with what I have, I don’t give up until it’s finished.

Step 4: Look for Themes/Key Words

Look at your list above and write down any themes or key words you find that seem to resonate in other areas of your life. What in the list seems especially important to you? Write this down. For me, this was: “Stop and Smell the Roses”—I actually do stop and smell flowers all the time, and have my whole life. I’ll be walking with a friend, and have to stop to smell a tree in bloom because it is just so sweet. My kids now do this too, which I love! And I realize this is one of my values, I never want to be so busy and overscheduled that I can’t stop and appreciate the sweetness of my life.Another key idea/word I took from my list was “service.” I am a stickler for service. Serving others makes me feel the greatest sense of purpose. In turn, I receive love from others through their service to me. It is my love language! And, it’s a value I have in every area of my life—from motherhood to marriage, to my business, to my friendships, my spending, etc. Other words that resonated for me were: heart (of course!), resourcefulness, and integrity.

Step 5: Pick 5

Choose the most important 5 key words and phrases, and write these down. These are your Top 5 values. Read them over and see if they resonate.

I think a good test is whether you feel a spark with each word or phrase. Does it speak to many important areas of your life?

Now, post your list in a place you will see often. Maybe write it on a chalkboard, or arrange it on a cute letterboard. If you would consider it, I’d love it if you shared your list in the comments on this blog, or take a picture of your list and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #organizedbyheartvalues and tag me @organizedbyheart. I can think of nothing more amazing than reading everyone’s lists!

Next week, I’ll share an amazing tool that will help you take action on those values and plan your week! You won’t want to miss it!

With Heart,

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