I always looked enviously at people who seemed to know who they really were.
You know those people—the ones who appear self-assured, unapologetic, and follow their dreams?
I didn’t get it.
Or, rather, I didn’t get me.
I knew I liked being funny and making people laugh; but, I also knew that it felt so terrible every time I made a joke that hurt someone’s feelings or they took the wrong way. I’d, then, shy away and beat myself up—I’d question myself.
The Dalai Lama has been someone who I’ve looked up to for years, trying to live by his example, yet every day I would scream bloody murder at the dogs because they were begging for food in the kitchen again. Every time I did it, it felt wrong, and I felt like an imposter—preaching peace but not living up to it.
At gatherings, I’d have ideas I wanted to contribute to conversations but got stuck thinking people will find them dumb, so I kept quiet. It mattered so much to me to be able to share my ideas and intelligence, but concern over what people thought of me held me back.
I wanted desperately to live “authentically,” but I didn’t even know who the authentic me was—not consciously, anyway.
When I introduced myself, I would say what my job was or where I lived, or I’d describe myself in relation to others: wife, sister, friend, coworker.
“Hi, I’m Sandy, Senior Marketing Manager. I live in Maine, and I work with Christina.”
Those aren’t me, though.
Who was I, really?
If I were to describe the real me to someone I’d never met, what words would I even use?
Several years ago, I sought out to answer that question. A colleague of mine once mentioned her personal values, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t been living in tune with mine. The reason for that was I didn’t know what my values were!
She introduced me to core value work: to identify the qualities about myself that made me, me—I found it absolutely illuminating.
Discovering my values.
What I learned about myself was, above all, I value compassion. As much as I love laughing and making others laugh, I value compassion more.
But who is to say which is better: humor or compassion? The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer here.
A comedian who makes 10,000 people laugh at their show might value humor more than compassion. They believe that making 10,000 people feel good and enjoy themselves is more important than potentially hurting a few people’s feelings when they make a “fat joke.”
For me, the reason why I felt so terrible inside every time I’ve had to put my foot in my mouth after telling a joke in poor taste or with bad timing is that I value compassion just a bit more than humor.
We all have values, but no two people have the exact same set of values, in the same priority, to the same degree.
That is what makes us all unique.
So, by recognizing my values—and which ones mattered more to me than others—I was given a brighter flashlight to get through the woods of life.
Everything about myself and how I was judging other people came clearer into view.
Finding my disvalues.
When I realized how important compassion was to me, it also clued me into my disvalues—the values we abhor. Anger and cruelty are disvalues to me.
When I was screaming at the dogs, because they were simply doing what dogs do—staring at you until you give them food—it felt wrong. I convinced myself that the end justified the means.
But screaming at the dogs was not a compassionate way to show up in the world; it was driven by anger; it was cruel to make the dogs feel unloved and unwanted as they sulked away with their tails between their legs.
By making a tiny shift and stepping into my core value of compassion, I stopped caring that the dogs were underfoot as I cooked dinner. I stopped feeling angry; I stopped yelling.
And I felt more me.
Five Steps to Discover Who you Really are by Finding your Core Values
We all have tons of values—dozens of them. But identifying our top core values is really what we want to focus on.
After years of working with core values, I’ve created this process to identify, define, and prioritize our top values; in order to step into authentic living with some self-reflection.
1. How do you want to be remembered?
Imagine it’s your 95th birthday. Family and friends are gathered to celebrate and honor you and the amazing life you’ve led. As a toast is given on your behalf, what would you love to hear said about you?
List the qualities that come to mind that you’d like to hear when being described.
If there are accomplishments you would love to hear listed off, what qualities within you would it take to achieve those feats?
2. Who do you admire?
Take a look at who you admire; it could be a family member, friend, teacher, celebrity, politician, or even a person from history or fiction. Then, list the qualities about them that you admire.
You’ll start to see some of the same qualities popping up. You admire those qualities because those are values you, too, want to live by.
For example, here are a few of mine (and you can see some similarities):
Dalai Lama: Kind, compassionate, intelligent, spiritual
Oprah: Successful, kind, individual, intelligent, spiritual
Dad: Individual, intelligent, funny
There are two reasons why this part of the exercise is great. For one, it helps you identify values that are important to you.
But, also, when you find yourself in a situation (like me yelling at the dogs), it gives you a guiding light to be able to picture how a person you admire would handle the situation. The Dalai Lama would never scream at two dogs who just want a scrap of carrot.
3. Rank your values
It was important for me to realize that compassion is more important to me than humor. This knowledge is a guiding light for me—reminding me how I want to show up in the world.
Look at two of your values at a time; which one feels stronger to you (like compassion or humor)? Once you’ve gone through, pitting value against value, rank them in priority of which ones matter more to you.
My top core values are:
5. Purposeful growth
4. Are you living in tune with your values?
So often, we don’t give ourselves credit for our successes and what we are already doing well.
Recognize all the ways you are currently living your authentic life by reflecting on how you are already living in tune with these values.
Take a moment to feel proud of your authenticity!
5. Where is there an opportunity for better alignment with your values?
As you get to know yourself better, it’s easy to identify moments that are inauthentic, like how I started to notice that I got angry at every little thing.
I also started to let the discomfort of fear hold me back from speaking up in a crowd. Knowing that courage was one of the important values I wanted to live by gave me the push I needed to share my ideas.
I started to notice how judgmental I would get thinking about other people; not only is that not a compassionate way of thinking, judgment is also the opposite of curiosity.
Sometimes I would get so focused on purposeful growth—like diving both feet into a new training or program—taking it so seriously, I would forget to stop and laugh and have silly fun with my husband.
Even though compassion is my highest core value, I found myself indulging in negative self-talk every time I made a mistake. I had to take time and reflect on what compassion really meant, and see that I was excluded from the receiving end of my own compassion. This was pivotal for me to start motivating myself with kindness instead of criticism—just like I do everyone else.
Spend some time reflecting on your opportunities to gain better alignment with your values.
The key to discovering your authentic self—to live that self-assured, unapologetic life of following your dreams—is to identify your core values. They are the spice blend added to a dish called you.