Crafting Your Identity Part IV: prioritize your values
Virtues help you orient yourself against what you know to be true north. No matter what part of your journey you are in, you can always realign yourself with your moral compass, looking to your virtues as the golden standard against which you measure your actions.
If virtue's are your compass (your how), values are your map (your what).
Values help you define precisely where you want to go by prioritizing your life. In this series on Crafting Your Identity, I may use 'values' and 'priorities' interchangeably, referring to the links along the path to living "the good life." If something comes up that doesn't align with your values - it is "off-route" and a waste of time. If, however, you are presented with an opportunity that opens up another stretch of road between your current location and your destination, you can be sure that you should take it because it matches up with your value set.
Values can be anything from "more time with my family" to "financial security." Whatever you judge as being worthwhile or key to living the "good life". To a single man who has no family, "more time with my family" might look more like "time off work to travel the world." It's all very different from person to person whether the values themselves or their priority in your life.
I believe that a lot of time and resources are wasted on things that bring little or no value to our lives. This sort of waste isn't due to a person's refusal to do something they love. It's much more subtle than that. It's because they don't know what is worth their time. Often, to the degree that they don't even recognize the waste for what it is.
Defining your values may be more revealing than you think it to be. Of course, we all know what we love when we see or experience it. But those things tend to get lost in the shuffle of life because we haven't made the time for them amongst all of the incessant things that crop up that we love only a little bit.
Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource and yet we are so quick to squander it on things that barely deserve our attention much less our time. Did you know we spend almost 3 hours a day looking down at our mobile phones, generally on some form of social media? That's a lot of life we are missing for a screen full of tweets. Knowing that social media ranks #23rd on your list of values almost forces you to be aware of how you are spending your time. Strangely enough, something as simple as writing down what you are spending your time on can make you more intentional about how you spend it.
If the thing that brings you the most joy is playing freeze tag in the backyard with your family on a late summer evening, wouldn't it make the most sense to maximize the amount of time that you get to do so? Instead, how often do we find ourselves staying late at work because something "has to be done tonight" or spending our evening out with the girls. With each minute that passes, the remaining minutes of your life become incrementally more valuable to you. Rather than spend the increasingly valuable minutes on #23, why not spending them on numbers 1-10 on your value list?
So here's the breakdown:
1. Make a comprehensive list of what you value
Don't be shy here - this is your list. Don't worry about getting them in order just yet; try for quantity over quality. Broad, narrow, personal, general, cliche, quirky... any and everything that you strongly value, get them out on paper.
Here are a few of mine for reference. Again, no particular order, not very well refined and just brain-vomited out on the page.
- Constant Learning
- Well-made things
- Game nights
- Working with my hands
- Simple, free time
- Coffee in the mornings
- Showers in the morning
- Hard work
- Legacy Work
- Going to the movies
- Camp fires
- Live Performances / Creative gatherings
- Counseling others
2. Narrow your list down to your top 10-20
This isn't because the things below the cut off don't matter or that you should write them out of your life entirely. It's to help limit the amount of things that distract you from the few that truly matter. If things are "below the line" in your mind, you'll be intentional about spending less time on them. You only have so much time in your life and working toward your top 10-20 values will easily fill up your time and attention. This is a good time to consider the scope of your values. You might find that combining a few detailed values into a general one will help you cut down your list and still cover the major areas of your life.
3. Reorder them based on priority
You've got your top values written out somewhere which is a tremendous step forward. This third step is to give you increased clarity when trying to decide between the better of two goods. I've listed my values below and also my chosen virtues to help clarify the difference between the two for you.
My Values - that which I am intentionally pursuing
- Faith + Ministry
- Friends + Community
- Legacy Work
- Creative Output
- Financial Security
- Travel + Adventure
- Physical Exertion + Fitness
- Rest + Rejuvenation
My Virtues - the ways in which I will pursue my values
I hope that you will find the value (no pun intended) in this exercise. There's something almost magical about putting things down on paper. You will find yourself aware of what you are spending your time on and hopefully, shift your lifestyle choices to reflect that which you truly love and are fulfilled by.