How Defining My Core Values Changed My Life

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
– Henry Ford

I like to think of myself as free spirited – I’m a ‘live in a van, travel around the world, quit my job on a whim’ kind of gal! I embrace changes and I get a kick out of doing new things (I’ve lived and worked in five countries, changed careers several times over, and I’m known to take big risks in new relationships.)

On the surface, I think some of my friends and family think my life is romantic and exciting. And often it is! But underneath the shinny surface, the truth is until a few years ago, I was often deeply dissatisfied with my life.

I spent a lot of time feeling really frustrated and restless. It is hard to explain but I never felt like I was living the life I was meant to live. When the feeling got to be too much, I would change jobs, go overseas, or move to a new city; I was always looking for something, for purpose and direction, and for something to feel right.

But inevitably, the buzz of change would wear off and I’d feel restless again, without any answers. I was stuck in a cycle and by the time I turned thirty, I started thinking seriously about my choices and why I felt so empty.

Your values are about making sure what you do on the outside is matches what you heart is saying on the inside. Use your values to plan a life you love.
Let’s travel back in time to 2013. I’ve just made a ton of changes and ‘quit’ my life: I left my (first) husband, I left my job, I left my home in Australia (where I’ve lived for most of my adult life) and I went home to my mum in the States. I felt completely stripped bare, almost reborn, and I was preparing to make some big decisions about my future.

Let me be honest. I was scared and a mess (there were a lot of tears and even more wine.) But deep down, there was also a part of me that felt empowered. I knew Ihad been given a clean slate and I had a chance to create a fresh start. It was a pretty powerful feeling.

But with great power comes great responsibility; I had so many options and questions! Should I return to Australia? Or should I stay in America? And what about that handsome Englishman I had just met? I was suffering from a severe case of decision paralysis, which wasn’t helped by my bad record for making decisions.

Then one day I was browsing through Pinterest and I read this quote about values … and suddenly I started to realise what I had been doing wrong for so many years.

It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.

DO YOU KNOW YOUR VALUES

If you had asked me about my values at any other point in my life, I would have yawned and politely changed the topic. But at this point in my life, it was an eye opener. I started Googling and reading more about values and things started to click; I slowly started to see why I was struggling to find happiness.

I learned that, simply put, your values are what matter most to you. They are different for everyone and they can also change over time. They act as a compass to help you determine if something (a friend / a potential job / a new pair of shoes) will be a good fit in your life.

It was really strange and a total eye opener to realise I didn’t really know my values. I guess I always just assumed I wanted what everyone else wanted – to be happy and successful (right?) And I assumed that went something like: getting married, finding a good job and buying a house, filling a big closet full of designer shoes, and going on overseas holidays.

But I knew that at one point, I had all of those things. And I hadn’t felt happy or successful at all.

I had no idea what my real values were – and if I couldn’t define what made me feel happy or successful, how could I ever hope to feel that way?

HOW TO DISCOVER YOUR VALUES

I discovered my values by reflecting on my life – specifically moments when I had felt proud/happy/satisfied or angry/hurt/frustrated – and looking for the true cause of these feelings.

Generally, we feel good when we are living and acting in line with our values and we feel bad when we violate our values.

For example, I’m usually really happy when I start new job, but inevitably I always end up feeling restless and unhappy. When I thought long and hard, I realised that I always start to dislike my job when I stop learning new things. I started to reflect on other parts of my life – my hobbies, my studies, my travel habits – and I could see that I was most unhappy when I felt that I wasn’t growing and learning.

I spent an afternoon writing in my journal and repeating the above process until I came up with a list of my core values:

  • Care for myself
  • Care for my relationships
  • Always be learning
  • Freedom (money, possessions, time, mobility)
  • Be creative and make things (art, writing)
  • Appreciate beauty (music, nature, design)

When you’re defining your values, there are no right or wrong answers, but it is important to be honest with yourself.

HOW TO USE YOUR VALUES + HOW I CHANGED MY LIFE

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do, are in harmony.
Gandhi

That is what your values are all about – making sure what you do on the outside is matching up with what you heart is saying on the inside. Once you know your values, you can use them like a roadmap to help you plan a life that you love.

I first wrote down my values nearly three years ago and I read over my values at least once a week. Everyday I try and make sure I include a few activities that support my values, even if I don’t have much time: 15 minutes to do yoga or meditate, taking time to write or paint in the evenings, or spending a few extra minutes cuddling my Bf in the morning. These little actions help me feel happier and more positive everyday.

My values have guided me and helped me make much bigger changes as well and I feel my life has changed completely.

  • I embraced minimalism and broke a lifelong shopping habit. Along the way paid off all my debt and for the first time in my life I have savings, because I know I value my freedom more than having things.
  • I quit my ‘grown up’ job to become a professional office temp, because I value learning new things and flexibility to choose my own hours over security.
  • I sold my house and I have been living in short term accommodation. I have plans to travel and spend more time overseas with my family (more details to come soon details here.)
  • I launched this blog and I’m sharing my stories, because I know that being creative and sharing ideas brings me joy (plus I’m learning so many new things along the way!)

My life didn’t change overnight and I understand that your’s may not as well; it’s not always possible to up and quite your job or pick up and move. But, what you can control, are the little decisions you make everyday. You can choose to do more of what you love and to let go of all the rest.

Have you ever thought about your values? Do you use them to guide your decisions in life? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you x

photo credit(top): Tyssul Patel // photo credit(bottom): Sebastien Marchand // Used with permission

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21 thoughts on “How Defining My Core Values Changed My Life”

  1. Soooo proud to see a different yet so similar journey ??? sharing mine with you & wishing you all the blessings that comes with sovereignty & Empowerment!

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  2. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been longing for someone explain what values are and this nailed every spot! Have you ever read ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek?
    Also, have you come across burning out or the honeymoon phase along the way?

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  3. Help! I’m 25 and thoroughly NOT enjoying my quarter life crisis. I up and quit my 7-5 office job, packed my few things and left my boyfriend who I still and will always love, and now I’m just wondering through life in georgia. I’m so confused and afraid and alone, and I’m torn between trying to correct my mistakes and starting fresh with a clean slate. I suppose I’m just looking for validation and attempting to define and honor my values, but I have neither parental guidance in life not female role models and would just love advice on where to go from here. ?

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    • Hi Lindsey! One thing I can say is to decide what’s important to youβ€”and then commit to it. When I was in my early 20’s, I had a good idea about what mattered to me, but I wasn’t committed. I let the opions of other and what I thought I “should” be doing influence me. Looking back, I wish I’d had the courage to stay true to myself.

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      • Oops hit reply too quickly! Was just going to add, don’t worry to much about validation. In my experience, it just leaves you feeling confused. Good luck and get in touch if you need to! (I did reply to your email not sure if you got it.) Cheers Jen

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  4. So interesting! I don’t know how I have never thought of this before. Sheila from In Search of Sheila sent me to this page to help me in reaching my blog goals. It’s so funny, my boyfriend keeps a running list of his values saved at all times. I always thought he was crazy for being to Anal lol. But then…. my world was opened and I realized what I value, or what I change to make a top priority will tremendously help me in my blog growth. Thanks for Sharing!

    Katie | http://www.katieskronicles.org

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  5. That’s amazing! You made big changes that I’m sure created a happier life for you now that you are living in alignment with your values. Glad I found this post via Pinterest, very inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. hi jennifer, i was browsing to pinterest about minimalism and i saw your blog.. reading about minimalism on your blog, made me understand it more.. thank you for sharing.. i decided to go back to your first blog and read about it.. continue what your doing, continue inspiring other people.. <3

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  7. I love this, Jennifer. I think I need to do this myself.
    I’m curious: do you think it’s possible that your values could change over time, i.e. that you could acquire new values? I like the idea of having core values that we can use as a guiding light throughout our lives, but I also like the idea of growing and changing and adapting our values occasionally. Which one rings more true to you?

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    • Hmm… to be 100% honest, I think our TRUE core values stay mostly the same throughout our lives. However, I think we are often confused about our real values. When I was younger I thought career and ‘success’ were important values, but I was really just letting myself be influenced by what I heard and saw around me.

      But everyone is different and I think values can definitely change, especially after big life events (like death or birth.)

      I’d love to hear about your values if you decide to define them! Be sure to blog about it!! x

      Reply
  8. I forgot to say, if I were young, I certainly would live my life less held down. Bravo for you. You’re young and have a whole wander filled life ahead of you to do with it as you choose

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  9. Questioning our values is a process that never ends. And, it changes over time. Thank you for your heartfelt work and sharing your wonderful (very exciting life story. As a 62 yo retired woman the idea that keeps me questioning what I want my life to look like now is a Carl Jung Quote that I love. ” What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your earthly pursuits.”

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