Evaluating Values

This week it is my hope that I’ve turned another year wiser. Birthdays, and other occasions that mark the passage of time, often bring forth a period of focused reflection for me. Inevitably I end up sitting with some familiar questions, such as: Am I prioritizing what gives my life health, meaning, and joy? Am I being fully present to what really matters to me? And, what are my goals for living well and on purpose in the year ahead? 


These questions cause me to think of an exercise I once learned that helps to distinguish a value from an ideal. The way to know the difference between the two is by where time is spent. If it is a value, it will hold some space on the calendar. An ideal, however, is something we want at some point, down the road, but we aren’t quite ready to sacrifice for it just yet. 


The reality check comes into play when we list what we think our values are, and then log beside each one an approximation of how much time we have actually spent on it. For example, perhaps your values include things like physical fitness, having family meals together, and advocating for the marginalized in society. Now ask yourself how much time have you spent on each of these said values in the past year? Is it daily, weekly, monthly? If the answer is hardly at all or none then it’s not really a value, rather it is an ideal. And that’s okay, ideals are worthy concepts to which we can aspire, a starting point of sorts. Yet the distinction is important: a value is what we actually live out.


In taking a truthful look at how we spend our limited time (and with whom), we can either affirm that our values are on the mark or not. Thankfully we can make adjustments when necessary, to bring an ideal into the practiced value zone or to let go of something that is no longer relevant. This requires a certain amount of introspection, vigilance and discipline. In our manic society (as author Robert Holden calls it), it can be quite counter-cultural to make room in our schedules to really tune in to how we’re doing in this life experience. Yet the discoveries that come from pausing to evaluate can be liberating as we free ourselves up to live more authentically. And, as I am blessed to be starting another journey around the sun, I realize once again just how valuable that is. May you be inspired!

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