Why it’s more useful to rely on your values rather than passion for a rewarding and meaningful work life.
Find what you love and do that, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
Sounds simple enough.
Unless you’re like me and didn’t have a searing passion that relentlessly pulled you towards a well-defined career from an early age. Or if your passion can’t readily be monetised in ways that provide you with financial security. This is where values come in.
We all have values, and they are unique to each of us. Our values guide us toward what brings meaning and a sense of fulfilment into our lives. They guide us toward the kind of person we want to be. In the work context, knowing your values helps you establish practices and habits that shape your work to support your broader life for a more meaningful, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience all around.
Let me explain that with an example.
Jane has a job that pays well. The people are nice, she enjoys performing well and being a team player, but the subject matter isn’t really interesting to her. Jane hasn’t spent much time thinking about her values but knows that her manager relies on her and that she has always received praise for going “above and beyond”. Jane’s manager often adds to her responsibilities, requiring her to work longer hours to get everything done. Jane enjoys being needed but lately she has started to feel angry and resentful towards work.
In this simple scenario, Jane isn’t clear on her values and so has unwittingly adopted external criteria to guide what kind of worker she will be – in this case being guided by her manager’s to-do list and the positive feedback from her manager and teammates.
Without knowing her own values, Jane isn’t able to recognise where to establish her work boundaries. Even though she is exceeding her manager’s expectations and “doing everything right”, Jane still ends up feeling angry and resentful because she is using the wrong criteria to judge what is right for her.
Only her own values can guide her correctly.
Let’s compare Jane to Sophie.
Sophie’s scenario is exactly the same as Jane’s except Sophie is crystal clear on her work values and how work fits in to her broader life for a meaningful and rewarding mix. Like Jane, Sophie enjoys being a valued member of the team, but when she notices that additional responsibilities would require her to compromise her values on wellbeing, family, and integrity, Sophie asks for a quick chat with her manager. In this discussion Sophie shares that she can take on the new responsibilities but would need to drop or reassign others as continuing to add to her responsibilities is not going to work.
In this scenario, Sophie notices and then takes action to allow herself to honour her work values – which include doing a good job and being a team player – and also to maintain her values from the other areas of her life that bring meaning and fulfillment.
Thankfully, in this imaginary scenario Sophie’s manager responded well to her concern. However even if Sophie’s manager didn’t agree with her request, Sophie’s values can still guide her next steps.
There are too many potential scenarios to unpack here but suffice it to say: a solid understanding of our own values is helpful even when situations don’t go our way.
So it’s okay if your passion isn’t your career - for most people this isn’t the case.
But it is important to understand how your work fits into your broader life, and to notice when that balance is off. Getting clear on your values can guide you on where to make tweaks and adjustments for a more rewarding and less draining work life.
For a fun and playful way to start thinking about your values, try this exercise: imagine you’re at your 99th birthday party. Family, friends, and colleagues from throughout your career are giving speeches about you and extolling your virtues. What are some of the qualities they mention that make you most proud of how you conducted yourself throughout your career?
This can be a fun journaling exercise or a topic of discussion a friend over a cuppa or glass of vino.
As we head into the holiday period there is much talk about rest but can we value rest for the peace, joy, and comfort it brings, or must we always link it back to productivity dividends?
Rest is a concept that we intuitively know. It’s stopping, relaxing, recharging after a period of stress and hard work. I’ve been doing a lot of research on what the social science experts have to say on the subject. It’s all very interesting, but in study after study there is a common theme - justifying rest as a means to increased productivity.
I get where they’re coming from. Productivity is good, but I’m increasingly starting to see we’re suffering under the illusion that productivity is everything.
By needing to justify the importance of rest in the language of productivity, we’re playing the same game that has led to so much burnout and suffering - one of pushing, hustling, and striving to prove our worthiness through productivity. Even when it comes to rest.
So even though we intuitively know what it is to rest, I don’t think we’re very good at it in practice.
We’ve smothered it with cultural meaning and judgement that oscillates between outright laziness and a means for increased performance.
But imagine a world where we did value rest as an end in itself.
Where you could declare, having found yourself with a spare moment, ‘I’m having a nap’ with as much virtue and swagger as one might say ‘I’m getting a jump on my taxes’. When sitting in the Sun daydreaming isn’t just the domain of whimsical poets derided by the ‘serious’ corporate types, but an activity that is valued as a joyful moment, without consideration of future potential productivity.
It is an imaginary world indeed.
Because we can learn to step back from the cultural baggage that burdens the concept of rest. We can broaden our value system beyond the myopia of productivity.
This will give us freedom to make choices that reflect who we really are and how we want to spend our ‘one wild and precious life’.
…. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life.
From Mary Oliver’s Summer’s Day
When you find yourself exhausted by work, uninspired by life, and not sure where to start to create the change you’re after; long-service leave can be a circuit breaker to give yourself some room to breathe, take stock, and figure things out.
It is a privilege to have the option of taking long-service leave, which is all the more reason to use it carefully and with intention. But that’s not as easy as it sounds.
When you’re burnt out and solutions for change are elusive, it’s likely you don’t have much spare mental capacity or energy to make a solid plan to get the most from your leave and create the change you want and need.
You tell yourself ‘just make it until leave starts, and then figure things out…’
But without a plan, leave can whizz by in a flash and you find yourself back at work with things feeling the same, having made no progress. The old patterns and frustrations are still there, but this time your leave balance is zero… I know because this happened to me - twice!
But I’ve done the hard work for you so you can avoid wasting your precious leave. There are 4 key areas to consider in the lead up to, and during, your leave that will help you emerge with a sparkly new sense of purpose, direction, and motivation.
Sounds delicious but a bit lofty right? Well I ground the sparkle with some really practical tools and techniques. We are going for real change not just a new coat of paint!
Life (and leave) is too short and precious to half-arse it. So let’s aim a little higher than ‘just making it through the day’.
Contact me to book in a free chat.
* Not knowing the answer straight away is ok and is actually where I started my journey. It’s a great place to start.
Let’s unpack what we mean when we use the term perfectionism.
This term can be used a little too light heartedly and dismissively to describe a character trait that the Harvard Business Review describes as increasing in prevalence and as being linked with burnout, workaholism, anxiety, and depression.
As a recovering perfectionist, I have definitely been guilty of this.
Light heartedness when exploring personal growth is good, but I wasn’t paying proper respect to the big and powerful feelings perfectionism evokes. Big emotions have strong influence over our behaviour (even without our explicit awareness).
Without acknowledging the true qualities of perfectionism and how it showed up in me, I wasn’t giving myself the best possible chance to change the way it negatively influenced my behaviour.
Liz Gilbert said, “perfectionism is fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat”.
As always, Liz gets to the heart of it. Perfectionism is based in fear, and the term perfectionism glosses over the raw fear-based vulnerabilities that are the heart of perfectionism
Consider the classic interview question, ”What is your greatest weakness?” To which the savvy (but unimaginative) interviewee might reply; “Well I suppose I’m a perfectionist, I just work too hard…”
Let’s replay that scenario without the proverbial shoes and mink coat of the term perfectionism covering up the raw truth.
“What is your greatest weakness?” “Well, I hold impossibly high standards for myself and at times others, and my self-worth is tied to my productivity. Research shows that this approach to work doesn’t mean I’m more effective, but that I am more susceptible to burnout.”
Not so smooth right!?
Perfectionism may present in a range of behaviours, including excessively high standards and drive, high stress, and anxiety. Perhaps surprisingly, it can also manifest as procrastination. Doubtless, some of the procrastinators out there have been dismissing their lack of progress as “laziness” or “lack of motivation”, when really perfectionism is the dynamic at play.
I used to always get swept along by my perfectionist responses to situations which left me exhausted and feeling trapped by circumstance, for example not being able to leave work until that big task is done. Through my training as a coach and working with other coaches, I’ve learnt new ways to respond. Of course I’m still working on these skills and am not perfect. Pun intended.
By recognising perfectionism’s roots in fear, we can see it in a new deferential light and are motivated to look a little deeper because we don’t want fear controlling our decisions unnecessarily.
So next time you identify as a perfectionist, perhaps pause a moment longer and consider how much this trait is shaping your life? Is it helping you create the life you want?
With compassionate mindful action the beast of perfectionism can be tamed.
The Sunday Night Dreads is the gloom that descends towards the end of the weekend as thoughts turn towards the week ahead.
I used to lose huge chunks of my weekend to the Sunday Night Dreads. I would be doing my Sunday activities (seeing family, cooking, ironing etc) but I would be lost in the anticipation and anxiety of the coming week. Lots of worrying, ruminating and not enjoying the evening in a relaxing rejuvenating way.
By Monday afternoon the Dreads had passed. I’d given myself over to the work and was committed to the adrenalin rush of tackling urgent challenges, meeting deadlines at the last minute and drunk on the sense of control from perpetually finishing just one more task.
The clamour of the workplace is a strange siren song that drowned out the quiet whispers of my spirit longing to be elsewhere.
Whilst immersed in the work I was free from the longing that burdened me on Sunday evenings. My Sunday Night Dreads were weaved with laments about precious time given to work endeavours that didn’t feed my soul but assuaged my ego’s need to avoid criticism and fed its insatiable need for praise.
On Sunday Evenings I felt the full force of resistance to the life I had created. I can see now it was my body and spirt imploring me to course correct towards a life that better aligned with my true self.
But the pathways for change were unclear and scary.
I lacked the tools and confidence to explore them. So each week I sat in my Sunday Night Dreads feeling hopeless and the only relief I knew was to sink back into work.
And so it continued…until my body gave me little option but to stop. Burnt out.
The Sunday Night Dreads are no longer part of my life. Each Sunday I still marvel at this fact, and they don’t have to be a part of yours either. I firmly believe you don’t need to upend your life like I did to escape the Dreads. There are some small steps you can take to start edging the needle in a new direction.
Get curious about how the Sunday Night Dreads show up for you.
How do they feel and what do you think about when you’re having your Sunday Night Dreads?
Refocus onto Your Weekend.
Practice bringing your attention (both thoughts and physical action) to things other than work on Sunday. For example, if you’re preparing the week’s lunches, notice everything you can about that activity. If thoughts of work come up say “Thank you Dreads, I’m focusing on making lunches now”.
Acknowledge the Wisdom in Your Dreads
Is there some useful information in your Dreads? Are they inviting you to consider changes? Perhaps to introduce a moment of peace, fun or excitement into your week? Whatever it may be, can you acknowledge that, without any obligation to take action.
The key take home is that your Sunday Night Dreads do not just need to be tolerated and may hold some wisdom for you. But we’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’d like more on Sunday Dreads, check out my IGTV series on Instagram or contact me for a free chat about how I can support you navigate these waters. There IS a better way than suffering through the Dreads.
Shifting standards for myself; not perfect, honest.
I’m shifting my expectations of myself. For years it was perfection. Be perfect, please everyone, perform great, get it all done. Of course I wasn’t perfect so this strategy certainly had it’s flaws… cue dissatisfaction, confusion and mental and physical burnout.
Now I’m trying something new and it feels a little radical. I’m getting really honest.
Starting with just myself and my inner dialogue.
We tell ourselves so many lies to keep the peace and smooth the social waters that we lose sight of what is true and what isn’t. “This job is fiinnneee”. “I’m happy to compromise on that thing, it’s fiiinnnnneeee” “ Oh sure I’m comfortable with that, no worrrriiiieeeessss”.
So as a recovering perfectionist, who has people pleasing deep in her DNA, I’m trying something new.
Swapping Perfect for Honest. It’s going to be a learning curve, and I’m not going to be perfect at it, and that’s okay.
P.S This isn’t about harsh truth telling, honesty without compassion or kindness isn’t my bag.
What do I need in this moment?
The simplicity of truly honest answers can be confusing sometimes. We might skip right over the truth and go searching for more complex and complicated answers.
Being really honest with ourselves is a great place, perhaps the only place, to start to create positive change.
When we honestly acknowledge how we are feeling in the present moment, we get in touch with our true self and from there can better see our next steps forward.
But learning to trust our own answers can be a skill we need to relearn.
When we honestly answer the question ‘How am I feeling' right now, in this present moment, we can be baffled by seemingly simple answers. I’m tired, I’m thirsty…
In the present moment we only have to deal with what is, right now.
When I coach women about what they really want and yearn for, so often the answer is “to take a nap', delivered with a dismissive laugh as if to imply that’s not a legitimate answer.
It is actually an excellent answer.
When you pause and ask yourself, 'what do I honestly want right now', if you are exhausted from the hustle of modern life, gifting your precious body with a nap is a beautiful and worthwhile next step.
So with small steps we can relearn to trust our inner guidance and respond to the (sometimes surprisingly simple) needs we have moment to moment.
With this honesty we see things in a new light and can see our next steps more clearly.
Wonder needs a little moment to settle into our bones.
Last night I stood in my front yard as the International Space Station passed directly overhead.
Shining as bright as any star in the sky.
In the hustle and bustle of life, I could have quickly returned to the warmth inside and gotten on with the many activities of a Sunday evening.
But I gave wonder a moment. I paused and turned all of my attention to the ISS.
I thought of the 7 astronauts, zipping across the sky 400 kilometres above me. Orbiting the Earth more than 15 times a day, moving at 7.66 km/s. Yes that’s PER SECOND.
And of course there is the wonderous achievement of international collaboration that the ISS represents. For over 20 years it’s been home to humans, and it’s maintained by ongoing international coordination and collaboration.
Perhaps there is hope for us humans after all.
It really is a wonder.
Values are unique to each of use. They bring meaning to our values and help us answer the question: what really matters to me and what kind of person do I want to be – what do I want to stand for?
Values aren’t goals. Goals are things that can be achieved, ticked off a list. Values on the other hand are ongoing.
There are many ways to start clarifying what your own unique set of values are. Your values are unique to you and it is worth pondering what matters to you. We can be easily persuaded to fill our day with important and busy work… but if it doesn’t align with our values, we will find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day, and missing that sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that comes when our actions align with our values.
I was recently reminded that listing out values is not enough. Values really need to be like a verb, a doing word.
Values require action. You need to do, act and feel, to enjoy the sense of fulfilment and the richness in life that comes from living aligned with your values.
So how do I make the leap from a list of values to the embodied action of living my values?
Here are 4 steps you can start with:
Identify action that is aligned with your values
Knowing how to harness your values can be a great source of strength and motivation, if you'd like to know more about how to do this in your life, contact me for a chat!
Work place culture has been a topic of discussion in the news lately as awful events are uncovered and investigated. As I follow these discussions, my mind keeps returning to a thing called ethical fading and the importance of knowing your own self and your own values.
In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek explains that ethical fading occurs when a company’s culture allows people to act in unethical ways to advance their own interests at the expense of others, whilst falsely believing that they have not compromised their moral principles.
A work place environment fosters ethical fading when it rewards outcomes regardless of the means in which those outcomes are achieved, when integrity is not valued, and when there is little tolerance for falling short of company expectations or performance goals.
There are many corporate examples where ethical fading has resulted in astonishing system wide corruption. Sinek points to the endemic corruption in Wells Fargo where from 2002 until 2016 employees used fraud to meet impossible sales targets.
Interestingly, people involved in ethically dubious practices in a culture that supports ethical fading don’t necessarily struggle with guilt or moral dilemmas. Ann Tenbrunsel and David Messick argue that self-deception allows individuals to rationalise their behaviour, enabled by a number of conditions, including using creative language (euphemisms) to obscure the moral or ethical implications of their decisions - in other words the stories they tell themselves about their unethical actions. And seeing past practices as an acceptable standard for similar (albeit slightly poorer) current practices, can result in a shift overtime that normalises unethical and illegal activities (small indiscretions aren’t called out and the norm is shifted).
It all starts with small, seemingly innocuous transgressions that then grow and compound.
This is heavy stuff. And it seems overwhelming when it is seen as a company-wide or system-wide issue.
So why is a life coach writing about it?
I find it is helpful to put a name to the socially constructed environments we find ourselves in. Seeing it as a social construct reminds us that it doesn’t have to be this way. It also reminds us how crucial it is that we know our own selves and know how to identify where our own values and integrity lie (helping you do that is my job). Without this as a starting point how could we ever withstand the influence of ethical fading if we were to find ourselves in such a work place.