Living Your Values When Life Isn’t Great

We often find ourselves in situations that we don’t want to be in or having to do things we don’t particularly like. But what happens if we take the time to get in touch with our values; to clarify what sort of person we want to be and how we want to treat ourselves and others? Once we know our values, we can ‘sprinkle’ them into our actions; use them to ‘flavour’ whatever we are saying and doing. And almost always when we do this, whatever we’re doing then becomes far more rewarding.

For example, consider the case of Rob, a 22-year-old university student. While Rob was studying a five-year architecture course, he was working part-time as a waiter to help pay his way. He told me that he hated his job, but he needed the money to pay for his food and board. He knew it was only temporary and that in one more year he’d be working as an architect, but that didn’t stop him from dreading every shift. It wasn’t that he worked in a horrible place or had some terrible boss; he just didn’t like the work. The only other part-time work he could get was cleaning, stocking shelves, serving hamburgers or bartending, and these were, in his opinion, even worse.

I questioned him about his values and how he could use them to transform his relationship with his job. He identified values such as mindfulness, caring, curiosity, openness warmth and humour. I then asked him what might happen if he engaged mindfully with the customers? What difference might it make if he were to be fully present? To pay attention with openness and curiosity to the clothes they wore, the style of their hair, and the tone and rhythm of their voices? To notice the way that they ate and drank and spoke? To notice their facial expressions and physical gestures? And what might happen if he was more caring about the customers: if he cared about their experience in the restaurant and the quality of his service?

Inspired by this way of thinking, Rob had an idea. He would become a ‘Zen master of pizza delivery’. He would connect mindfully with his body to ensure he had the best possible posture and carry that pizza as if it were a priceless work of art. He would be more caring about how he lowered that pizza to the table; he’d lay it down as if placing it in front of a king. All the while, he would contribute warmth and good grace and he’d also share his excellent sense of humour.

And the result? Well, his work didn’t magically turn into some ‘dream job’, but it did become much more fulfilling. He wasn’t ‘just waiting pizzas’ anymore; now he was contributing to people’s lives, challenging his body, engaging in the world, developing his mindfulness skills and having moments of fun along the way. He was staggered by the difference it made. The dread disappeared and so did the boredom. There was still a huge difference between the job he ideally wanted and the one he had, but he had discovered the fulfilment of living by his values.

Dr Russ Harris

23 Nov 2017

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