A lot has happened since my last post. The world has turned upside down, and our day-to-day normal has changed. Most of us are working from home, sheltering in place, etc.
But not much has changed for me on the outside. I work for the defense industry, so our work is considered “essential.” I still come to work, still test units day-in and day-out, write automated scripts, QA other developers’ codes.
Inside, it’s a different story.
The pandemic has come at such an interesting time for me when I have been slowly learning to accept myself and all of my idiosyncrasies as a person, a kindness I usually extend to others in my life but keep from myself. I have grown more comfortable in my own skin, and I find myself dabbling in educated risk-taking.
There are a few external symptoms to these internal changes: I have become more vocal about my opinions on Twitter. I have given into journaling, reluctantly at first though I’ve come to embrace it as a vital part of my personal journey. But most noticeably, I have stopped feeling guilty about my decisions.
I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve been baffled by these changes.
“I feel like a completely different person than a few months ago. Where is this all coming from?” I kept repeating this sentiment to myself, my friends, my family. The replies varied, and they all hit upon the symptoms of the change I felt within me, but none of them felt right.
Something had changed from within, fundamentally.
It wasn’t until the middle of the month when I was answering a journal prompt about tending to my emotional needs that I discovered the answer: I have been aligning my choices with my values much more frequently.
It sounds simple, but many choices we make in life are tagged with a pang of fear. We always want to know, “Am I making the right choice?” This could range from choosing what to watch on Netflix to a decision about a career change. Perhaps this is why I, like many of my peers, find myself on Instagram, crowdsourcing the smaller, more menial choices like buying a book or choosing a top to wear.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that kind of crowdsourcing. Some decisions are not life or death (like which top to wear). It’s surely a way to socialize and have fun with our friends and our communities, but left unchecked, this kind of crowdsourcing can lead to this subconscious feeling that we are not in control of our lives.
In fact, pre-pandemic, I used to see a plethora of tweets, Tumblr posts, Facebook statuses, etc. that all felt pretty nihilistic. I was not exempt from this, either. We all felt trapped.
Enter the pandemic.
Disclaimer alert: I do not discount the effects that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on a global scale, but I am no scientific or societal expert, either. What I am interested in is the effects of this pandemic on the way of life on a personal, more emotional level.
For me personally, the COVID-19 has been a wake-up call. Of course, I’ve known the world is broken and needs help in being rebuilt. Of course, I’ve known there are injustices in the world. But in all this, I’d felt helpless pre-pandemic. What is one person against the world?
I was in a similar place in 2016, after 45’s baffling election, but I do not think I was in the right mindset back then. I did not have the wisdom of consistency, the lessons of intentionality, to resist in a truly meaningful way.
There’s a proverb in Farsi that more or less translates to, “The light that is needed at home is ill-gotten by the mosque.” In other words, we need to better care for ourselves, and that means our mental, emotional, and spiritual health along with physical health, before we care for the world.
By no means am I suggesting that I have found all the answers, but I have stumbled upon a path forward that has the merits of sharing. I am suggesting that changing the world begins with not only knowing but practicing our values.
Finding Your Core Values
The first step of practicing values is finding them. This is a popular list of values I’ve seen circulating through the motivational and mental health communities as of late.
The suggestion here is to only pick five or six core values from this list (or create your own) as your guiding light through the haze of life.
Chances are that you already have a set of values, and strong ones, too, but you only need to put a name and face to them and acquaint better with them.
I selected my values through gauging each word on that list with my gut instincts. I ended up with about a list of six total values, in no particular order, that now guide most of my decisions:
Find Your Why
This list can feel good, but it requires a little more depth to figure out why these words are important to you.
Journaling is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to highlight this importance. I wrote in my journal a few days ago before writing this post that “Love is the most important of all of my values. It roots into all the other values, and it is the core of all cores. Love in all of its many forms feeds into balance, into growth, into community, creativity, and even authenticity in the form of self-love.”
This kind of insight has given me a deeper look into my own soul and helped me accept myself in the most fundamental of ways.
Post-It Your Core Values
Seeing, as they say, is believing. I’m a visual learner, so I have to keep seeing my values everyday in order to remember them. When I first did this exercise more than a year ago, I wrote it on a hot pink Post-It note and stuck it to the first page of my daily planner.
If you’re not a visual person like me, it might help to ingrain these values in other ways: by repeating them out loud to yourself every day as you wake up or writing them down at the beginning of your journal (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Either way, the key here is that values need to be acknowledged on a daily basis in order to be understood on a deeper level.
Put Your Values Where Your Mouth Is
One of my favorite mantras on this topic originates from Lilly Singh, famous YouTuber and late-night show host: “It’s important to have values, not hobbies.” This is not to say that hobbies are not important in our lives, but if core values are the infrastructure of our personal lives, they only serve us well if they are relatively unchanging.
Core values are, of course, changeable. As humans, we all change and grow, one way or another. But core values are much like constitutional amendments. They should not be changed every day but maybe every few years or even decades as life’s lessons become more clear for us.
Since last year, for example, when I first did this exercise, I have changed two of my values: I have added “community” to the list of my values and have omitted “empathy” since in my eyes, compassion and empathy are secondary values that stem from love.
Your Values Are Not Anyone Else’s
Everyone has different values. Your list and mine will naturally look different.
This is where the biggest challenge lies: to fight for your values despite the noise in the outside world. While friends and family might want what’s best for you, they are ultimately not in charge of your life. They are looking at your struggles and your situation through the lense of their own values.
This is a lesson that I honestly wish I had learned earlier, because it has cost me dearly in many aspects of my life. Too often I have given the reigns of very important decisions in my life over to others, most of them well-meaning.
Trust your gut feelings when it comes to your values. They will guide you when the time is right.
Compassion in Practicing Core Values
As mentioned above, we are human and, therefore, not perfect. Even if we have the best intention at heart for practicing our values, we are still going to slip up.
Having compassion for ourselves and being patient as we learn to become better versions of ourselves are both keys to stronger values.
The event that triggered this blog post showed me that I usually am too quiet in the face of injustice, which stems from my core value of “authenticity.” As soon as I admitted to myself that I have been working against that value, a lot of my feelings of guilt and uncertainty evaporated.
This is a hard time for many of us. We are faced with much more uncertainty and unknown variables than ever before. But in such a foggy time, I hope our core values will light the way towards a better and brighter future.
I’m curious to learn, what are your core values? Leave a comment or tweet @yasaminnb on the Twitterosphere. Special thanks to Grace @gwasserst for reviewing and editing my posts.