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There we were, sitting in a tiny pizza shop in the most southern region of Chile, feeling sore, stiff and exhausted. It was nine on a Saturday evening. As our vegan pizzas arrived, we smiled from ear to ear, raised our glasses and cheersed as we bathed in the sweet satisfaction of officially calling ourselves ‘finishers’ of the Patagonian International Marathon.
How did we even get here? About two years ago, we asked ourselves a simple question that has since been the source of major positive changes in our life and the lives of many others. It is a question that has the power to create movement in your life when it feels stagnant, to generate inspiration when the fire is out and to replace resentment with freedom. Here it is: “If I were to live my most values-aligned life, how would my life be different?’”
As humans, we all have a set of core values—the virtues and principles that are most important to us. While the first step is to determine what your core values are, it is the act of living in alignment with them that can create freedom and power.
It’s important to differentiate temporary values from core values. For instance, in times of a financial crisis, security can become a focus and a temporary value for someone who generally does not care much about money. Independence can take highest priority for a young adult wanting to leave home. Health often takes a front seat when someone becomes sick or injured. Core values, however, remain stable across time and circumstance.
Core values enable us to be grounded. For a tree to thrive, it must be grounded with its roots in the earth, yet remain flexible and adaptive when the wind blows or snow settles on its branches. Similarly, when we are clear on our core values, our roots, and act in alignment with them, we can adapt and adjust dynamically to our environment, yet always feel stable and on path.
In a world with ever-increasing demands, distractions and mental pollution, it can be easy to lose touch with what is most important to us. Rarely do we give ourselves permission to reflect on such questions and be receptive to our answers. As we do this, it is important to keep in mind that our insights may be confronting and can reveal much needed change. This change, however, is necessary on the path to a fulfilled life.
Connecting to our core values simplifies the process of making better choices, both for us and others. For instance, if empathy is one of your core values and you find yourself frustrated at the end of a busy line at the supermarket, you may choose to smile at the overwhelmed employee instead of frowning over the queue. If compassion is one of your core values, you may consider the implications of your current dietary choices and choose more plant-based dishes over animal products. If commitment is one of your core values, you may choose to give up the cosiness of your bed and go for your morning run. When we think, speak and act in alignment, it gives us greater freedom and power.
Before we uprooted our past life, we asked ourselves the same question, “If we were to live our most values-aligned life, how would our life be different?” Our answers have led us on the most transformative adventure.
For Jamin, his exploration began late one night at his work desk. Head in the palm of his hands and tears streaming down his face, he was dominated with thoughts of failure as he was confronted by the realities of his situation. Feeling broke, busy and burnt-out, he decided to write about all the misalignments in his life: his health, career, finances, social life, family and spirituality. Seeing it all down on paper, his next intention was to create. Given it was the choices from the past that had gotten him to this point, he knew that the choices in the now could help create something new for the future.
This insight and inquiry became the source of the new life that is now unfolding for us both. It includes living in different places around the world, running marathons in extraordinary locations, embracing a plant-based diet, running an international leadership business and cultivating deeper relationships with friends and family. Actions which are in alignment with or core values, courage, contribution, growth, connection and optimum health. With everything we do, we try to ensure that our choices and actions reflect these.
Not all of us have to completely flip our lives to live in alignment with our core values. It can start with very small changes, like bringing more order to the spaces we enter, putting aside what we are doing to warmly greet our partner when they enter the room, or leaving work an hour early to pick up our kids from school.
For some of us, however, big change is the only way to find our way back to alignment. For example, it could be contracting a personal trainer to transform your health, writing your letter of resignation and executing on the business you have been dreaming of, studying yoga, starting to date again or filling your need for adventure and growth through an epic physical challenge. You have to determine for yourself what a truly values-aligned life looks like.
Whether you make a few small tweaks or take a giant leap, the first step is to get clarity on your core values by asking, “What are the principles and virtues that are truly important to you in life, across time and circumstances?” Once determined, define each of your core values in your own words. For instance, the value of ‘connection’ can mean very different things to different people. It is essential that you get clarity on what your core values mean to you. The words are just the cocoons. Your own definition and expression brings them to life.
Now it is time to ask the question, “If I were to live my most values-aligned life, how would my life be different?” Let the ideas and insights flow freely. Embrace the moments of discomfort as much as the moments of beautiful insight. Next, make the commitment to living your most values-aligned life. Bit by bit, take the actions and make those changes. It’s what the world needs. Clarity with action brings freedom and power.
As for us, deepening our understanding and practice of living a truly values-aligned life is an ongoing journey. We are still discovering for ourselves how we can create an even more fulfilling life and leverage our values as the guiding compass. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, but that’s part of the journey. For now, we are continuing to create new challenges and adventures that enable us to explore the world, grow ourselves and enable others to do the same with our leadership company, Mountains and Marathons.
Jen and Jamin have shared a fantastic worksheet from Mountains and Marathons to help you to identify your core values and inspire you to live your most authentic, values-aligned life.