Inspiration can come in unexpected ways

What matters most to you in life? What drives your decisions and passions?

Most of us have a handful of core values that we live by. Our values define what is most important to us and guide our behavior. We shape our lives around them, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

Sometimes we learn what our values are in unexpected ways.

Growing up on a farm in Kansas, my family attended a little country church. We would often pray for the missionaries to be safe and for their work to be blessed.

In reality I had no idea what missionaries even were. But I knew we prayed for them every Sunday.

I was usually engulfed in my own little world, often focusing more on the things I didn’t have rather than what I had. Back then, there was no internet, no cable TV, no cell phones or ipods. Life was pretty simple.

All I really cared about was whether I was popular at school and how quickly I could get my chores done. I didn’t realize what the rest of the world was like. Faraway places like Africa or China weren’t on my radar.

That all changed the day a “real” missionary came to visit our little church. This gentle man radiated such joy as he explained his work and experiences! He told amazing stories about the people. He described the poverty, yet happiness, of those he was helping.

It was fascinating. Even though I was a self-absorbed adolescent, I realized immediately how blessed I was to have my comfortable “boring” life. My eyes were suddenly opened to the bigger world around me. My perspective was permanently shifted.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was forever changed. That experience contributed to the formation of one of my core values: helping others.

I like to think about values at three different levels:

Level 1. Learned values

Ingrained in us from childhood, these are formed by how our parents raised us and the experiences we encountered as we were growing up.

Level 2. Surface values

Assimilating the beliefs of people around us, we tend to conform with their customs and attitudes. These are based on societal norms, what we’re “supposed” to do, think and be.

Level 3. Core values – our true deep guideposts

Our core values create energy. They are our deepest, most powerful, most centering personal force. They reflect our highest thoughts.

When we’re not living from our core values, we feel out of sync and unfulfilled. Certainly not exhilarated. When I do coaching, I help clients dig down and discover their deeply held core values.

But why should you care about any of this stuff? Because your core values are a road map for your life!

When you’ve identified your core values, choices and decisions become easier. You don’t have to fret and strain about what to do. You just ask yourself if it fits with your core values.

Not quite clear on what your core values really are?

Try this:

  1. Make a list of what is most important in your life. First, think of the obvious things such as family, love or health. Then add some less obvious choices that are unique to you like surfing, adventure, discipline, eating great food, etc. Think about the qualities that guide your life, the things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Include about 7 to 10 items on your list.
  2. Try to understand the meaning of each item on your list. The idea here is to begin to understand WHY we value certain things. Be TOTALLY honest (this is key!) with yourself. Do you value making money because it gives you security? Do you enjoy cooking because you love being creative? There is no right or wrong answer. Think about how you really feel, not how you “should” feel or how other people tell you to feel.
  3. Refine your list. Prioritize your list from most important to least important. Once again, the key is being totally honest with yourself. Make sure you’ve really identified what brings the most meaning and contentment to your life. Congratulations! You now have a working list of your core values.

Keep in mind that refining values is an ongoing process that evolves throughout your life. Your core values may change over time. That’s fine. Be ready to let go of what isn’t working for you anymore.

Following your core values gives you an internal knowing that you are on the right path. Your core values will lead you to finding your true passion and purpose – a life of joy and tranquility.

This is what living with exhilaration is all about!

What are some of the values that exhilarate you in your life?