When I was at the CIA, one of our core mission values was “speaking truth to power.” This wasn’t just a nicety plastered on the walls. This was something we all were called on to live each day in big and small ways. Sometimes that meant pushing back against a supervisor’s opinion, other times that meant telling the President of the United States that a specific policy simply wasn’t working.
It was uncomfortable and awkward and sometimes terrifying, but there was a strong culture of being honest, of “knowing the truth and letting the truth make you free,” even when that truth hurt. Sure, there were times when we did this imperfectly, and times when we did it messily, or less fully, but we did it.
And that’s how it is for our personal values too. We have to live them for them to count as being ours.
If we say we value family, but spend our whole day working (even if it’s work we enjoy and care about) and only show up for bedtimes and mealtimes, that’s not living our values. We don’t get to claim that one.
If we say we value our health, but eat whatever pre-wrapped garbage is easiest to swallow because we’re so busy with other things that we can’t eat actual food, that’s not living our values. We don’t get to claim that one.
If we say we value integrity, but always cut corners or do things half-assed because we can’t be bothered to give it our all, that’s not living our values. We don’t get to claim that one.
And – truth bomb alert – if we say we value ourselves, but don’t look after our health, don’t go to the doctor about that niggling thing, don’t invest in ourselves, don’t stand up for ourselves, and don’t tell that inner voice in our heads to shut up when she’s being a banshee about how we look or how we perform, that’s not living our values. We definitely don’t get to claim that one.
We don’t get to say we value family, health, integrity, ourselves and then live differently. That’s not how it works. Either we’re honest about how we are living and say we really value work, junk food, expedience, and being shitty to ourselves OR we change our behavior and get to claim the values that we want to have (family, health, integrity, ourselves).
Too often we overcomplicate things. We are hypocrites about things. And we keep intangible things like values too intangible. But if we say we care about something, then we have to show we care about it with what we do everyday.
It is as simple as that.