Guest Post by Doug Sundheim
Things work better when you’re being you. You’re not wasting time trying to live up to some conjured-up ideal of perfection. You’re not trying to be all things to all people. Consequently, you have more energy to focus on other things—things that matter more. Also, when you’re being yourself—complete with shortcomings and flaws—your authenticity shines through. And that’s compelling. People hunger for authenticity.
Be you. It’s tough to argue against it.
Yet, here’s the rub. In many ways it’s a difficult way to live. There’s more friction, more tension. It feels risky. You’re not just going with the flow, but rather making intentional choices. You have to get clear about what you do and don’t believe; what you will and won’t say; and what you should and shouldn’t do—essentially, who you are.
In the tumult of day-to-day living, it’s easy to avoid these choices. Before you know it, it’s 1, 3, 5 years later. A lot of little concessions have contorted you into someone you don’t want to be.
There’s no foolproof way to ensure this doesn’t happen. Life is messy. However, there are steps you can take to reduce its likelihood. One I’ve found particularly helpful is getting clear on your values. Not as a sterile list of “nice-to-haves”, but as a solid list of things that actually make your life work. Doing so creates a beacon that consciously and subconsciously guides you.
There are many ways to clarify values. Here’s a simple method I’ve found particularly useful:
- Complete the following sentence 3-5 times: A time in my life when I felt really alive was_______. For each response, be specific. What were you doing? Who were you with? What did you achieve and/or learn?
- Create a master list of values from the stories. Look at your answers to the prior question and identify what values were present at that time. Here’s a list to spur your thinking.
- Whittle the list to 3-6 values and prioritize them. It could be by combining some and/or removing some.
- Write a sentence for each value that describes it “in action.” This should be the behaviors that would demonstrate whether or not you’re living it.
- Use the list to check-in regularly to see how you’re doing. Two times a year is usually sufficient.
I did the above exercise ten years ago this week. I still carry the following list in my wallet. And it still guides my action today.
My 2003 Values list
- Health — I eat well and stay active to maintain my physical, emotional, and mental energy
- Relationships — I am present to what is going on in the lives of those closest to me and interact with them often.
- Service/Love — I respect others and support them in realizing their dreams
- Taking Risks/Going for it/Creativity — I get out of my comfort zone and go for what I want. I trust myself
- Patience — I am patient with others and myself in all situations.
- Humor — I bring lightness and humor to all situations
Looking back I realize that the values have given me confidence. As a small example, the 6th value on my list is Humor. I remember getting clear that humor was a big part of who I was – anytime, anywhere. It’s led me to push the envelope regarding where and how I make light of things. Would everyone do it? No. But I think I do it well and it makes me feel more at ease in the world and helps me strengthen relationships, so I do it. Before doing this values work, I didn’t take as many risks with my humor.
I also realize that the values have worked in the background. Ten years ago, I also got clear that taking risks was a big part of who I was. It became the core of my 4th value. That insight worked in the background for six years before it dawned on me to write a book about the topic.
While “being you” is a different kind of risk than many that I talk about in my book—such as starting a business, driving change, or launching a product, it is foundational to all of them. Clarifying your core values and then sticking to them when the going gets tough is what will push you forward, keep you sane, have you “win” in the long run.
Doug Sundheim is a leadership and strategy consultant with over 20 years experience in helping leaders drive personal and organizational growth. His latest book is Taking Smart Risks: How Sharp Leaders Win When Stakes are High (McGraw-Hill, January 2013). You can follow Doug on Twitter @DougSundheim and find out more about his services at www.clarityconsulting.com.
A note from Jesse: Taking Smart Risks is an excellent book that shows the value of taking risks (and the risk of not taking them) and how to judge those worth taking. It’s easy to read and filled with useful ideas and information, with a great foreword by Tony Schwartz, one of my favorite authors, and a strong endorsement by Seth Godin.