What are your defining values? I don’t mean all the good stuff you can list that you honestly believe in and hope to live out. I don’t even mean the ones that sound nice but in reality tend to end up playing second fiddle when difficult choices are to be made? What I mean are the two practiced values without which you would not be you, the person you are today.Without which much of the good stuff that has happened in your life, the people you value and who value you, the big successes and little wins that are a source of huge pride, would not have shown up?
Recently I was asked to ponder this by Brene Brown in her Living Brave semester. She gave us a full sheet of values, three columns, single-spaced, and asked us to pick just 2.
When you’re asked to distill your life and who you are this way, many things come into sharp focus.
For instance, I love the idea of simplicity, simplifying my life, my possessions and my finances but do I practice this value throughout my life? Does it define me? No, Being someone who values reliability sounds pretty great too and I guess in many ways I am a reliable person, but in the sense that I am constantly craving change, surprise and unpredictability, that doesn’t fit me either.
Now curiosity and generosity… when I look at all the good stuff, not necessarily the outward rewards or achievements that others see, but the quiet moments that bring me contentment and joy, I see that almost all of them can be traced back to these two values.
It took me a week or two to settle with these two words, paying attention to choices I make, memories that fluttered to the surface while journaling or talking with friends. Curiosity came easily while generosity took longer to gain acceptance. But when I thought about how my Christmas was totally made by surprising a friend with a decorated tree in her first new apartment after her divorce, or how I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt time and time again, or how I’ll always give of my time to a friend or loved one because it’s the most valuable possession I have, and how all those moments and many more like them, bring me joy, fulfillment and pride, it was an easy choice at the end of the day. A generous spirit breeds kindness, empathy and compassion too, and although I am by no means perfect in my practice of these behaviours, I try to evaluate my choices and actions based upon them.
Choices made and values defined, however, what does all this mean? Why does it matter if we can pin down our values to the two most important?
Because these become guideposts in your life, values that light the way during challenging times, when fear and doubt are clouding your judgment, and yardsticks by which to understand the moments in which you are out of alignment with your values, when something feels “off.”
Unexpectedly, curiosity and generosity came into play this week when I had to answer a challenging client email. At first I was angry and upset, wanting to send the kind of point-by-point rebuttal that I had, in the past, become so good at when someone called into question my integrity and asked me to do something that undercut my value.. In many ways my response would have been justified. Certainly others that I shared the email with validated that my irritation was warranted. But in asking myself whether the kind of response I was writing in my head embodied the values of curiosity and generosity, I realized the answer was most certainly no. So I left the response for 24 hours and asked myself: what would be the curious and generous response to this email?
From there I wrote an email that helped me keep my power, defend my value, educate my client, and yet avoid shame and fear driven responses that would only have escalated the situation, not resolved it. Anger, blaming, and self-righteousness have no place in a generous email from a curious person. And the response from my client demonstrated that I made the right decision in my approach.
It was a great moment, a big win, and an unexpected place for this to show up.
What I learned was that, once you can identify and name the good things that define you at your core, even the smallest moments and actions can be an opportunity to live in alignment with your values. And when you do that, there is a sense of satisfaction.
Writing that email, I knew that, no matter what the response, even if I didn’t like what the client had to say, I had acted authentically and fairly. The win wasn’t in the outcome but in the authentic action.
Which has got me to thinking: what happens if we do this all the time, everywhere, wherever and whenever we can muster the courage to do so? What happens if we act and react in alignment with what is most important to us at the core, regardless of what we feel the outcome might be? So much of our lives are directed at affecting outcomes and achieving goals but what if the goal was the quality of the action itself?
I have been pointed in this direction over and over again these past few years. The message seems to be that outcomes are mostly out of our control (and heavens the lessons there haven’t been light or easy.) What is within our control is this moment, how we show up, how we want to show up. And yes it often takes enormous courage to say that you’re going to do something that feels so right, even if you know the outcome – in the short term at least – might not be what you are hoping for. As a curious person, however, I’ve been interested in finding out how often that unexpected outcome is something more amazing and fulfilling than I could ever have imagined.
In the world of Moment Design this is an especially important concept too. How we show up with and for our clients is a critical element of being a successful practitioner of the Moment Design teachings. There are almost limitless ways in which we can show up too, which can make us feel a little adrift when deciding how we want our sessions to roll. Certainly we’d all like to have the quiet grace and warmth of Jesh but, in reality, that doesn’t fit us all. Jesh has his own two values and we have ours. When we can define what those are, we can create moments in our photography as well as in our private lives that are in alignment with them. Moments that are about showing up authentically for our clients, and letting the possible unfold.