I spent thirty-five years in the construction industry and built projects throughout the Southeast and the Southwest. This resulted in many moves for me and my family. One of those moves was made from Dyersburg, Tennessee to Dallas, Texas in 1998. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember this was the time of the Beanie Baby craze. Beanie Babies were little bean bag animals. I can’t say how many different types of Beanie Babies there were, but it seems like thousands! They were a stroke of marketing genius – they were simple, easy to make, and there was not a child known to exist on the planet who could survive without several of them. My daughters, nine and eleven at the time, were no exception.
My younger daughter, Alyssa, who had amassed around a hundred Beanie Babies, was particularly concerned about the safety of them during this move. She was concerned they would somehow be lost or stolen and asked if we could bring them to Texas ourselves rather than having them packed with the household goods. As is the case with most business-related moves, I was required to relocate to my new assignment in Texas ahead of my family since our girls were still in school in Tennessee. I was going to drive our Suburban with the limited belongings I needed for the apartment I had leased for a few months in Dallas. This became the perfect opportunity to provide safe passage for Alyssa’s Beanie Babies to their new home in Texas, which I did successfully. Mission accomplished.
At the end of the school year, we timed our “full family” move strategically. I would vacate my apartment in Dallas, fly back to Tennessee, return to Texas in our minivan with my wife, daughters and dog, and move directly into our new home. Everything went off without a hitch and we spent the weekend getting our things moved in. On Monday morning, my wife drove me to the airport to retrieve the Suburban containing my belongings. I drove to the office in my car and she re- turned home to spend the day unpacking. Neither of us encountered a problem. Mission accomplished.
That day, as I left the office for lunch, I noticed something strange about the back of my car. As I approached it, I saw what I hadn’t seen when retrieving the car at the airport - someone had used a screwdriver on the rear door lock to break into it. I felt my heart race from fear that everything had been stolen. I quickly opened the back door and felt both relief and disbelief to find everything in its place - until I took a second glance. There was only one thing taken – Alyssa’s bag full of Beanie Babies. If you’re a father, you will understand my devastation in that moment.
As fathers, one of our jobs is, to the best of our ability, protecting our children from bad things. I took on this responsibility in offering to protect my daughter’s most prized possessions and she entrusted me to do so. I had failed her. I called my wife to let her know what happened and asked her to let me tell Alyssa when I got home that evening. I dreaded seeing the look in her eyes when I gave her the news and could not think of words to express how deeply I regretted letting her down. It was a long afternoon.
When I got home, I received my daughters’ excited updates on their first day of swim team practice, the new friends they had made and the plans they already had for the rest of the week. My joy in their excitement was overshadowed by what I now had to tell Alyssa. I sat down to be at her eye level and she asked me about her Beanie Babies. I gently explained to her the car had been broken into and her Beanie Babies had been stolen. As I watched her eyes turn down, I told her how sorry I was for disappointing her and that I knew how much they meant to her. I tried to find words to express my regret and ask her forgiveness. As I silently searched for the right thing to say to soothe her, she re-established eye contact with me and said “Don’t worry, Dad. It’s only stuff ”... and she meant it. I could see she made an on-the-spot self-examination of what was important to her, and it was not Beanie Babies.
At that moment, my nine-year-old daughter taught me about values.
A soul-searching exploration of values has to be the start of any man’s journey. From the day of our birth our core values are shaped as we form relationships, gather information and experience life. Through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood these values continuously evolve and solidify. As we mature into young adulthood, our mid-twenties to early thirties, they become well established. These are deeply rooted values and create a sense of self-identity.
When I was in my fifties, my career focus changed and I decided to make a radical transition. To be more engaged in helping people, I chose to leave the field of construction for the profession of counseling. One of my areas of focus is helping men work through common struggles, which each man generally believes is unique to him. In truth, most of us deal with the same issues. When I work with men who are trying to establish their direction or figure out where they got off track, I start with values. On the next page, “Table A” has a list of values for you to consider. It’s important to recognize, within this list, there are no right or wrong values. Values are passed down, learned, and developed based on each person’s experiences. Values differ from society to society, culture to culture, ethnicity to ethnicity and nation to nation. What’s important is for you to know your own values. Take a moment now to do this by looking at the list of words in the Values List on the next page. Add to them if you don’t see values important to you, and see if you can choose and rank the top five values in your life.
Success Image Security Wealth
Justice Vocation Equality Acceptance
Self-identity Education Solitude Independence
Integrity Honesty Teamwork Freedom
Stability Comfort Self-esteem Power
Money Faith Health Home
Possessions/Property Recreation Control Sexuality
Nature/Environment Family Excitement Poverty
Relationship Friendship Appearance Community
Quality Individuality Harmony Perfection
Openness Privacy Forgiveness Spirituality
Religion Joy Recognition Companionship
Peace Safety Diversity Adventure
Travel Love Helping Respect
Creativity Wisdom Variety Unity
Competition Patriotism Winning Popularity
Affirmation Career Order Advancement
Connection Growth Status Accomplishment
Purpose Time Autonomy Validation
If you’ve never given thought to your core values before, this exercise may have been difficult. You may have become stuck with the meaning of the words. Don’t worry about it. Words can have different meanings to different people because their meaning is directly correlated to each individual’s life experiences. You can provide your own meaning to the words based upon your life experiences and understanding. Remember – your core values are based on what is important to you, and not on anyone else’s expectations or externally influenced beliefs about what should be important. For instance, you might think no one would have a core value of poverty. But reconsider this from the perspective of someone who has taken a vow of poverty. Whatever values you selected, be okay with the truth of those values in your life but don’t allow yourself to be fooled. If you find yourself feeling continuously restless or bored with the choices you’ve made for your life, check your values. Either those choices may not reflect your true core values or they aren’t properly prioritized.
Maybe identifying your core values was easy, but ranking them was more difficult. This is where being honest with yourself becomes critical if you’re going to have peace of mind in the way you live and order your life. It requires identification of, above all other things, the most important thing to your existence. This means you would forfeit all else to assure this one core value was being fulfilled in your life. Likewise, as you continue to prioritize, your second core value would reflect the next most important thing in your life, for which you would be willing to forfeit all else besides your first core value. And so on. The tough part of this is you can’t ride the fence. You must decide the rank order. There are no ties. This is important because you never know when there will be a crossroad in your life requiring a decision to be made. Take, for example, a man who values work and family equally because he finds his identity in both. His job is demanding, so he sacrifices time with family. He believes that in fulfilling his work responsibilities he also fulfills his family responsibilities. This goes on for years. He is stunned when he comes home one day to find his wife has filed for divorce. He has met his crossroad but blew through it at eighty miles an hour and had a serious wreck. He didn’t see it coming because he was unaware that his behavior – placing work ahead of family – was inconsistent with his claim that the two were equally valued.
By prioritizing core values you’re establishing a mindset. You’re literally making up your mind regarding what is most important in life, which generally determines your actions and behaviors. Your behaviors should be reflective of what is truly most important to you. When honest about prioritizing core values, you’re better able to make decisions before reaching a crossroad. You set boundaries around the most important values, establishing limits or lines which will not be crossed. These boundaries might be related to your office hours, the number of evenings you entertain clients, checking work emails while at home, or any other number of work habits developed, perhaps, in contradiction to your core values.
Jim, a past associate of mine, established a boundary which demonstrated true commitment to his core value of family. He worked in an environment where long hours were the norm and were expected. He also had children whose events generally occurred late in the afternoon or early in the evening. He was committed as a father to being present for these events, so he decided to start his day at 5:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m. This allowed him to leave the office as necessary not only to attend his children’s events, but in the case of his son’s sports, to help out as a coach. He conditioned his staff to come to him for any needed support prior to his time of departure. This not only created an efficient and productive office environment but affirmed commitment to his core value of family. In doing so, he earned a high level of respect both at work and at home.
You may have concerns over the flexibility your job will allow you. If this is the case, be aware you’re approaching a crossroad. Slow down and evaluate the decisions to be made and the actions to be taken in order to safely navigate the intersection and continue on your intended path. Explore and discuss all viable options with others who are affected by your decision. Then, make the decision based upon your prioritized core values and take the action to place protective boundaries around them. Whatever you do, stay the course fulfilling the commitment to your own core values.
It’s easy to confuse values with beliefs, but they are distinct and different. It’s important to discuss this difference. Otherwise, we may be conflicted when we reasonably change our mind related to certain issues. We’ve already defined values as being developed through relationships, information, and experiences and as being fairly well established by young adulthood. There is less of a tendency for values to change given the time over which they are developed. Beliefs are built on the foundation of our values and are also established by relationships, information, and experiences. Beliefs, unlike values, are more apt to change. However, this doesn’t mean our values have been compromised. In the world of politics when someone changes their mind, they are considered indecisive and weak on issues – “flip-floppers” or “sell-outs.” I would argue that someone who formulates beliefs on sound logic and reasoning, yet is willing to change those beliefs in light of new relationships, information, or experiences, is demonstrating wisdom.
Let’s use the story of Alyssa’s Beanie Babies as an example of how beliefs can change without compromising values. Her Beanie Babies were of high importance to her. She had an attachment to them because she played with them and imagined them as living beings requiring care. This is a natural and important part of childhood development. Children, from infancy, learn about healthy attachment from their caregivers. They inherently understand and observe the nurturing they receive and transfer this nurturing in their style of play. As children grow older, they learn more about relationships and bonding through play with other children and with dolls – like Beanie Babies – and new attachments are created. Playing is one of the methods by which children come to understand and rehearse relationships. By nine years old, Alyssa had already established relationships as a core value. She had an attachment not only to me, but to the Beanie Babies she was afraid of losing. When she saw my disappointment in letting her down, she took only moments to realize her relationship to me was much more important than her relationship to the Beanie Babies – even changing her reference to the Beanie Babies as “only stuff.” Her core value of having relationships didn’t change, but her belief about those relationships did.
Core values are less likely to change than beliefs. Change in beliefs will generally occur with the introduction of new relationships, new information, and new experiences. Our beliefs are based upon understanding of the knowledge we possess. If knowledge is lacking, it stands to reason that understanding is also lacking. As we gain knowledge through new relationships, information and experience, we have the opportunity to increase our understanding. With increased understanding we are able to discern whether or not our previously held beliefs are still reasonable and then exercise wisdom in either maintaining or changing those beliefs.
The problem is, in many cases, change is not endorsed. Others are not as excited about it as we are. In fact, they are often skeptical as to the reasons for it and personalize your decision as a reflection of your relationship with them, which it may or may not be. If they’re people you’ve been around for a very long time it’s probably because you’ve always been like-minded and they want to keep it that way. When you move away from their way of thinking or doing, it can create an uncomfortable gap. The apple cart has been rocked and they don’t understand why. We see this when someone changes their party affiliation in politics, when someone changes their church affiliation, when someone leaves their job, and even when someone leaves their marriage or partnership. Changing beliefs, or even values, may be the best thing you ever do, but don’t do it on a whim. Because just as there are wise decisions, there are foolish decisions. Well-grounded values and beliefs will lead to a higher level of consistency in life and a greater feeling of fulfillment. Loosely grounded values and beliefs will increase chaos in your life and leave you feeling empty. When you have enough information to affirm your true values and beliefs, make your decision to either change course or stay the course and do so with confidence. Once you do, you can begin to experience more enjoyment in your quality of life and experience better life balance.
Summary Points of EXPLORING VALUES
• Values develop as we mature.
• Values reinforce a sense of self-identity.
• Values differ from person to person and culture to culture.
• Values must be identified and explored.
• Values should be prioritized.
• Beliefs with our value systems evolve based on development of
relationships, new information, and new experiences.
Questions for Reflection
• Does evaluating long-held beliefs and values affect your self-awareness in any way?
• What formerly held beliefs of yours have changed based upon development of relationships, learning new information, and having new experiences?
• What are your top three prioritized values and how will you change habitual behavioral, mental, or verbal patterns to reflect these values?