When I look at photos of men from my grandfather’s and even my dad’s generation, I can see a sense of purpose in the eyes of those men. Yet when I look at men today, I often don’t sense that kind of steely focus. Instead, I see dudes who are just sort of drifting along whichever way life pulls them.
I’ve heard a lot of men my age complain of a sense of shiftless. They don’t have the drive, purpose, and ambition that our forbearers had, and they feel adrift.
And this isn’t some sort of cranky old man observation about “kids these days.” Several books and articles by sociologists back up these observations.
There are numerous factors why men are just sort of drifting by today. Changes in the economy and societal shifts in regards to gender are definitely two major factors. But, let’s be honest. There’s not much a man, let alone a man stuck in neutral, can do about these things. So, today we’re going to focus on something that we all have the power to control: our core values.
The Importance of Clearly Defining Your Core Values
Defining our values gives us purpose. When you don’t know or you haven’t clearly defined your values, you end up drifting along in life. Instead of basing your decisions on an internal compass, you make choices based on circumstances and social pressures. You end up trying to fulfill other people’s expectations instead of your own. And before you know it, life has passed you by and you haven’t even started to live. Trying to be someone else and living without core values is down right exhausting and leaves you feeling empty and shiftless. Conversely, living a life in line with your core values brings purpose, direction, happiness, and wholeness.
Defining our values prevents us from making bad choices. Perhaps you have a vague idea about what you value. But if you haven’t clearly defined your values, you can end up making choices that conflict with them. And when your actions conflict with your values, the result is unhappiness and frustration.
Defining our values gives us confidence. I’ve noticed that when I take the time to really think and meditate upon what I value as a man and then write those things down, I’m more likely to have the courage and confidence to make choices based on those values. There’s something about actually writing down your values that makes you more committed to living them.
Defining our values makes life simpler. When you’re sure of your core values, decision making becomes much much simpler. When faced with a choice, you simply ask yourself: “Does this action align with my values?” If it does, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. Instead of fretting over what’s the best thing do to, and standing shilly-shally in times of crisis, you simply let your internal compass guide you.
How to Discover Your Values
Your task for Day 1 of our 30 Days to a Better Man Project is to discover, clearly define, and write down your core values. Before we begin, let’s be clear that we’re not trying to define goals here. Goals are specific actions, like “becoming financially independent by age 30” or “asking my girlfriend to marry me this June.” What we are looking for are values: the ideas that you esteem to be of great worth and that give structure to your life.
1. Get nice and relaxed. Go to a quiet room and sit in a big comfy chair (maybe even sit in your closet; something about small spaces helps you think), grab the fishing pole and spend an hour or two casting your line into the ol’ fishing hole, or take a walk on a nature trail or around your neighborhood. Just do whatever works for you.
2. Have the proper tools. Have a pen and paper handy so you can write down your values as they come to you. I don’t recommend using a computer to do this as it’s pretty easy to get distracted from the task at hand. Write on something you won’t accidentally throw away and that will last for many years to come.
3. Ask yourself this question: “What’s truly important to me as man?” Once you’re nice and relaxed, simply ask yourself what’s truly important to you. Think about those moments in your life when you felt completely whole and fulfilled as a man. Think about the times when you’ve been the happiest. If nothing comes to you at first, don’t worry. Just keep thinking.
4. Write down whatever comes to you. When you have a moment of insight about what’s important to you, write it down. Don’t self-censor yourself. Be completely honest during this process. No one else is going to see this, so don’t list the values that you think “should” be on your list. If it comes to you, write it. You’ll be able to go back and edit the list in the next step. For now, just do a total brain dump.
Also, don’t worry about prioritizing them yet. We’ll do that later. Our goal right now is to just get down whatever comes to you.
5. If you have more than five values, eliminate some. Think hard about what you truly value in life. Put a star by the values you’re sure about. Then take the ones that you feel are important, but aren’t sure if they’re top 5 material, and put them in pairs. Think about two of those values side by side, and ask yourself which of the two is more important. Then eliminate the other. Keep pitting the survivors against each other until you’re down to 5. If some of the values you listed are just two words describing the same idea. Combine them.
6. Prioritize. Once you whittle your list to five core values, prioritize them in order from most important to least important. Ideally, your core values compliment each other, but there might be times when two or more conflict. When that happens, which value will trump? If you know this before that choice presents itself, you’ll know how to proceed. And even if your values conflict in the future, look for creative ways to combine them. For example, family might be your top priority, but so is volunteering. When you have the choice of spending time with your kids or signing up to help at a charity event, do both by bringing the kiddos along with you.
If you’re having trouble getting started, I’ve provided a list of values that you might consider. The list isn’t exhaustive; there are literally hundreds of values you could have.
Peace of mind
Remember, these posts aren’t for passive entertainment! The 30 Days to a Better Man Project is about action! You have 24 hours to complete this task. Once you’ve done it, check in with the DBM accountability group to let everyone know. This is the first day of you journey to becoming a better man! Good luck!
Last updated: October 20, 2010