Live an Authentic Life: Prioritizing What Matters

The Why

When was the last time you consciously made a choice based on your values? How about when you chose the school your children would attend, or where you would live? Perhaps it was as simple as how your family would spend your Sunday. Now, can you name the value that drove that decision? For most of us those might be hard questions. Our normal decision making process is rarely as deliberate as that. Yet, most of us want to live authentic lives. At it’s core authenticity is about living out our values and beliefs. Decisions based on our values bring the the greatest long term reward, not be in dollars and cents, but in our personal integrity, in making our lives whole.

How We Got Here

There’s no way to make a decision based on your values if you don’t know what they are. So if you have not already worked through the values assessment, and life audit please do that now. Once you know what you value, and understand what is currently taking up your time, energy, and wealth you can work at putting those two pieces together.

In this article we will figure out how the values we hold most dear can help us shape our lives. Over time we will live authentically, holistically, and well.

The Long Haul

Authentic living doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t a quick or easy fix. Life is a balancing act. But a funny one, it’s a bit like a see saw, constantly in flux. The idea that we can ever find the perfect balance is a popular one, but it isn’t realistic. Your life changes constantly and the right balance changes as well.

Our goal isn’t to create one final solution, but rather to learn to live in a more intentional way all the time. The small decisions that craft our everyday lives can reflect our values, and help to build the life we want.

Your Life: Taking Stock

We start by taking stock of where we are. Here you’ll need the results of the previous two exercises and a bit of free time.  In the life audit we made lists of all the things that took up our time, energy, and money. If you haven’t already, please sort that list as best you can (no need to be perfect) in order of how big those items are. So your mortgage or rent might be top of the money list, if it is your largest expense. The time you spend at work, or caring for your children will probably top the list of your time commitments.

Woman in a corn maze

Step One – Take Stock

Now, go through your lists and mark whether or not each item serve your highest values. You may mark this any way you like, with colored highlighters, check marks, sticky notes, etc.

For example. Perhaps family was one of your highest values. In that case the time you spend doing child care fits perfectly! If creativity was your highest value you’ll mark things like painting, cooking, or the cost of your writing class at the community college.

Be honest with yourself. You may find some things sort of fit your values. It’s Ok to indicate how well a value is served by something. This is helpful for me, I tend to rank things as weak, medium, or strong for each value. But only do this if it feels helpful.

Step Two – Setting Priorities

Here’s where we get to the meat of the matter. Setting priorities is often the hardest part of making a change, but we’ve made this task a little simpler by identifying your core values. And we’ve already noted the parts of your life that are serving those values! As we look at ways to make your life more authentic, and more in line with your values it is important to set priorities. Priorities matter because there will need to be compromise. Unless you are independently wealthy and have all the resources in the world you will have to make hard choices.

We all have have limited time, money, and energy. There is no way to do everything you would like to do. Setting priorities will help you chose where to focus your energy.

Priorities Example: The Tale of Lost Weekends

Here’s an example. In the first year of our marriage my husband and I were both working outside the home and trying to get used to living together. We were renting a big house which was great for having friends and family over. But the upkeep on it was enormous. We pretty quickly discovered that we were spending all of our weekend off time cleaning just to keep up with the place. Our time off was spent negotiating who would vacuum and who would have to clean the toilets. We got grumpy, we got fed up, and we felt like we did nothing but work, sleep, and clean the house.

So we sat down and evaluated what mattered to us, what our resources were, and how we could better set our priorities. What we valued was hospitality, quality time together, and family time.

We examined our resources: a bit of wiggle room in the budget, but only one day off together each week. What we were short on was time. (And remember, time together is one of our values.) We decided to stop cleaning our house. Instead we hired someone else to do it. It changed our marriage, it changed our lives. It has become the one expense we budget for first after shelter and food. We would gladly give up cable TV, eating out, and just about anything else to keep our lovely cleaning service. Because it frees us up to enjoy each other, and that is what matters most to us.

Step Three: Balance the scales

Once you know what matters to you most you can evaluate which resources you want to apply to that thing. The resources you have will vary. A few years ago I was out of  a job, so I took on the task of cleaning the house during the day. In that season I had more time than we had money. My husband and I still had our time together, and I was spending the resources we had to best serve our values and priorities. When I got a new job we rehired our cleaning service.

This is why this task is an ongoing one. Your values, and your resources will change and evolve throughout your life. Be sure to keep coming back and evaluating if your resources are still aligned with your values. And tweak, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means your life has evolved!

T intersection with sign pointing either direction

Make A Plan

This brings us to the plan. The plan you make to rebalance where you are spending your resources will not be static. You will find yourself working through steps one, two, and three over and over again.

In different seasons of your life the resources you have to devote to your priorities will vary. It is important to periodically revisit these decisions to ensure they are still taking you in the right direction. Below are some tips for putting together a plan and making it serve you and your goals.

Tips for Making it Work

  • Take it slow. Changing your whole life overnight won’t work. You’ll just end up overwhelmed and defeated. Take baby steps.
  • Be realistic. It would be lovely to be able to quit your day job tomorrow and devote all your time to your passions, but that’s probably not in the cards for most of us. Be realistic about what your resources are in time/money/energy.
  • One thing at a time. Set one goal at a time. This might have multiple moving parts to it, but the simpler it is the better. Like my husband and I deciding to hire a cleaning service we didn’t try to fix everything at once. We just decided to make one change and see how it went.
  • Forgive. Your life is a big complicated thing and it didn’t get where it is today overnight. No matter how out of whack things might be with your values there are things to celebrate and love in your life, in all our lives. Forgive yourself for the thing that aren’t perfect and have a lot of mercy for yourself as you try to make changes.
  • Optimize your scarcest resource. When you start, focus on optimizing the resource that’s most scarce. When my husband and I were first married we had two incomes, and we were young and had lots of energy. It was time that we were most lacking. So when we made changes it was to create more time for ourselves by spending more of our money or energy on problems to free up our time. If money is scarce, but you’ve got lots of time you’ll probably do the opposite. Maximizing the value you get out of your most scare resource and really focusing it on your values will help you feel more balanced and will by far be the most rewarding steps you can take.
  • Check in & check up. As you begin to implement changes to better align your time, energy, and money with your values check in with the people who matter most. Ask them to help you with your endeavor and support the changes you are making in your life. Enlist their help if need be. An accountability partner can be invaluable. Remind one another to keep checking back in, and reevaluating what steps you need to take.
  • Give yourself grace. Most of us have been just getting by for a very long time. You’ll probably find yourself falling back into old habits more than once. Try to let go of the shame or guilt of that, extend grace to yourself and start over right where you are.

OK folks, time to think about how we can support one another! What one thing surprised you during this exercise? Give it a share below and let’s learn from one another!

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