By Julia Richards | Illustration by Ann Christianson
If she looked at her life on paper, Gail Coover could check all the “right” boxes, but she was still unhappy. “I didn’t know how to break through a wall I’d set up for myself,” she says. She sought the help of life coach Sharon Barbour and met with her monthly for a year.
To help clients see where they’re stuck, Barbour often helps them identify and then clarify values—the essence of who we are. Honoring our values is crucial in determining what’s good in our lives. They serve as a compass, pointing out what it means to be true to oneself.
Someone might say they value travel, for example, explains Barbour, but what it is about travel may be different for different people. “How I look at values, and a lot of coaches hold values, are more essences, energies, qualities that when you experience them you feel more alive. You feel more like yourself,” she says.
Coover knew that creative self-expression was important to her, but needed to give herself permission to prioritize this value. After working with Barbour, she’s learned to let her gut feelings guide her decisions, rather than other’s expectations. Barbour asked Coover questions that helped her understand her emotions and how they felt in her body. “My physical expressions of fear and insecurity were really the block,” says Coover, who works to increase diversity in science and technology fields at the University of Wisconsin. “What I’ve found most helpful is to notice where the feeling is in my body and to accept that.”
Because she’s being true to herself, she’s able to connect with the people in her life more authentically, she says. “It’s a shift away from being oriented toward getting things ‘right’ and more being oriented toward who am I in this moment.”
Now, Coover says, she doesn’t use the word “should” in thinking about her life. As the new year approaches, it’s the perfect time to think about what our core values are and how to more fully live them. Barbour shares some suggestions for how to get there.
* To identify what you value, try asking yourself, “When was a time you felt most alive?” Dig into what it was about that time that made you feel that way. Ask, “What do you really need in life to feel fulfilled?” Or try asking, “What makes you so frustrated and mad?” Barbour explains, “That’s the values being stomped on.”
* Hone in on your core values. Barbour suggests writing your own definition for each value, breaking out the colored pencils and writing them in creative ways to put up in a place you’ll see often, or even making a collage of images.
* Now bring your values to life: Notice opportunities throughout the day to invite your core values in. Consider where you’d like them to show up more in your life. Take actions big or small to live these values. For example, if you value connection and community, volunteer to help a neighbor or local school.
By honoring those values, Barbour says, life will be more fulfilling.