In my last post I celebrated my 10th anniversary from surviving an attempt to take my own life when I was 19 years old, as well as the events that led up to my most hopeless moment. Since my story has gotten a chance to reach others, as it circulates through the internet, I’ve had a handful of people reach out to me and ask one or more of the following questions:
- “Why should I go on?”
- “What’s the point to life?”
- “Why is there so much pain, and what possibly makes it worth enduring?”
Pretty gigantic, deep questions to ask a stranger over the internet right off the bat – though I don’t blame a person in pain for reaching out in hopes of relief. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked these questions. I can’t count the number of time it‘s happened to me in my line of work. I don’t know how many times I’ve wondered these questions myself over my darkest years. And the truth is that the essential question may be asked in a number of ways. Sometimes it shows up in more trivial or major life decisions. What major should I pick? What should I do this weekend (this month or this year)? Why get out of bed today?
In my private practice, I’ve seen many a person dealing with these challenges. While the majority of my clients have only one or a few specific blocks to overcome in order to achieve a goal, break a thought pattern, change a habit or emotional response, some have been facing symptoms of depression or traumatic stress for a long time. I’ve had more than a few clients over the past six years look at me with a grief stricken face, teary eyes and a weary voice ask me: “Why should I go on?”, “What should I do?”, “If you were me, what would you do?”
Have you ever asked yourself a question like this? Essentially, it is a question about what gives your life meaning or purpose and what you value. Knowing the answer to these kinds of questions can significantly help prevent or reduce common ailments including symptoms of depression, lack of motivation, indecision and lack of follow through on your commitments, whether they be goals or relationships.
I’ve always told my clients or friends that I don’t think I can actually be the one to answer such questions for them. I think that’s why, when someone answers that question to another person who’s asking, the answer can typically come across as shallow, like a cliche or something that doesn’t resonate. I can tell you what my answers are to those questions for myself, but I would never pretend to answer it for another person. I’ve found the best way to respond to anyone asking me something like that is to ask them some pretty important questions right back.
If you are a person with a strong faith or set of convictions you might be able to more easily answer these questions since you have probably asked and answered them for yourself to some extent already. When I say of “a strong faith or set of convictions,” I mean you already know the story you believe about the meaning of life, or your life, or you probably have a set of ethics or a mission you live to honor. Regardless of whether you’re a person who has some sort of a religious faith or philosophical approach on life, your life is driven by your values.
Values are like an internal compass pointing you in any given direction, or like a magnet pulling you away from one thing and to another. What do I mean exactly by values? A value is defined as a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.
I like the distinction between personal values and core values as described by Herb Stevenson, an executive and organizational coach. He is the CEO of Cleveland Consulting Group Inc. and founder of Natural Passages, an organization that offers nature-based leadership programs for men. Herb says, “Generally, we have two forms of values, personal and core. Personal values are lessons learned from life’s trials and tribulation. Core values are embedded during our initial upbringing and create the way a person orients to the world, or, if you prefer, the filter from which you not only make meaning but from which you decide how you will act and react to life’s daily challenges. Core values emanate from the center of who we are and what is most important to us as a human being. When our core values are clear to us, we have a greater sense of self and how we orient to the world. When we have not clearly identified these core values, we often have powerful and surprising responses to situations that directly or even indirectly conflict with these values. Values change over time in response to changing life experiences. Recognizing these changes and understanding how they affect one’s actions and behaviors is the goal of the values clarification process. Values clarification will not tell you what your values should be, it simply provides the means to discover what your values are.”
Here are two examples of ways to get more clear on your personal and core values:
- Core Values Exercise – It is best to do this exercise in 10 minutes or less in order to not overthink it and trust your intuition.
- Look at an example list of values – words that best represent principles, standards, or qualities you consider worthwhile or desirable – write down those you believe to be the most important to you.
- Make no more than 5 groups of the value words that are similar in whatever way makes sense to you (i.e. Love, connection, harmony in one group vs. truth, growth, learning, in another etc.)
- Highlight the value word in each group that best represent all the others in that section.
- Rank the 5 values in order of importance to you by asking yourself the question, “If I could only have one and none of the others I would choose this one first…” Then ask again to figure out the second, then third, etc…
- Personal Values Exercise – This exercise is best done within 15 minutes or less so as to not overthink it, but to trust your intuition.
- Write down three to five one sentence descriptions of your most trying or traumatic life experiences. Next to each life event (or time period) write a word that represents what you were longing for such as security, love, acceptance, etc.
- Next, write three to five one sentence descriptions of your most meaningful, happy, successful or exhilarating moments of your life so far. Next to each life event, write a word that represents what you were feeling as during this moment i.e. recognition, connection, empowerment, aliveness, passion, flow, peace, harmony, creativity, joy, gratitude, etc.
- Again, rank the value words in order of importance to you by asking yourself the question, “If I could only have one and none of the others I would choose this one first…” Then ask again to figure out the second, then third, etc. You may notice an overlap of values from the Core Values Exercise, that’s okay.
The next step is to use your values in a crafted personal mission statement. It’s vital for you to have a mission and a vision for yourself just as it is for any business. A well thought out mission statement, acted upon daily and open to review annually or periodically, can cure common ails such as indecision, flip flopping, FOMO (fear of missing out), boredom, and even reduce or prevent symptoms of depression. Knowing your values and your mission will help you get connected to the people, activities, and careers that best suit you. The ones that will encourage you to thrive.
An example of a missions statement from a company would be WikiHow – “We’re trying to help everyone on the planet learn how to do anything. Join us.” It’s crystal clear why they do what they do and what they’re all about. It’s smack dab on their home page. Perhaps an even better example of success from a crystal clear company’s mission statement would be TOM’s Shoe Company. While traveling in Argentina in 2006, TOMS Founder, Blake Mycoskie, witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. What began as a simple idea has evolved into a powerful business model that helps address need and advance health, education and economic opportunity for children and their communities around the world. – “With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need.” They trademarked their mission phrase “One for One®”
I have two favorite examples of personal mission statements. The first is from Amanda Steinberg is the founder of DailyWorth, the leading financial media company for women. Steinberg is a thought-leader on the topic of women and money, and working to advance women’s financial confidence and wealth. She’s an engineer by training, a sales woman by profession, and a serial optimist at heart. DailyWorth serves millions of women monthly via its daily newsletters and Website focused on money and career advice. Amanda’s mission statement is “To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma, and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth and net-worth of women around the world.” And then of course, there’s Oprah Winfrey (no explanation needed) “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”
Best selling personal development author Barrie Davenport says, “Creating a personal mission statement forces clarity, helps you define purpose, and serves as the foundation for your life actions and goals. It also helps you identify the underlying reasons for your choices and behaviors and what truly motivates you to make change. As author (of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) Stephen Covey says, your mission statement is about ‘defining the personal, moral and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself.’ Writing it down on paper makes it real. Your mission statement becomes your own personal constitution — the basis for life-directing decisions, as well as making daily choices that impact you and those around you.”
I think of mission statements like horse blinders. This piece of gear is put on a racing horse to not only help him keep dirt from getting in his eyes but to focus on overcoming the obstacles in his path, outrun the guy in front of him and not be bothered by distractions – not by those to his side, behind him, or watching in the stands.
As a millennial born in the information day and age, I am a member of a generation drowning in option overwhelm, paralyzed by procrastination, perfectionism propelled by an affliction (so uniquely born to our generation we gave it a name) “FOMO” or “fear of missing out.” In this keeping up with the Joneses social media race, expectation is everything. In a post by Tim Urban entitled, “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy”, he sums up the problem pretty concisely. “Ignore everyone else. Other people’s grass seeming greener is no new concept, but in today’s image crafting world, other people’s grass looks like a glorious meadow. The truth is that everyone else is just as indecisive, self-doubting, and frustrated as you are, and if you just do your thing, you’ll never have any reason to envy others.”
One of my favorite quotes is, “Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself,” from an essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnist Mary Schmich. “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young,” (commonly known by the title “Wear Sunscreen”) also says, “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t. Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.”
Knowing your values and deciding what your life mission is, should you choose to accept it, will help you see a path for your life. Making a mission statement will especially help if you’re in the midst of figuring out the bigger picture for your life or if you are feeling completely lost. It is a major step in blazing your own trail. It can help with you with your day-to-day as well as your big picture decisions. No matter where that path we call life winds up taking you, at least when you come to a crossroads, you will have a better idea of which route to take.
My current mission statement is – “My mission is to enjoy living my life to the fullest extent I possibly can in a way that enriches me both for today and tomorrow. Each day, I celebrate my body and the world around me. Every day, I explore new connections and deepen those I already have with people I care about. I choose daily to smile, be active and meditate on the ways I can cultivate and embody more love, harmony, joy, peace, patience, kindness, wisdom, steadfastness, humility, and self-control. I thrive by learning, growing and being grateful – both in times of challenge and times of ease. I thrive by using my natural gifts and refining my skills to inspire, teach, entertain, empower and engage others to do the same. I thrive when I‘m following my passions in a way that allows me to joyfully serve my tribe, my family and the world, while supporting my own needs.”
Here is an exercise to create your own personal mission statement.
I will leave you with a series of sayings from Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor famous for his book, “Man’s Search For Meaning”.
“Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.
Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human.
Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. The meaning to life is to give life meaning. Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
A human being is a deciding being. Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.
Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.
Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!
Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Kristin Rivas is a Hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner working with clients in the Seattle area. She also offers Skype/FaceTime sessions for those who are not local or are otherwise unable to come to the office in person. If you would like to book an appointment or simply contact her for further information, please don’t hesitate! She looks forward to connecting with you and helping you become the strong, powerful, and grounded person you truly are.