SHOW NOTES from Episode 14 of Wayfinding Wisdom. Click here to listen.
Welcome wonderful humans.
You’re listening to Wayfinding Wisdom – the podcast where each week we offer up 10-20 minutes of stories & strategies to help you navigate the complex waters of modern-day life with intention & confidence.
I’m Alice Chen – coach, experience designer and fellow wayfinder.
And I believe that because values are at play all the time in our daily lives we can step back from pretty much any experience we are having as human beings and use it as a window into learning more about our value system.
I find this delightful because it means that I don’t need to carve out a special time or take a class, attend a workshop, or do a fancy exercise to learn more about my values…if I don’t want to, can’t afford it, or don’t have the time to participate in a synchronous learning experience. How freeing!
In this episode, I’m going to walk you through how to use your day-to-day experiences as windows into your value system.
So keep listening.
My grandfather was many things, but above all else, he was a teacher. He was a college professor, so he taught formally, but he was also a master of the teachable moment.
You’d be doing something mundane like cooking or tying your shoes and then all of a sudden, he’d look over at you, and out of his mouth would come some insight or life lesson that was so completely tied to the moment and also about something so much more universal.
When I think of truly wise people, I think of Wen Chao Chen.
I remember visiting him one summer – I think I was around seven or eight – and sitting on the couch in his living room in Kalamazoo, Michigan complaining about how school was boring and why weren’t teachers teaching interesting stuff.
And he looked up from reading his newspaper (he was always reading the newspaper – sometimes in English, often in Chinese) and said, “Everything is a teacher. Find an interesting one and learn how to learn from it.”
And then he threw a pillow at me and said, “That’s a teacher right there.”
When I look in on the narrative of my life with the benefit of hindsight, I think the was really the beginning of my reframe on what teaching & learning really is. Before this, I think I thought teachers were humans and learning was something that happened in a classroom setting and involved books & paper.
But my grandfather’s words shifted something in me and prompted an inquiry.
What if authority figures in a classroom weren’t the only teachers out there?
What if other humans were teachers?
What if other living beings like animals were teachers?
What if natural elements like the weather, the waves, the constellations were teachers?
What if inanimate objects like that pillow my grandfather threw at me or what I ate for breakfast were teachers?
Over the years, I’ve come to see pretty much everything in my life as a teacher, and I’ve learned through a lot of inquiry & experimentation how to learn from the things that don’t explicitly try to educate me…things like the spaces I inhabit, the experiences I have, the emotions I feel, the things I’m drawn to.
When I invite people to consider that the world is their classroom, this is the energy I hope they’ll step into.
And through that process, I’ve come to see that one thing the world around me always seems to be “teaching” me is what my values are.
As I talked about in the last episode, our values are always at play driving how we think, feel & act, what we enjoy & resist…whether we are conscious of this dynamic or not.
And as a learner & explorer, I love this…because it means that when I want to understand myself & my values better so that I can make more conscious choices about how to honor what’s important to me or what’s emerging in my life, I don’t have to go anywhere particular.
I don’t need to attend a workshop or go on a retreat (if I don’t want to – sometimes I do because that calls to me). I don’t need a formal instructor. And I don’t need a special exercise. Or a lot of time to plan how I’m going to learn about my values.
So great, cause we are all so busy these days.
I just need to pause for a moment and look into my life and ask myself:
What is this moment showing me about my values? What is this feeling showing me about what I care more or less about? What are my actions showing me about what I’m prioritizing?
And so forth.
In an instant, just through inquiry and a foundational assumption that there is something to learn from everything I experience, I get access to a treasure trove of insight & information that I can use on my life journey.
I believe that you too have a treasure trove of insights inside of you that you can access with a slight shift in orientation and a few strong coaching questions.
At this stage of my own journey, I’ve cultivated enough muscle in “listening to” and “learning from” my life that I can now pause with whatever I’m doing, whether it’s making coffee, watching a k-drama, looking at an image, feeling something as a result of an interaction with someone and ask “What might this be showing me about my values?” and follow that thread with minimal resistance & struggle.
And this may be true for you – that you can pose a broad question in a broad context and hear back on that.
And also, you might be like me when I was first starting out on the “inquire & listen” pathway where that much expansiveness feels overwhelming to you and not very helpful.
So I want to share with you three specific lines of inquiry that you can focus your attention on to see what they might show you about your values.
I call these “values windows.” And these are my three favorites:
- What angers, frustrates & upsets you?
- What kind of people are you drawn to?
- What kind of stories & media are you drawn to?
We don’t usually get upset about things we don’t care about.
Think about the last time you were angry, frustrated, or upset about something.
If you look beneath the surface, I’m guessing you’ll discover you were upset because of some expectation you held, something that mattered or was important to you
- Didn’t happen
- Didn’t happen the way you wanted it to or
- Happened in a way that violated something important to you.
And this is why I love the question: What anger, frustrates, & upsets you? as a potential window into your value system.
Make a list of big things that upset or frustrate you. Also, pay attention to the little things that might seem too insignificant to be worth looking at. Those can be gems.
Look for themes, patterns, and connections among what frustrates and upsets you.
Consider: What’s the thing I really care about that somehow isn’t happening or is being violated or not honored here?
Quick example: I recently noticed that I was feeling frustrated & annoyed by a series of things that happened over the course of a week:
- My partner said he would do something that was important to me and didn’t follow through, even though I had just made sure to follow through on some tasks that were important to him.
- A friend who I spend a lot of time listening to and supporting glossed over an ask I made for support.
- A colleague of mine missed a deadline and didn’t mention it to me…even though I’m meticulous with her about communication.
- My mother spent an hour talking about herself without inquiring how I was doing.
- A collaborator said she would take care of something while I was on vacation and didn’t, after I’d made sure to be accountable for my tasks that last time she was on vacation.
When I sat with the inquiry: What are these things that are so frustrating & annoying to me potentially illuminating about my values? I discovered that I perceived all of these things as violations of some things I care about:
- Mutual responsibility
- Proactive communication
- Situational awareness
- Sharing space
- Give and take
- Right relationship
I roll all of these ideas into the shorthand value of “mutuality & reciprocity.” I really care about being in what I perceive to be the “right relationship” with people, systems, environments, myself and for me, that’s about feeling a sense of mutuality & reciprocity.
So by noticing my frustrations & annoyances and taking a moment to reflect on what they might be showing me, I got a window into one of my values…what that value doesn’t look like in action for me and by extension, what it could look like instead.
We tend to be drawn to people who share our values or who reflect our values back to us in some way, and this is why the question: What kind of people are you drawn to? can aid us in understanding our values.
With this question, I’ve found value in breaking it down a little bit.
Who are the friends I’m drawn to?
What kinds of romantic partners have I felt synergy with?
What bosses, colleagues, & partnerships have felt fulfilling to me?
Who are some of my role models or people I admire?
I’ll give you a light version of my own reflections here:
I notice that I have a lot of friends who love to travel, who are in some sort of consciousness work or activism, who are pretty independent, who take a lot of responsibility for their experience of life, who are loyal and reliable.
I notice that the romantic partners that I’ve felt the most synergy with are reliable, good communicators, active, and have an adventurous, willing to try new things, kind of side.
I notice that I’ve enjoyed working under bosses who are pretty hands-off and trust me to do my work & expect me to do it well but don’t micromanage, who appreciate my independence & honor my creativity while setting clear boundaries & expectations. I’ve worked well with colleagues & in partnerships that feel generous and generative, where people take shared accountability for outcomes.
And I notice that I’m drawn to role models who are boundary-pushers, who orient towards both truth & compassion, who strive to hold complexity and transcend binaries – Nainoa Thompson, Maya Angelou, the Obamas.
When I step back on what I’m drawn to, I can see many of my values at play here. I spoke early about how I value reciprocity & mutuality…and I’m drawn to people who give and take, who are loyal, who communicate proactively and effectively, who take responsibility for their contributions in situations, who are generous & generative.
I also see a value I have around liberation – I’m drawn to activists and boundary pushers and consciousness raisers and people who think deeply about the nature of life, who are trying to go beyond the status quo.
As you explore who you are drawn to, I invite you to look for themes and connections across groups of people. The more a pattern of attraction repeats itself, the more it likely points in the direction of a strong value you have.
One last note here – keep in mind that you can also flip this question and use it as a values window as well. Just as who we are drawn to can show us our values, so do can who we resist, dislike or want to keep our distance from.
Sometimes, we are actually more present to the things we don’t like than those that we do. If that’s you, no judgment, no worries – same exercise, just frame the question in reverse:
What kinds of people do you resist, steer clear of or have a visceral negative reaction to? What might this show you about your values?
Not too long ago, I started working with a brilliant artist & photographer to capture images of me for a variety of different “projects” I’m working on. And at one point during our creative process, she asked me to send her an email with her some of my favorite films…she wanted to get a sense of what kind of “visual style” appealed to me so she could translate that into how we would “shoot” images to reflect who I am.
At first, I was a little intimidated – I didn’t really know upfront how to “figure out” what kind of visual style appealed to me and what that showed about who I am.
But then I was like, “Just trust something will come of this Alice, and make a short unedited list of stuff you love and why and see what happens.”
I gave myself 10 minutes to do this, and I came up with this:
I love Baz Luhrmann’s visual style esp Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge for the rich color, drama & fantasy of it.
And music videos by the k-pop group ASTRO because they run high on saturation, with outlandish hair colors and makeup and fashion that I wish people wore on the street every day.
And Bollywood films, esp the epic Jodhaa Akbar – with its sweeping landscapes and use of mirrors, light, colors, costumes.
And French new wave films – esp Breathless by Jean Luc Goddard like – the crisp b&w images with dramatic lines and shadows.
I also love the simplicity of Noah Baumbach’s stuff – Marriage Story, Francis Ha, While We’re Young. How the camera shoots from behind things. It feels very intimate. Like I’m watching life play out with minimal intervention.
My favorite piece of media is a Korean drama called Goblin – the story is both simple and epic at the same time, it has magic in it presented in an understated way. The light, the music, the shot angles all come together seamlessly to tell this beautiful story of love & loss. And the coats and fashion – always pushes against what you’d expect people to wear yet somehow perfectly complements the characters and adds to the story.
As I stepped back and looked at what I wrote, I realized, “Oh yeah. These films are all TOTALLY a window into who I am and what I care about. Experimentation & liberation all the way – such big values of mine. Try it on, try it out, push the limits of what people thought was possible or were comfortable with. Possibility.
Of course, I’m drawn to media that looks experimental, colors that are bold, shots that are uncanny, costuming & makeup that pushes against gender norms.
I value adventure & expansiveness – and I see that reflected in how drawn to fantastical elements I am, stories about magic, sweeping landscapes, historical epics.
I also value simplicity & essentialism – and I see that in how much I love stories that speak to the universality or significance of tiny & insignificant things and art that allows you to peer in on life.
From that 10 minute exercise, I got a lot of insight into me.
Media is all around us these days and so what you are drawn to in the media you consume can show you what some of your values are right now. It can also be an invitation to consider what, if any, space lives between your unconscious or socialized values and your stated or aspirational ones.
We often default to certain types of media out of unconsciousness and sometimes to grow into more alignment with who we consciously desire to be we actually have to disrupt our own patterns and diversify the media we consume!
For example, I think of all the people I know who consciously say they value things like equity & diversity, yet whose media list is very monoracial or monocultural. There’s an opportunity for inquiry & experimentation here.
As you reflect on the media you’re drawn to consider things like:
- What’s on your bookshelf?
- What do you watch on television?
- What are your favorite podcasts & magazines?
- What and who do you follow on social media?
- When do you tune in and what do you tune out when you’re listening to the news?
- What images draw you in?
- What kind of stories are you drawn to?
- What stories do you find yourself telling over and over again?
Keep in mind that these stories could show up in books, personal anecdotes around the dinner table, images, news articles, anything really.
As always, look for consistent patterns in what you are drawn to – one thing I’m noticing lately across all of my media is how “random” it appears to be.
When you open up my Instagram newsfeed, I see everything from mental health & anti-racism content to k-drama fashion memes to felting tutorials to #floof images.
When I look at my bookshelves, I see a lot of books on Polynesian & Native American history alongside of a hefty collection of YA fantasy books and stuff on space exploration.
Just last week on Netflix, I watched two Nollywood films, a French thriller, a C-drama, and Bridgerton.
There is a lot of randomness & diversity in a lot of places in my media consumption and so because this pattern is so strong I want to inquire about it. What does this show me about who I am in the world and what I value?
All this randomness & diversity that I see feels connected to some values I have around adventure & learning. I see learning about lots of stuff as a way to have adventures in the world and so what I’m drawn to in my media consumption is a reflection of my values.
Finally, keep in mind as you get curious about your media consumption that sometimes you have to look one or two levels beneath what you’re initially drawn to, to discover what it shows you about your values.
Case in point, I have a dear friend who does a lot of reading about genocide. In fact, when we travel places together, we often end up being drawn to experiences, conversations, museums, tours, sites where we’d be learning a lot about terrible things that humanity has done to itself.
For a while she wasn’t even really paying attention to this theme; this was not a conscious exploration on her part, but it was an energetic pull.
Then, a few summers ago, we were in Bosnia and Serbia together and she commented, “I sure do spend a lot of time learning about genocide. What’s that about?” And the inquiry into values began.
To be clear, my friend does NOT value genocide.
But her draw to learning about past genocide and to stay abreast of the current mass exploitation of human rights is undergirded by some values she has.
For example, she does value turning towards the worst elements of humanity and learning from them. She does value understanding the past so that it doesn’t repeat in the future. She values acknowledging loss in order to heal from it. And this is part of what draws her to stories about genocide. See how we had to go a little bit deeper there to get to the value?
Sometimes this is part of the inquiry.
Ultimately, I truly believe that anything can be a window into who we are and what we care about…and with a little curiosity, we can follow the threads of our daily lives to deeper insights about what we’ve been socialized to care about and what truly matters to us.
And in that space, I think we get access to more agency about how we live our lives – what we choose to base those lives on and how we prioritize the time, resources & gifts we have.
I’d love to hear what “windows” you look through to explore your conscious and unconscious value system, so please do share. You can do that on my Instagram feed @wayfindingwisdom.
I’ll also be posting the reflection questions from today’s episode there as well so check them out.
And if you enjoyed today’s podcast and want to have it delivered to you every Wednesday morning, head on over to my website at www.wayfindingwisdom.com to sign up.
As I’ve mentioned, today’s episode is part of a larger series on meaning & values, so tune in again next week to continue the conversation as we talk about…
As always, I’m grateful for you and your presence in the world.
Until next time, be well, be brave, be you.