SHOW NOTES from Episode 15 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…
Two questions I hear a lot from clients as they dip into values work are:
How do I honor all my values?
What do I do when my values are in tension?
So that’s what we are going to talk about today – where these questions often originate, some of the assumptions we make about what it means & looks like to honor our values that ultimately get us stuck, and how we can think about these questions in ways that engage our creativity & sense of possibility rather than make us feel like we are behind.
So keep listening.
How do I honor all my values? What do I do when my values are in tension?
Usually, when my clients ask me these questions, they are confused & struggling.
They are working hard to identify and express their values and feeling a lot of discomfort because it’s hard and uncomfortable.
And they are also assuming some things that are making the expression of their values through action even harder.
Often they are assuming things like:
- All of my values need to be honored all the time or something is wrong.
- All my values are equally important and should be expressed with equal magnitude & intensity – and if that’s not happening, something is wrong.
- I have to express my values consistently across all the contexts of my life – and if that’s not happening, something is wrong.
- I’ve got to get this values thing right!
Can you see any of your own thinking or experience here? If so, no judgment. I certainly see my own thinking as well.
The first thing I want to say is that with values work there is no right way to do it!
Remember, living your values is a wayfinding journey – and in wayfinding, there is no standardized manual that’s been created that you can buy at the bookstore or Google your way into that’s going to give you the exact answer.
Wayfinding is a constant process of inquiring, experimenting, collaborating, & learning your way into a path that works in YOUR context. So we really need to let go of this idea that there is a right and wrong way to live our values and therefore we need to focus on finding the right way to do something and avoiding the wrong way. This gets us away from play & exploration.
So this is the first thing I tell people – consider that there is no right way here, no wrong way, no manual, you can’t mess this up!
I’m going to tell you that right now too, and I hope you’ll let this sink in.
I also want to invite you to consider that you could let go of some of these other stressful assumptions as well on your journey if you want to.
Maybe you don’t have to:
- Honor all your values all the time – maybe you could be at liberty to pick and choose what you want to honor when.
- That maybe your values might not all carry the same level of importance at all times to you and therefore don’t have to be honored and expressed at the same magnitude & intensity – that maybe you are at liberty to stack rank them if you like, or not if you don’t, to bring some into focus at certain moments in time and let others fade into the background
- And finally that maybe you don’t have to be consistent in how you express a particular value or all of your values in the various arenas of your life – that maybe what a value like “adventure” looks like at work could look different than what it looks like in an intimate partnership or when raising a child.
I’m a very visual person and so I tend to think in terms of metaphors. So I want to offer you this idea of your values as levers & dials on a sound mixing board.
Track with me here for a second…
Have you ever seen a sound mixing board?
DJs use them. Radio producers use them. Theatre crews use them.
I often imagine producers sitting in glass boxes in recording studios using them to mix my favorite artists’ next album.
If you look at a sound mixing board, you’ll see that it has a lot of dials and levers – for volume, gain, input, output, treble, bass. All of these things.
When you operate a sound mixing board, your goal as the person mixing the song is to move and turn the various dials and levers in order to balance the various inputs in order to make a beautiful song.
You can move the dials & levers in lots of different ways to make lots of different songs. How you move them depends on the audience, the genre, the song you’re feeling called to mix, what’s coming in through the different channels, your own stylistic preferences. There’s a lot of possibility in the songs you can make and there is an infinite number of beautiful and balanced songs that can come from your fingertips that you and others would likely enjoy.
And also there tend to be some general guidelines.
Rarely does a song sound great if all the dials and levers are turned up to the max – this usually produces an unpleasant cacophony, not a well-balanced song.
Likewise, rarely does the song sound great if none of the dials & levers are turned on at all. Then there is just silence.
So I want you to imagine yourself as a record producer whose task is to mix songs in the various venues of your life.
Can you see those venues – at work, at home, in particular relationships, in specific situations? There are so many diverse venues that you get to mix songs for.
And imagine that your values are the various dials & levers on your board. And you get to decide how much “bass” and “treble” you pump in and how loud the volume is, and what the melody sounds like…according to your inputs, your stylistic preferences, your audience.
And you get to mix many songs over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, experimenting with different combinations of sounds & beats. And those songs can live in one genre if you like – maybe you’re always writing country songs – or they can jump around – a little country today, some K-pop tomorrow, some R&B the next.
You get to decide because it’s your life.
And if you start to feel like the bass is taking over one song, you can scale it back.
And if you start to feel like you need a little more volume, you can turn it up.
This is how I think about values in my life – they are the various inputs in the songs that I’m writing. The notes, the beats, the sounds that are creating the melodies and harmonies.
All of my values are always on the board to play with and I get to decide how to combine them so that the song sounds pleasing to me.
I was recently thinking about some of the songs I was mixing prior to COVID and through COVID.
Two of the values I have on my mixing board are adventure & presence. Before we all went into lockdown, the adventure dial was turned up pretty high on my board.
I traveled by choice 3-4 times a month, had 6-10 hobbies, was always out and about signing up for workshops, gatherings, etc. Learning, having new experiences, being in contact with diverse people are all part of how I’d defined adventure.
Pre-COVID, adventure was a prominent line in the melody of my life – and it had a rapid beat to it and a lot of notes across several octaves and keys.
And then COVID limited my physical movement and all of a sudden I was writing a new song and the way that I had previously expressed this value of adventure didn’t quite sound right in this new venue.
The magnitude and intensity with which my adventure dial had been tuned started giving me a headache and causing me stress, so I turned it down a bit. I let it fade into the background and occupy a slightly different space in my song.
Rather than being the backbeat of the song, it became a little bit more of a supportive element. And I began to turn up the dial on other values – for example, presence. Being here now, in the present, with what is got turned up…I began to return to basics – eating mindfully, moving my body, being present with my emotions.
And this became more of the backbeat of the song. Adventure was still there, but it sounded a little different – it took the form of deepening existing hobbies rather than broadening into new ones, of learning in place vs. learning through movement.
The pre COVID song I was writing sounded a lot like a k-pop song. And then it became more of a Joan Baez folk tune.
Both are lovely. Both are fulfilling. Both come from the same mixing board and many of the very same values and elements. And both are tuned slightly differently based on the context of my life.
You really are the sound mixer of your life and you get to make choices about what notes & beats you want to pull forward in your life at any given time. You get to be creative about the songs that you bring forth and there are so many possibilities for what you can mix.
So here are a couple of questions to help you play with this metaphor in your own life.
- What are some of the values that are on your mixing board? You might even draw out a mixing board and write them on there. Our brains process information differently when we can literally “see” things.
- What are some of the songs that you want to mix in your life right now? If you aren’t sure, that’s cool, stay present to this question and see what comes up over time. I sometimes enter this space more holistically and somatically. I listen to different songs & genres of music on Spotify and see what resonates. I’ll hear something that just pings in my heart and I’ll think “Ah, I’m trying to write a John Legend song right now or a Zepplin guitar riff.”
- Where are you currently turning up or turning down certain values in ways that are making it difficult to mix these songs? Sometimes we are pumping more bass into something than we need or not turning up the volume enough on some notes.
- What would it mean to turn up & turn down, bring forward & let fall back certain values in your life so that you can mix the songs you want to? Think about the story I just shared about the song I was writing preCOVID and how it shifted as we all moved into lockdown.
As always, I’d love to hear your learnings, challenges, & wisdom.
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I’ll also post the reflection questions from today’s episode there as well so check them out
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Today’s episode is part of a multi-week series I’m doing on meaning & values. So tune in again next Wednesday to continue the conversation.
As always, I’m grateful for you and your presence in the world.
Until next time, be well, be brave, be you.