Finding and (re)defining my values

As I’ve alluded to in recent posts, the first six months of this year have been tough. Like really tough. It started with a persistent, never ceasing exhaustion. This began around September last year but I wrote it off as tiredness from switching jobs, and traveling so much last summer. I figured Christmas break would sort it out. It didn’t. I went to the GP. They changed my medication and did blood tests. Maybe my iron was a little low, they said. I started taking iron supplements but there was little change to my energy levels.

Like the depression I experienced following my PhD, suddenly I didn’t have energy to do much. I slept in on weekends, rather than going to yoga. I started avoiding making social plans, because I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to actually show up for them. I went back to the GP. Everything still looked fine. You need a holiday, they said, so we went to SA for a few weeks. The sunshine and family helped. But I returned home and was exhausted.

I started reading about burnout. I had a lot of the symptoms. Apart from the exhaustion, I was struggling at work, I had no motivation. I felt increasingly lonely and isolated. By some intervention of the universe, I finally made it through the NHS counselling wait list and went to see a therapist for an assessment. You are nearing burnout, she told me, and you need to make changes in how you live and work if you’re going to avoid it. You need to talk to work. You have to disclose your chronic illnesses. You need help.

I took the therapists advice, and arranged meetings with work. It was incredibly hard to do. I hate being vulnerable and I hate asking for help. But I did it. Work were pretty understanding, and I was referred to occupational health. Their recommendations were to work less, work from home, and find a way to remove some of my job role that had become overwhelming.

While I am not working less, I am working one day a week from home and we have agreed this is a day for writing the book. Work have also taken steps to change my role so there is far less organisational-y aspects and more writing/online engagement parts, which is super. Plus we have a part-time person helping with organisation.

As part of my recovery and CBT, one of the things I have been doing is identifying my values. Now you may be one of those people who has always known what their values are, and lives their life accordingly. Or maybe you are like me and have never even stopped to consider what your values might be, and how they might help you live your life more satisfactorily. It is probably impossible to find success in life outside of work if you don’t know what your values are, because it turns out values are all the things that are important to you (including work!)

If you are in the latter group, it turns out that writing down the things that are important to you, based around different themes – relationships, learning and work, hobbies and interests, mind and body, and daily responsibilities – can help to find out what you value in your life. If you can identify the value straight off, super! You are doing way better than me. I had to google a list of 200 values just to get an idea of what it was I was looking for. That is the place where I am starting. (It is therefore not entirely surprising I’ve become nearly burnt out.)

I began by writing the activities I enjoyed that related to various headings. So, for example, I love spending with my friends and my family. This means I value connection and belonging. Some values I did not even realise were values and I was super surprised when they turned out to be important: health and creativity in work/life turned out to be surprises to me alongside independence at work.

So what happens now? Well, I have begun to narrow down the values I identified and have started to work on how I can incorporate those values more into my life. For example, walking over lunchtimes, even for just half an hour, is important to both my mental and physical wellbeing, and relates to my health value. This is an on-going process, not something that just happens over night. Especially when it comes to values and work, it is hard to know what is best to do in the long run. But slowly slowly, changes will come.

Do you know your values? Do you life your life according to them? If so, how?!