Come on girl
Let’s sneak out of this party
It’s getting boring
There’s more to life than this
It’s still early morning
We could go to the harbour
And jump between the boats
And see the sun come up
From Björk – There is more to life than this
A fulfilling life, whether it is the life of an organisation, a team or an individual, is one of meaning, purpose and satisfaction – the very things that help us stay on course, and stop us from drifting and shifting in whatever direction the wind takes us.
If we lack a sense of meaning and purpose, we easily become confused and insecure about how we should go about our daily lives and where we are going next. It leads to frustration, friction and dissatisfaction, much of which commonly is swallowed, with the belief that “this is just they way life is in the real world”. The lack of direction often makes us grab on to whatever we hold as known, even if this known doesn’t give us a great deal of meaning or a sense of purpose. We settle for what we feel we can have. We make choices based on what others want, what would be the easiest, what would cause the least discomfort. We tolerate and compromise.
Homeostasis, the natural tendency to keep things as they are, is inherent in most systems and people.
However, many of us, secretly, long for something more from life. This longing is often a longing for aliveness, and one that never ceases to move me.
Fulfilment is about feeling fully alive and expressing all of what we are, without apology.
It is a way of engaging with the world that means that everything we say and do is in alignment with our current values and sense of purpose in life.
This is what us coaches call the Big Agenda. The Big Agenda is not about doing things, the Big Agenda is about being. What kind of person/organisation/ project do we want to be? What is the difference you want to make? How will the world be different because of you? Your project? Your organisation?
Aliveness (fulfilment) is not about feeling “happy” or “good”. Although a fulfilling day can make us feel those things, they don’t always go together. Fulfilment can bring us a sense of inner peace, but at the same time, it can be heart breaking and exhausting doing things that claim our passion and commitment.
The Value of values
When people and organisations are fulfilled from the inside out, our strategies and action plans are derived directly from our Big Agenda purpose and values. We frequently enquire about the difference our work is making and we gather the intelligence we need in order to prioritise, and be “on purpose”, “on values”.
Values are not about something virtuous or aspirational. It is simply what matters the most to us, what is truly important to us. Values are intangible – not something we do or have, or what we should be doing, or are told to do. Values are therefore neither guidelines, nor morals.
If our values aren’t crystal clear to us, we can have a beautiful vision around the difference we want to make in the world, but still not live it. Values tell us something about how we go about life, why and how we do something, and help us get on with realising our purpose.
Values are either present in, or absent from, the choices we make every day, which means that any given daily activity can be linked to a value honoured or a value betrayed.
Values are anchored in feeling, but helps us make decisions effectively and logically in practise. E.g. When we honour our values everything else falls into place.
Honouring our values is inherently fulfilling even when it is hard. We feel an internal “rightness”.
But honouring values takes courage.
Courage is a heart word
Living and standing up for our values and what brings us purpose and meaning can be testing, but vital, if we are indeed to make any difference at all and feel truly fulfilled. We can expect to be challenged by the people in our lives taking a stand for what is truly important to us. Being and doing things differently from before can evoke fear, grief, anger and jealousy in those around you. Therefore, choosing to live a fulfilling life is a radical path.
This is where courage enters the stage and takes on the leading role.
The word courage comes from the French language and is about 500 years old. It stems from cour, heart. The meaning of courage is “to tell your story with your whole heart”. So, given it’s meaning, living our values and being courageous is the same thing.
What is, of course, terrifying about this, is that it makes us vulnerable.
If living our values did not imply stepping into the land of risk, then we would all be doing it, all of the time!
The risk, or cost, of living our values is that we become vulnerable. But the benefit of living our values is that we come alive and live a life with direction and fulfilment.
The cost of not living our values is a sense of drifting aimlessly, waiting for the next wind to take us somewhere and that people we relate to don’t really know what we stand for– it brings a life with less meaning and direction, and connection. The benefit of not living our values is that it keeps us safe and comfortable – we don’t have to make choices for ourselves, and can complain to others and about others when things go wrong.
There are different perspectives on vulnerability. A dominant one is that vulnerability is seen as a bad thing. It is something that makes us weak and small and a useless competitor in the market place. It is something we must avoid at all costs.
But this perspective is thankfully only a perspective, and not the one truth. Seeing vulnerability as a weakness is only one way of looking at it.
Interestingly, resent research by TED talk sensation Brene’ Brown tells us a very different story about vulnerability: namely that it is the “birthplace of creativity, joy and connection”.
Creativity because we simply can’t be creative if we are afraid of making mistakes or appearing stupid, ridiculous or silly. Being scared of making mistakes often leads to perfectionism. Perfectionism isn’t healthy striving. Perfectionism is a thick shield protecting us from judgement and shame and makes us preoccupied with what others think. This is the desert land of creativity and fulfilment and its only antidote is the courage to be vulnerable.
Connection because the very moment we articulate and decide to come out with, live and breathe our values and purpose – the very moment we become authentic – and say: this is who we are, this is what we stand for, this is how we live our values and this is the difference we want to make; we start communicating in a language that speaks to the core of others. We are, all of a sudden, not here to “sell” ourselves, to make things “look good”, to “win people over”. We are, simply – real.
There is a power and humility that comes with this way of relating in the world, one that opens doors, deepens connection and one, which makes us magnetically attractive to the people around us. Where there is realness, there is a whole lot of meaning making!
Living our values and purpose should be at the heart of what organisations call brand.
A brand is not a trendy logo or a cool font. A brand is exactly this – a deeply resonating awareness, belief and story around what we are here to do and why we do it.
Values, if they are lived well, open up a world of possibilities and unleashes our creativity. In a word – they make us invincible. And this, in turn, brings us joy.
Until we are ready to truly step into our story, own it, and let it guide our every thought and action, we will, inevitably, pull in different directions. Only when we are aligned to, and buy into, the our Big Agenda, can we move forward resolutely and effectively.
Without being fully grounded in values we will experience a sense of being “stuck”, or that we are living out of balance.
Without vibrantly pulsing values, vision and purpose become stagnant and our longing for fulfilment will remain as such.
Taking the plunge and swimming, even when it’s rough.
Sustaining change is hard –unless you have the energy of commitment.
Commitment goes beyond making a choice. We make choices about which clothes to wear, what to have for lunch or what colour to paint our walls- we make commitment to other people, to life, to a course of action. Commitment implies there is no turning back.
Commitment means saying yes to the new plans and no to something else. Sometimes verbalising this and making it into a ritual is necessary. Saying no to a simple action is much more than taking that one thing off the list. It often means saying no to old beliefs or old expectations. Saying yes to that small action is a yes to a deeper commitment, a promise, a new way of being and operating. It is staying faithful to what matters to us and staying on course.
We cannot get enough of commitment if we are to make real progress towards our goals, vision and life purpose. Commitment is not just a leadership issue, although commitment from leaders, whoever they may be in the organisation is crucial – they are the ones that have to be clear and firm when (not if) commitments are broken, and set good examples. But commitment is also a deeply personal thing – truly committing to values and purpose will change the way we walk the world and that, in turn, will change our lives.
This article is based on the theory and writings of K & H Kimsey- House, P. Sandhal and L. Whitworth in Co-Active Coaching – third edition (2011).