Who are you?
If putting yourself out into the world
is the cure to loneliness, who are you?
Putting yourself out into the world is great advice for those of us who are feeling lonely. Indeed, feeling connected is the only cure to loneliness.
However, unless we know who we are and what’s important to us, we risk connecting with people and ideas in a way that can leave us feeling even more isolated and alone.
To avoid this, we need to connect authentically. And authentic connection requires us to know who we are.
Authentic connection requires us to know – and then live – our own values.
What are values?
I’m sure that we all know what values are as a concept. But, to be clear, I found this natty definition on the internet:
“Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.
They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they're probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to.”
(Source: mindtools.com. Accessed 9 November 2020)
To me, our values are like the signposts to use when we make a decision in life. Knowing our values provides us with a guide for how we feel called within ourselves to respond to a decision.
And our values aren’t simply for the good decisions. Our values help us for those decisions which we take that might be unpopular or disappoint others.
Our values can also evolve over time as we become older, have more life experience or learn more about how the world around us works.
What are your values?
Values sound wonderful, uplifting and inspiring as a concept, but the work comes when we’re asked to get clear on our own individual values.
Have you ever sat down to write out what your values are? It’s not an easy task, is it?
The words that encapsulate values all sound pretty good, don’t they? There are words like ‘Loyalty’, ‘Creativity’, ‘Integrity’ and other words that inspire.
But what are your values? What makes your chest puff up and reflect who you are?
If you’ve not worked out your values, I found a helpful list on the internet with some words that may help you (see here).
When considering your values, try them on like you would an expensive suit or coat. Wear them around and take them for a test drive. How does the word – the value – make you feel? Does it fit? Or are you cramming yourself into the value because you think it’s cool? The value needs to feel right for you.
Critically, consider whether the value you’re trying on is a value or a goal. ‘Honesty’ is a great example of this. We all love honesty in our lives, but can you be honest in all your interactions with the world, even when no one else sees or knows? Do you want people to be honest with you in all situations? Do you risk people being offended or upset by sharing your perception of honesty?
If you find yourself resolving to try to be honest in every situation, you may have landed at honesty as a goal, not a value. Values are not goals. Goals are not values.
Finding your values
While lists on the internet can be a helpful way to help you find your values, nothing beats paying attention to yourself.
I know. Paying attention is at once both terrifically helpful advice and infuriating. I get it.
To find your values, you need to be aware – mindfully aware – of what triggers an emotional response in you. These emotional triggers may be something that you experience or witness every day and aren’t accustomed to paying attention to your response.
By saying ‘pay attention to your emotional triggers’, this can sound like ‘Pay attention to what makes you angry’. Remember: an emotional trigger elicits an emotion and the emotion you feel may be a good one just as it may be a ‘bad’ one. An emotion is an emotion.
Simply pay attention to how you’re feeling in response to a thought you have within yourself or something said to you or something you witness as you go through your day.
Once you’ve noticed the emotion, take a quick moment to write down how you’re feeling emotionally and physically, and what you’re thinking. Do this for a week and you’ll soon get an idea of what triggers you.
Then the next part is making sense of the raw data you’ve collected about yourself. For this, we need to summon the inner inquisitive four-year-old within and ask ‘why’ for every answer we give ourselves.
That person jumped the queue! I’m so mad.
Why am I so mad?
It’s not fair. I’ve been waiting in line for 10 minutes.
Why is it not fair?
Me and everyone else has lined up and are waiting our turn.
Why did I line up?
It’s what we do.
Um. It keeps order and everyone gets served.
Why is it important to me that order is maintained and everyone gets served?
It helps the community function.
Ah, there it is, there’s the possible value: ‘community’. Another could be ‘citizenship’.
From this point, you could test your value out and turn that negative into a positive. Consider where and when in your life have you felt good about being part of a community? When have you felt inspired by being a good citizen?
If you feel like your value is calling you forward, then add it to the list.
This way, we get to dig into how a trigger can speak to something that we hold true about ourselves. In other words, a value.
Values, loneliness and authentic connection for gay men
I hear you: this is all well and good, but what do values have to do about loneliness and authentic connection for gay men?
In short: everything.
Knowing, and then living, your values is the surest way to build a rock-solid foundation for each of the three pillars of connection: connection to self, connection to those most important to you and connection to community.
If we are to live our values, every time we decide to do, speak or think something that aligns with our values, we begin to speak, think and act in integrity. Our actions align with our intentions. Connection that stems from place within us is going to be real, genuine and authentic.
This sounds wonderful, without doubt. However, our values guide us when making all kinds of decisions, even when a decision is likely to be unpopular or go against what we think we should do.
Finally, while our values provide that solid foundation for us, they can grow and change as we grow, learn and change.
Building on your foundation
Once we have our own values, we then need to live them. We need to hold ourselves to account to see if our words, thoughts and actions align with our values.
As an example, these are my values (also see here). When I write in my journal, I reflect on how I acted – or not – that day according to each of these values. Some days are better than others, I’ll admit.
I also have these values framed and in a prominent place in the house. They are also printed and displayed in my office at work and my team knows them. I do this to ensure that they’re there in my sight when I need to make a decision and am unsure about how I will respond.
Let’s get curious!
For the next week, pay attention to what triggers you emotionally and write it down. Don’t judge it, just write it down.
At the end of the week, go through the five questions exercise and write down your answers. Be honest and avoid answering in ways that you feel you should answer. That’s not being yourself.
How many values do you have? If it’s more than five, keep digging to see if there are any similarities between them.
Identifying your values is a role that is best done with the help, advice and expertise of a coach. I have a page on my site with links to two amazing coaches – Michael DiIorio and Mike Campbell – with whom I’ve partnered who can help you identify your values and then live them.
Check out their services here and be sure to tell them that I sent you.
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.