As you begin a new year, maybe it’s a good time to think about your alignment. How well do your sense of purpose and values match the way you live each day and the values represented in the key relationships in your life?
A lot of people go through life letting urgency, convenience, or fear push them around. They let circumstances place them into situations and relationships that, on a daily basis, violate the things that are most important to them. It’s easy to understand why this happens. Like water and electricity, people tend to take the path of least resistance, and it’s simply easier to go with the flow. It also feels safer, if you’re afraid living true might mean you lose what is precious to you. It can seem way too risky to insist on being true to your own values and your sense of purpose.
But remember, you weren’t put on this earth simply to be another pretty face or to do what someone else thinks is important to fulfill their purpose. You were put here to express the image of God in the form it takes in you. Anything else amounts to falling down on the job.
So if you want to consider your alignment this year, I encourage you to look at these five ways you might need to make adjustments.
Your Own Purpose and Values
You can’t afford to live without purpose. Your life is too important.
You’re not going to be fulfilled in your life if you don’t have a sense of purpose. You aren’t going to make the kind of impact you want to make unless you live with purpose. And most important, you won’t do what God created you and put you here to do.
If you haven’t done so yet, you need to learn to really embrace the reality that the world needs you to be you. You don’t have to try to be someone else; simply acknowledging who you are and being the person you are is enough. God didn’t put you here to strive to be someone you’re not or to suppress yourself in deference to what you think the world wants from you.
If you want to define your sense of purpose, I encourage you to hire a coach like me to help you do that. The most effective way to understand yourself may be to do so in the context of being known by someone else who can help you see what you can’t see. But you can also work on your own to develop a sense of life purpose.
In the same way, it’s important to identify your most closely held values. Values come in different brands. Like everyone, you have moral values that define right and wrong for you. These values are defined by your religious beliefs, family of origin, maybe the culture you live in. You also have personal values that are not about right and wrong; they’re about what is most important to you. You probably have some of these values in common with other people around you, but you also have values that are different from others’, and some of your values may even conflict with the values of people you know and love. This kind of conflict can create tension, misunderstanding, and competing goals. But these values aren’t about right and wrong, so it’s OK that they’re different.
When I talk about alignment with your values, I’m talking mostly about these personal values. It’s critical for you to honor your moral values if your life is going to be in alignment. But most people don’t need to be encouraged to identify them and affirm that they’re important. Personal values are different. Many of us don’t have a good understanding of our own values, even though they drive much of our behavior and our feelings about life circumstances. When I help clients identify their values, we begin opening a door to understanding some of why they feel frustrated, angry, or empty. If they’re living in a way that requires them to violate their own values, it’s no wonder.
Work on identifying both your sense of purpose and your values, and then consider whether your everyday life is aligned with them. Are you living in a way that honors what is most important to you?
Your Most Primary Relationship
Once you’ve identified your own sense of purpose and values, consider what’s most important to the person you’re closest to. This may be your spouse or significant other, or a best friend. This is the primary person in your life, who influences the way you live.
Do your purpose and values line up with this person’s, or do you at least have some significant overlap? If so, you’ll both be more fulfilled and effective than you could be on your own. But if not, where will this relationship take you long term? What needs to change so you can both honor what is most important to you? How can you build on the things you do hold in common? These can be scary questions to ask about a relationship, but there’s a part of you (perhaps a painful part) that is already asking about them and that deserves open consideration.
Have you ever thought about the real purpose and values of the organization you work for? I’m not talking about the mission statement or the core values posted on the wall in the conference room. I’m talking about the ones that may or may not be openly recognized, but which drive the everyday decisions and behavior of people who are successful and happy there. I encourage you to consider what these true guiding principles are and then consider whether they match up with your own.
Alignment brings both fulfillment and effectiveness. When you’re able to express and honor some of your personal values in your work, without experiencing a lot of conflict between your values and the organization’s values, you will feel fulfilled by your involvement. And you will be valued by others in the organization. When you and others in the organization share a common sense of purpose, the organization’s momentum will be moving clearly in one direction, increasing likelihood that the organization can actually pursue and fulfill its mission.
Your Faith Community
It’s important that you find alignment with your faith community so you can honor your purpose and values and help the whole unit do the same. Otherwise, frankly, you don’t belong there.
When I’m talking about alignment in this context (and in the context of employment), I don’t mean that your life purpose and personal values have to be exactly the same as the church or other organization you belong to. But they must not be in conflict. It simply won’t work if they are. Either you or the rest of the community will have to give.
For a long-term, mutually fulfilling, effective relationship, you need to have areas of overlap that allow you to live as the person you were created to be, and honor the things that are most important to you, while moving the ministry forward according to its own stated purpose and values.
Your Media Choices
I might sound a little like your high school youth pastor here, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. We don’t outgrow the need for discernment as we grow up. And I’m not going to tell you that you should never watch, listen to, or read anything you disagree with–in fact, most people probably aren’t doing enough of that these days!
I do think it’s important to consider what you consume from this perspective, though. When you intentionally read, watch, or listen to things you disagree with, you’re probably usually putting your mind on alert to engage with the material, considering what you are and are not willing to buy into. But when you consume mindlessly, without thinking about your purpose and values, you can subtly undercut your own commitment to the things that are most important to you.
Does the time you spend on social media advance your personal purpose in this life? Do you subject yourself to a lot of entertainment that degrades the people and things you care about most? Consider what you could change about your media consumption that would help you honor your values rather than constantly have to choose to defend or compromise them.
Consider what you can do to bring your life into greater alignment. Be honest and courageous about what is required for you to move forward—there may be hard work here! Remember what you’re shooting for: life according to your own God-guided sense of purpose, not someone else’s purpose for you.
The people who depend on you and what you do need you to be your best, healthiest, and most effective self. Do the work you need to do for the sake of yourself, the people who need you, and the God who created you to be the person only you can be.