On Letting Go and Making Space: How Knowing Your Values Changes Everything

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
~ Roy Disney

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
  ~Nelson Mandela

Oh, man. Life takes some unexpected turns sometimes, doesn’t it? You make all sorts of grand plans for your life when you’re 18 and 21 and 25, and fully believe they will all come to fruition by the time you’re 30. Because 30 is old and past your peak and you should definitely have it all figured out by the time you enter the fourth decade of your life, right?

Wrong. Because life doesn’t work that way and it rarely turns out exactly as you plan.

Also:  Everything just gets better in your 30s. Seriously. You are most certainly not past your prime. If anything, 30 is just the beginning of your journey towards awesomeness.

I promise.

So maybe you’ll wake up one day and find that you’re 31 (if you’re like me) and realize that you’re nowhere near the place you thought you’d be at this age and phase of your life. And maybe you’ll have a moment of intense anxiety about this fact and question every decision you’ve ever made and feel like you’ve missed out on your chance for greatness.

But then you’ll take a deep breath and look around and feel immense gratitude for the way your life is at this very moment in time, for every choice you’ve ever made because ultimately they all (even the seemingly terrible ones) brought you to this place, which will suddenly feel like exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Because it is. Even if it looks nothing like you imagined it might.

When I was 18 and 21 and 25, I certainly never thought I’d find myself at 31 living alone with my cat in a small studio apartment. But here I am. Sharing 550 square feet with a 7-pound feline, still single, spending many of my nights with a good book, a hot bath, and a ridiculously early bedtime.

Recently, I realized that I’ve been resisting this reality a little bit, failing to fully engage with it and accept it and embrace it, and continuing to foolishly compare my circumstances to those of the people around me.

Or to what I imagine those people might deem appropriate or admirable or ideal.

So I stopped and asked myself one question:  What are my values?

And then I looked to see if my current lifestyle aligns with those values. Which it overwhelmingly does.  In light of this fact, my appreciation for my life immediately multiplied, as did my willingness to accept full responsibility for creating the life I have created.

In particular, my small, studio apartment no longer seemed too small or humble or something of which I should be ashamed. Instead, I began to see it as an accurate reflection of my belief in the power of living minimally, of not accumulating more space (or stuff) than I require to function fully and happily on a daily basis. For me (and Sammy the cat), 550 square feet is more than enough space.

Clearly identifying your values – and actually writing them down – can be a powerful exercise, and an immensely important one. I encourage you to try it. And to repeat the process often, as your values will change – in both small and big ways – as you transform and evolve, especially when you are consciously dedicated to continual personal growth.

Sometimes transformation of this kind can lead to loss, bringing your awareness to ways in which your lifestyle is not in alignment with your values and asking you to let go of the things which are no longer serving you. This can include behaviors and habits, possessions, beliefs, and relationships – both romantic and platonic.

Letting go of these things can be hard. Really hard.

Especially when this entails breaking ties with friends or lovers or even professional acquaintances. And there can be a certain experience of emptiness that pervades in the aftermath of this process.

But this is good! This is the practice of clearing space to make room for that which actually does serve you.

And this is what you want – people and things and relationships and work that are in alignment with what you value, that help to propel you forward on your journey of awesomeness by honoring the person you are today, right now.

Your tools for surviving the often challenging process of becoming who you already are? Gratitude, awareness (meditate! practice mindfulness!), patience, trust (in yourself, in the universe), and your own intuition.

Oh, and acupuncture. Obviously. (Though I am, admittedly, a little biased about this one.)

To all of you who are committed to this process of self-discovery, who practice self-awareness, who look directly at the tough stuff instead of looking away, who aren’t content with complacency, and who welcome transformation (even when it’s really effing difficult), I applaud you.

You are inspiring. And you are brave.