How do we discover our values?

I have suffered frequently over the years from extreme feelings of worthlessness. Like I’ve done nothing in my life good enough to be considered accomplished. Depression and anxiety just makes it harder for me to recognize otherwise.

A reason for this is due to focusing on the wrong things.

If we don’t place enough value within the “right” aspects of our lives we can be made to feel like there is something wrong with us. But there isn’t.

To feel accomplished and worthwhile, we need to figure out what we value in life for ourselves.

  • Family
  • Marriage/Couple/Intimacy
  • Parenting
  • Friendship/Social Circle
  • Career/Employment
  • Education/Personal growth & development
  • Recreation/Fun/Leisure
  • Spirituality
  • Citizenship/Environment/Community
  • Health/Physical wellbeing

Looking at different areas in our lives helps us identify what matters to us and what makes life meaningful. It helps us discover what we value.

Our values then affect how we interact with the world. They help us direct ourselves toward the goals we want to achieve in each aspect of our lives.

So to discover what we truly value I suggest considering what areas of our lives we feel most connected to. And, like I have, take it slowly. It’s easier to not feel overwhelmed if you look at things in bits and pieces.

And don’t feel like you’re limited to what in life might once have been important to you. We all change over time. So never stop considering what things matter to you.

Education/Personal growth & development.
The lotus flower is a symbol of self-awareness and a sign of being conscious of who we are personally and understanding how to place value on ourselves.

Taken by Lori Campbell, September 2012

This is the area of life that matters the most to me, because self-awareness is what I place the most value on. It’s what I work hardest on and struggle the most with. Therapy has been an essential tool here and is something I would honestly recommend to everyone.

(Sidebar: Here comes that word “stigma” again. Therapy is hugely stigmatized. If we can normalize going to therapy, I think the world would genuinely become a better place. Self-awareness is the key to that.)

As part of my ongoing self-awareness, one huge thing I have learned as I have gotten older is to value being “smart” more than valuing being “intelligent.”

I am smart. It is one of my Core Beliefs. One of those things about myself that I am 100% confident about that can never be shaken.

I have trouble believing I am intelligent.

To me – intelligence has always corresponded with education. I didn’t do well in school (looking back I can see that mental health was a huge factor there, but I didn’t know that then) so I was clearly not intelligent. And despite everything I have learned about myself since, fears and lies still connive to convince me that this is true.

However, I read hundreds upon hundreds of books a year. I process information easily and remember what I’ve read. I am curious. I know there is so much I don’t know. So when there is something I find interesting/necessary or something I find myself needing/wanting to understand, I know how to research and educate myself on that topic. I never stop.

That became my definition of being smart. It is knowing how to identify what I need or want to know and how to find and apply that information.

Like I said. I *know* that I am smart.

Why does this matter?

I’ve realized that knowing I am smart helps me fight my fears. I feel more capable of achieving my goals.

Developing this self-awareness has been and still is a challenge. But the value I give to it propels me. And the more I learn about myself the more worthwhile I start to feel.

Friendship/Social Circle

What I dream about the most is to be a part of a group of people who love and prioritize one another. Who are loyal and committed to each other. People who want everyone in the group to be included during times good and bad (and all those times in between). People who don’t have to fear disappointing each other. People who won’t judge you.

Some people would describe this as family. But to me, this is friendship. And the values contained within are of huge importance to me.

It is because I don’t have excessively positive experiences with family that friendship is so important to me. I am happiest and feel the most complete when I have people in my life who value my friendship as much as I value theirs. My friends mean everything to me.

But I struggle with fear.

It is my fear of rejection, of being not good enough, that makes me afraid I am temporary. I fear rejection so intensely that I’m afraid of anything that might cause me hurt or heartbreak. My past experiences have made it so hard for me to trust in or believe in the kind of friendships that might last for life.

I don’t know how to fix me. But I value friendship so much that this is something I will never give up trying to figure out.


Why would something a lot of people consider “frivolous” matter more to me than citizenship, the environment, and community?

The world can be overwhelming. With the internet and social media bombarding me from every direction, news of what is happening around me is inescapable. Big things. Important things. Things that affect everyone in good ways and bad. Things that MATTER.

But here’s what I’ve learned.

I matter too.

We are always told the importance of putting on our own oxygen masks before helping someone else. Because, if you run out of oxygen you won’t be able to help another person with their oxygen mask.

Recreation, fun, and leisure is my oxygen mask. I care about the world around me so much that I know how important it is to value myself too. And I can’t do anything about what is around me if I am feeling broken down.

Because of my mental health, I found that the values contained within self-care (which is what this is, essentially) is key to helping me hang on when the world begins to suffocate me.

I read. I draw. I play games. I travel. I use up my vacation days even when there is nothing I have plans to do. I enjoy days doing absolutely nothing.

By placing value toward self-care, I can keep moving forward. I can relax. I can find ways to feel happiness and joy. I can start to breathe again when I begin to feel suffocated.

I can then face the people and the world around me. I can listen. And then I can help.

How does this help my mental health?

As mentioned above, when I focus on what I really care about and the values I place on them I am able to focus on what helps me when my brain spins out of my control and my anxiety or depression starts trying to take over.

Paying attention to the things that matter also allows me to let go of those things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t. And make choices that would improve my life.


Employment is something that is important to a lot of people. A career is frequently considered a great accomplishment.

I had a job once that, on the surface, was a very good job. It paid well. It had room for advancement. It had great retirement benefits.

The job denied my desire for individuality.

The job frequently required overtime. I rarely had time for myself.

The job had retirement benefits, but it didn’t cover behavioral health.

The job left me full of so much anxiety due to my work suffering that my depression overwhelmed me and I ended up attempting suicide.

Over a job. Because I had been told that the values associated with Quality Employment were more important than the things that, ultimately, mattered to me.

Having a good job and being a good, productive, and useful member of society is important to me.

But not as important to me as having a job I enjoy. Which includes the freedom to be myself. Which includes the time to spend on self-care. And, most importantly, one that understands the stresses of mental illness and offers support to those who need the assistance.

I haven’t yet found THE PERFECT JOB.

But I’m not in a rush. I know what matters to me. The Perfect Job may not exist for me, and I’m okay with that. Because there are other things in my life that I find far more valuable.

So I can let go of the idea that I am worthless just because I don’t adhere to the values that others place on employment.

I can look back at my life and acknowledge the other things that I’ve done that I’d consider accomplishments.

Knowing what matters to me and knowing what I value allows me to feel worthwhile and accomplished.

I am not broken.

I’m just different.

Published by loribarett

Coffee addicted charismatic geek with a penchant for tattoos, books, and listening to people tell their stories.

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