Twenty six years ago I was living and working in London for an elite sports organisation supporting athletes and teams to pursue their sporting dreams. I had been in London for a few years and recently shifted roles from marketing and media to a newly created athlete wellbeing and professional development program.
I had hoped the move would quell the lost and dissatisfied feeling I had bubbling beneath the surface for the last few months. It was not my only strategy to ease my discomfort.
I delved into tried and tested ways of young Australians in the 1990s and immersed myself in hedonic pursuits – parties, friends and drinking – burning the candle at both ends. Surely something would shift?
Not surprisingly this ‘let it burn’ approach gave temporary relief, but also generated discomfort, anxiety and broken relationships along the way.
Luckily for me, a mentor at my workplace, who could see me better than I could see myself, took me aside and asked how I was doing. Not so well it seemed. She was an excellent listener, a wise counsel and at some stage in the discussion she suggested I check in with my values.
I was not really sure what she meant, so she handed me a stack of black and white photocopied sheets of paper, the height of 90s technology. She told me to follow the instructions and let her know how I got on.
A highly developed values system is like a compass. It serves as a guide to point you in the right direction when you are lost.
I took them home, but when I realised I was going to have to cut the pages up into a deck of cards, which would involve finding scissors in the less-than-houseproud share house I lived in, it all felt too hard. I lost interest and went out to a party instead.
Fast forward a few more weeks of running from myself, this time literally going for a jog on Clapham Common on a foggy, drizzly winter evening. A kilometre into the run I tripped and fell to the ground.
I tried to get up, but couldn’t. I just sat there, working up the energy to move. Then a rush of emotion wailed out of me in uncontrollable tears and sobbing. I couldn’t run anymore.
I finally had the courage to stop and take stock of my life. Somewhere in the last two years I had lost the person I wanted to be.
My GP referred me to a NHS funded counsellor. Back then the therapy of the day was a painful psychodynamic process of the therapist sitting in silence, occasionally scribbling on their notepad, until the urge to fill the room with words was so overwhelming that you gave in and blabbed.
It just made me feel angry and resentful, so I stopped after three sessions.
Instead, I did as my mentor had suggested, I found the scissors and cut up the cards and followed the instructions. It was a deck of personal values cards from the University of Mexico with value descriptors ranging from autonomy, humour, hope and wealth.
The process it guided me through was liberating and helped me relocate my sense of self and how I wanted to be in the world. I still had to do the work, but it gave me insight into what was missing and what direction to take.
Being guided to clarify and understand the values that motivate me – distinguishing my identity from my parents’ values or the dominant values of my culture, and really seeing who I was – changed my life.
I learned what was missing and it led me to pursue a pathway of growth, mastery and deep connection.
The following year, I returned to Australia so I could reconnect with learning, nature, exercise, and family, especially the fresh batch of niblings that my siblings and friends were producing.
Over the next decade I embraced the opportunity to be an aunty and to complete my clinical psychology training in Adelaide before moving to work in Melbourne and do a PhD in positive psychology.
I carved out a career that combined clinical psychology skills with my lifelong involvement in sport and performance.
Central to this has been researching, applying and refining my understanding of wellbeing science and, in particular, how values impact health, happiness and performance at work, on the sporting field and in our relationships.
To discover more about the science behind how values shape our identity and guide us to live a meaningful life, read part two of this series, “You’ve got to stand for something”.
*The Mind Room values card deck helps you explore your important life domains and values. Developed by psychologists and based on research, practice and user experience. Designed for fit minds and flourishing lives.
We are pressing pause on our public workshops for 2023 and will be back with more in 2024 (love it when we rhyme).
We can do workshops on demand, so get in touch if you have a community or organisation that would appreciate a little Mind Room workshop magic in their life.