A 3-Part Exercise to Reconnect With Your Values
Over three decades of service in the Army, including commanding four companies and a training battalion, the Major General Dee McWilliams was faced with a terrible choice in 2003.
To earn her third star, McWilliams was asked to leave her posting in Germany to return to the Pentagon, as it geared up for a war in Iraq based on what it was later determined were false reports of Saddam Hussain’s cache of weapons of mass destruction.
“I knew I’d be going back to Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, which was gearing up for a war that I felt would be a quagmire,” she recalls. “Colleagues in intelligence confided that there was no connection to WMDs. My conscience couldn’t handle the deceit operating at the highest levels. I determined that it would destroy my moral core to participate in the process. Additionally, I had always promised myself that when the small voice inside whispered that it was time to go that I would listen and comply. I did.”
McWilliams knew then that it was time to retire. To this day, she feels confident in her decision.
Write a List of Your Values and Everything Else Will Follow
Here are the eight core values I live by
McWilliams’ story echoes the experiences of many trailblazing military women I interviewed for my book, The Grit Factor. Honoring your inner voice, the one that’s connected to your values and to your core purpose, is absolutely critical to operating with character, conviction, and courage. Part of that process is allowing yourself adequate time for reflection, to ensure that the story you’re living is consistent with the person you know yourself to be.
You can use this exercise to help guide you along the way:
Think back to when you were a child
Depth psychology, an interdisciplinary field pioneered in the 1910s by the Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, holds a useful tenet for reconnecting to your inner voice and core values. It supposes that the person we wanted to be when we were children is an important North Star for who we want to be as adults. While this version of ourselves can sometimes be subsumed by the ego as we mature, it is foundational to who we are.
So, to reorient yourself to this early vision, sit down with a pen and paper, and ask yourself some questions: As a child, what did you want to do? Who did you want to be? What was important to you? How has it changed, and why? Is there something you have not realized that you would like to bring back into your life? Write down your reflections.
Consider an action or a decision you regret
It’s nearly impossible to learn from negative experiences without looking to see what contributed to them and how we were off base in our thinking.
Think back to a moment when you behaved in a way that felt inconsistent with who you are or want to be. What were the factors influencing that decision? Can you see, in hindsight, precisely how it was misaligned with your values? How might you do it differently if you were faced with a similar situation again?
Consider a decision or an action you have pending
Being yourself is not easy for most of us, not even Dee McWilliams. It takes practice and self-reflection. But being yourself is essential to your success.
For the last exercise, think ahead to a major choice you anticipate making — something big, such as whether to accept a new position, ask for a promotion, or let someone go. Then sit down and write for 10 minutes about what matters most to you, outside of that action or decision. Now consider your decision in light of what you have written.
When your decisions are guided by your values, you are better positioned to support your own growth and impact. Identifying what those core values are, and how they fit into your life story, is key.