In Theater of the Imagination, renowned storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés tells listeners that the English word self stems from the Old Germanic word, selb, which originally meant to be saturated all the way through.[1]

When we live in alignment with our values in all realms of life, we’re like vibrantly-colored pieces of cloth, saturated all the way through.

Our core values are what matters most to us, the needs we choose to prioritize, our guiding principles.[2]

When our actions align with our values, we feel simultaneously settled and energized. It’s as though our bellies, hearts, and heads line up with each other.

But when we profess one set of values but act by another, it creates dissonance and confusion. It becomes harder to trust ourselves and for others to trust us, and it becomes harder to co-create the world we long for.

If thinking about your values brings up feelings of guilt or regret, I invite you to turn toward the part of yourself that feels guilty or regretful with love and kindness.

Living our values is countercultural.

Imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy trains us to act in toxically individualistic, hierarchical, and violent ways. Unless we rigorously practice self-awareness and keep our eyes on the prize in challenging situations, we are more likely to act out of unconscious, harmful habits. We all veer off track at times.

But when we identify our core values and hold them front and center, it becomes easier to navigate skillfully, even when the road gets rocky or darkness descends. We have an easier time noticing when we’ve gone astray, making amends, and getting back on track. And, while dissonance drains energy, alignment can generate (caffeine-free!) energy.

Here are some examples of core values:

  • sustainability, wellbeing, kindness, justice, love, flow
  • joy, creativity, integrity, community
  • love, solidarity, friendship, presence, radical discernment

I invite you to identify your core values now.

Practice: Your Core Values

Before we begin, I’ll share that if you struggle to choose just a handful of values, I did too the first time I encountered this practice (a class assignment for my masters’ program). My teacher asked us to select values from a list like the one below, and I thought: What a silly exercise. I’m a whole person! Of course many values are important to me. Not just five! These are all important needs. [3]

However, I soon discovered that prioritizing five core values made otherwise difficult decisions easier. It became easier to say no to anything that did not align with them. And, time and again, my clients share that identifying their core values makes it easier to stay true to themselves.[4] Months after we end coaching, they still have their value statements over their sink or next to their bed.

With this in mind, I invite you to engage in this practice with a beginner’s mind and get curious about what emerges.

1.  Dedicate the time. Whereas most of the practices in this book take only minutes or seconds and are meant to be repeated often, the practices in this chapter take more time and are meant to be practiced less frequently. (My clients practice them at the beginning of our work together. I do them every yearish or so.)

If possible, you might want to gift yourself a mini-retreat of a few hours on a weekend to do them all.

2.  Set up. When you’re ready, grab your journal, some sticky notes and a pen. Take a moment to feel your feet and your breath and get as comfortable as possible.

3.  Read over the List of Needs from BayNVC from Chapter 5, and circle words that resonate.[5] I find that starting with a list of words often helps generate ideas. The core values you ultimately land on may include words from this list, or you might come up with other words or use full sentences.

4.  After looking over the list, write down what arises in response to the following questions: You might journal full sentence responses or look over the list above for one word responses that resonate with you:

a.  What is life calling me to complete?

b.  What is life calling me to begin?

c.  What do I know deep down that I need to do in this next phase of my life, even if part of me is scared?

d.  What do I long to experience in the next phase of my life?

e.  Who do I long to be in this next phase of my life?

f.  What values is life calling me to align with?

(This question is inspired by Parker Palmer, who in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, writes:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”[6])

What values am I called to align my life with now?

If you find a dissimilarity in your responses to the last two questions, it may be a sign that life is calling you in one direction but part of you has fears about it. I invite you to notice if part of yourself is feeling scared of what’s ahead, and if so, turn toward that part with love and kindness. In Part Two: The Gates, I’ll teach you how to listen more deeply to what this part might want to tell you.

5.  Look through the words you’ve written down, and highlight words that resonate most, meaning you get a zing! or a yes! when you read them. Write each word on a sticky note and stick them on a wall. Then take a step back, and look at the words you wrote.

6.  Narrow down the list to just three to six core values. Move the words around on the wall, group similar words together, and let go of less important words.

Choose values you long to embody—and are ready to commit to—for the next phase of your life (as opposed to values you’ve successfully embodied for a long time. Don’t worry, those aren’t going anywhere!).

You may express your values with just one word or a couple of words or a sentence. If you don’t feel clear yet, give yourself time. You can allow your values to percolate on the backburner of your mind and update them as you like.

7.  Reflect on why each value is important to you. Write down or draw what arises in response to the following questions:

a.  Why does this value matter to me?

b.  When have I acted out of integrity with this value, and what was the impact?

c.  How might I embody this value more?

d.  What is my first step toward living in alignment with this value more?

8.  Place your core values somewhere they can become a daily reminder. Write your list of values on a sticky note or index card, and put them where you’ll see them often, like next to your bed, on your desk, and/or in your wallet. You might also set a daily chime on your phone to remind yourself of your values.

When you see or hear the reminder, ask yourself: Are my actions aligning with my values? If not, what is one small step I can take in the direction of aligning with my values now?

I wish you all the best on your journey to learning to align your life with your values.


[1] Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Theater of the Imagination. (Louisville, CO: Sounds True, 2005.)

[2] Throughout the book, we’ll also discuss needs a lot. Although there are nuances between the two, I use the words values and needs interchangeably.

[3] Travis

[4] Research on values- The Upside of Stress, A Liberated Mind

[5] I share this list with permission from BayNVC, and I encourage you to find out more about and contribute to their work at,, and I use the words values and needs interchangeably.

[6] Parker Palmer


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