Chapter 2

Chapter 2

When I was in school, I wasn’t really sure what work I wanted to do one day.  From the day I could tot around in my mom’s high heels and high waisted pencil skirts, I loved the idea of high heels and suit jackets.  I loved the idea of walking into large glass buildings, coffee and leather briefcase in hand, taking the lift to the 9th floor boardroom to present some colourful graphs to a table of suits.  I was diligent at school and worked hard to achieve good results.  So, I became a chartered accountant.  Even during university days, I wasn’t really sure what this would mean.  I had a movie scene vision of what my career would be and so when I eventually did graduate into the actual corporate world, that’s how I started building my career – boardrooms, spreadsheets and presentations, revenue targets and one deal to the next.

During this time, I got married and my husband, who has the same qualifications and is in a similar profession, had the same big lights vision for our career.  We worked hard and we played hard.  We saw the African continent and the world.  We drank fine wines and ate with clients and colleagues at top restaurants.  We loved it.  We thrived on it.  We built our careers and our life in the business hub of South Africa.  Sounds like a movie, right?  We thought so too. It was such a fun time in our lives.   But it’s easy to get caught up in the lights and the action and eventually, probably as we got a bit older, we realised there were different priorities for us in the different seasons of our life.

Our baby boy was born after we’d been married for five years.  He is angelic.  He played by all the rules as a baby and made it very easy for us as first-time parents.  However, taking on the role of a mother is one that no-one can prepare you for.  It was the first time in my life that I felt torn between what I thought I wanted and what I had.  My heart ached when I had to go back to work and leave him at home day after day.  Eventually, when he was one, I reduced my working hours to create more time in the afternoons to spend with him.  We did Clamber Club and had playdates.  It worked, and it was wonderful.  It worked, not because I was good at putting boundaries in place and saying no when I needed to.  It worked because I was more junior in the team and didn’t have to attend all the meetings and review all the deliverables.  I wasn’t relying on others to deliver for me, I could manage the work within my working hours.

Less than two years later, our first little girl arrived a few weeks earlier than planned, after a tumultuous pregnancy.  I went into premature labour at 31 weeks.  It was a Tuesday afternoon and it had been a day full of back-to-back meetings.  I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent, but I didn’t feel awful either.  Our team PA kept asking me if I was ok and eventually made me put a call through to my gynaecologist who asked me to meet him at the hospital immediately.  Turns out, I was in labour and didn’t even know it!  I was admitted that night and only discharged two weeks later.  It was one of the hardest periods of my life.  I felt like the carpet had ben pulled out from under my feet.  I still had six weeks to finish up my projects at work and get things ready at home for the new baby.  Now I wasn’t even allowed to walk down the stairs to get a coffee from the hospital coffee shop!  It was a very mentally challenging time and I also felt that those last few months with my not-even-two year old son had been stolen from me.  When I was able to go home, I was on permanent bed rest and felt very constrained and limited.  There was a lot of uncertainty – would she come or could my body keep her in for a bit longer?  When she did arrive, she brought with her a big personality and made that known to us from the day she was born.  She had terrible reflux and would cry for hours without pause.  The anxiety overwhelmed me.  I think it was a combination of the early labour and what that time had been, together with her pain and crying and what that brought.  I felt so guilty for having such a beautiful little family, but feeling so sad and helpless at the same time.  I hid my feelings because I felt ashamed by how I felt.  It felt like I was on autopilot when I went back to work after maternity leave and it was a whirlwind three years until the big kids were five and three.  I didn’t know what my priorities really were.  I said yes to too much, I overcommitted and overworked and so often felt stuck and discontent with how life was going.

Five years and a global pandemic later, our second baby girl was born.  It was an interesting time for our world and also our family.  With the big kids busy with school and sports schedules, my maternity leave was the best of them all.  Maybe it was being that much older, maybe it was because I didn’t have two under two.  I don’t know, but I felt more content with having a newborn. I knew that she wouldn’t break and that she would be able to fit into our routines and schedules.  Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I was totally out of my depth.  We had some periods of lockdown and home-schooling and isolation because of COVID.  But somehow it felt easier than before.  I cooked and baked.  We read books and went for walks and bike rides in the late afternoons before dinner.  She slotted into the four of us like the missing piece of a five-piece puzzle.  It all felt so right.  Even going back to work full time, into an expanded role.  On the surface, it was all working out.

In each of these life transitions, I lost a small piece of my identity.  Not that I lost it, lost it.  More that I became less certain of who I really was and who I wanted to be. It became a bit blurry. A bit like Julia Roberts’s character in Runnaway Bride, who didn’t know how she liked her eggs and had to one day test them all to figure out her preference. I had become less sure of what was really important to me and of how I wanted my life to be.  Until one day I was absolutely sure that how my life was going was absolutely not how I wanted it to be.  It sometimes happens like this, I think. We don’t know what we don’t know, until we one hundred percent do.  We move through various life transitions without taking much notice of how we think and feel about the changes taking place in our lives.  We default to autopilot because it’s what we know, even if we don’t feel like it is right.  What happens then is that we start living out of alignment from our values and the things that really matter to us. This is exactly what was happening to me.  I didn’t really fully understand what was going on. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it half time, call it what you want.  I just felt a deep sense of discontentment and a desire for something different, something more meaningful that brought peace.

Our values are the things we judge to be important in the way we live and work.  They are the reasons we act the way we do and a motivation for our decisions. They guide our behaviours.  Quite often, we adopt the values of the homes in which we were raised.  Sometimes, our values change along the way, as our circumstances, needs and priorities change over time.

I knew I needed to revisit my values.  There’d been so much change and so many transitions and I knew that part of the unease I was experiencing was either because I didn’t know for sure what was most important to me or that what was important to me was not getting the energy and time it deserved.  Over time my default setting had changed to deliver on whatever other’s expected of me, saying yes to things I shouldn’t have, rather than from a place of knowing what I should and shouldn’t be including in my days.  This is what happens to many of us.  We don’t know what we want, so we say yes to it all and then find ourselves struggling to keep our heads above the water, drowning in expectations and overcommitments.

This misalignment of values and reality feels like an internal conflict, when you know something is off but you might not be sure why.  One time when I physically felt this internal conflict was when I had meetings in Cape Town and was due to fly out on the Wednesday morning for two days.  My husband was sick (more than just man-flu sick) and one of the kids was sick.  I knew I should not have gone, I felt torn between my commitments to work and my family.  I ended up going to Cape Town and felt uneasy the whole time I was away.  It’s this internal compass that tells you when something is out of place.  Here I chose work and the people at work over my family.  My family is obviously more important to me, but my actions sent a different message.  I think we do this quite often actually.  I’m sure for most of us, our families are right up there on our list of values, but the choices we make put them second.  This is where the misalignment comes in, you see.  When how we actually live our lives, what our choices reflect, are out of sync to what our hearts hold first.

Understanding our values, which are different for each of us, is a really important part of our mental and emotional wellbeing.  Many people think that values are the moral or ethical right or wrong, but it’s so much more than that.  Our values are like our unique north star, guiding us on the pathways of our lives.  Without them, we’re like ships afloat at sea heading in no particular direction, being pushed around wherever the tides move on any given day.  What helps too, is that we actually write down our values, not just think about them.  The process of writing is a filter for our thoughts.  We can categorise and shape the groups until we settle on a handful of values that stand out to be ours.

So, I took some time to actually figure out what I valued most.  My priorities.  The things that are most important to me in this season.

Here is the list that I finally created:

Family – I value my family and the time we spend together.  It is important to me that we create memories together and that our home is a safe place for love, learning and growth.

This explains why I am quite selfish with our time on weekends and feel overwhelmed when our party and gathering invitations fill up our calendars.

Faith – I value my relationship with Jesus and knowing that His plans for my life are far bigger than anything I can imagine or control.

This explains why I feel flustered and off centre when my morning quiet time is interrupted or doesn’t happen.

Wellness – I value being well – physically, mentally, and emotionally – being able to move my body and nourish it with healthy food.  Being able to understand my emotional radar and realign when it’s off.

This explains why I hate being sick and why it’s important to me to plan our meals and grocery shopping ahead for the week so I know I’m feeding my family healthy options. It explains why my world is shaken when my mental wellbeing is off.

Consistency – I value consistency and being able to practice consistency in my own life.

This explains why it totally puzzles me when people greet me today and don’t look in my direction tomorrow.  It explains why I like routine and plans that help make consistency easier in my life and for my family.

Learning – I value being able to learn new things through listening, reading and watching.  I find it comfortable to reflect on experiences and extract learning from those.

This explains why I’m always looking for a new podcast to listen to, a new book non-fiction book to read.  It explains why I get enjoyment from sharing experiences and inspiration with others. 

The process of getting to these values was a learning experience on its own and it should be for us all.  Here are a couple of ways for you to understand what your own values are:

  1. Think about and write down your answers to the following questions:
    1. In what moments are you the happiest? Who are you with, what are you doing, how do you look and feel?
    2. In what moments are you the most proud? Who are you with, what are you doing, how do you look and feel?
    3. When do you feel the most satisfied and fulfilled with your life? What had you been doing?  What did you achieve?
  2. List out some of the values that come to mind based on your experiences of happiness, pride and fulfilment. You could also use a list of values off the internet to select from.
  3. Filter your list. Group similar themes and choose one word to best describe that group.
  4. Select and confirm your list. Think through what has stood out.  Does it make sense?  Most times, you’ll think ‘Oh yes! that’s why I felt that way’ or ‘That’s why I did it like that’.
  5. Write out your values and put them somewhere you see them often. They are guideposts afterall.


Another way to discover your values, is to think through moments when you felt most hurt or upset or unhappy and flip that over.  So if you were hurt by someone being disloyal to you, perhaps loyalty if one of your values.  If someone’s attitude of arrogance made you upset, perhaps humility is one of your values.

The first step to any healing process is to understand the cause.  For me, getting clear on what matters to me was the start of an awareness that has helped me through some of the toughest days after.  When we are clear on what matters to us, we can start creating structures in our lives to invest our time and energy in those things.  Our yesses mean yes and our no’s are well placed.  If you aren’t sure of what matters to you or your values, make time to start figuring them out using one of the ways I’ve just highlighted.  Knowing your values and living into them create an alignment in your life that brings contentment and overall happiness.

No Comments

Post A Comment