Values and Vocation

This weekend is our semi-annual weekend vocation retreat for UST law students and alumni. The goal of the retreat is to help each participant reflect on how God might be calling him or her to use his or her gifts and talents to serve others in the study and practice of law. The weekend is always a wonderful experience for all of us.

Our discussion focuses on a number of elements of discerning vocation. One important aspect of that discernment task is determining what are our values. It is difficult to talk about uncovering our vocation – unless we identify what it is that is most important to us – what are our life values. Once we know what those values are, we can make better decisions about how we can best organize our lives in a way that maximizes those values.

Considering our values seems like a pretty basic task, but the reality is the many people do not spend a lot of energy focusing on their personal life values, instead looking outside themselves for what is of value. This is easy to do – organization success criteria have a seductive habit of becoming group norms and unconsciously assumed success criteria. Personal values and success criteria of a law school or a law firm (most relevant for my students) may be very different, but one can easily become too busy to notice the discrepancy, even for years, unless one purposefully stops periodically and really thinks about it.

But the reality is your time here on earth is finite and you don’t want to waste it living someone else’s life. And often people keep themselves in a state of continual agitation by refusing to make focused value decisions. But unless we seriously focus on our values and how we prioritize those values, it is difficult to choose and organize our work life in a way that maximizes those values.

At the retreat, we do an exercise with the participants to help them get in touch more deeply with their values. It is always a part of the retreat that participants come back and tell me about how valuable it was for them.

What about you? Do you take conscious time to consider your values? To periodically assess, not only the values, but how well your life choices reflect those values?

If not, why not?

Living with Purpose

Earlier this week I have a Mid-Day Reflection at the University of St. Thomas law school titled, Living with Purpose: Reconnecting with Our Life Values.

Starting from the premise that we are all called to participate in the creative action of God in the world, the purpose of the program was to encourage students and other participants to reflect on how we discern how we can contribute meaningfully to the world. What is our part in the continual act of co-creation of the world with God.

During my talk, I spoke first about work from the standpoint of Catholic Social Thought and about discernment. I then talked about the role of values in determining our vocation and, thus, the importance of identifying (and prioritizing) our life values. Finally I ended with a brief talk about another important piece of the dicernment task – desire. During course of the session we engaged one exercise aimed at identifying values and talked about another that addresses desire, which I invited participants to pray with following the session.

You can find a podcast of my talk here. (The podcast runs for 21:28.) There are several places where I paused the recording during an exercise the participants engaged in. The exercise is based on this set of value cards.

(You can find all Creo en Dios! podcasts here. They are also all listed on the podcast page of this blog.)

Naming our Values

One of the Lent resources I’ve been checking out periodically is the Creighton University Online Ministries Praying Lent series. One of the Lent reflecions they offer is titled Realigning Our Priorities. The thrust of the commentary is that Lent offers a good time to both review of what we value and evaluate hwo our actions compare with what we say we value. Since I do a values exercise as part of our semi-annual vocation retreat with law students that focuses on both of these elements, it is no surprise that I was drawn to this particular reflection.

One of the things that I found very helpful was the discussion of Naming My Values. The suggestion is that

I will try to be as explicit as possible. Instead of saying, “My kids,” I might spell out the values that are important to me in saying my kids are a value, e..g, “It is extremely important to me tha I be there for and with my kids when they are encountering key growth moments in their lives, in so many areas – homework time, for reflection time, in relationship struggles, in wins and losses, in relaxing and having fun.” We might want to “open up” our values,a s we name them. What does it mean to say I value “my faith” or “my relationship with God” or “service to others”?

This seems to me to be a very helpful approach. It is easy to simply rattle off a list of values – my family, community, health, etc. But simply naming values in general terms does not necessarily lend itself to any particular action. If we, instead, actually make some effort to refine our values in the manner suggested here, it might be easier to envision what the value might actually means in terms of concrete behavior. That might make it more likely we will act in accordance with our values.