I did one not long ago, in a professional development workshop. We started with three columns filling a page with values: words like creativity, stability, family, integrity, happiness …
We were instructed to pick the 10 that mattered to us most. But they all matter! How do I choose only 10? After serious contemplation, and more than a little angst and second-guessing, I had my list of 10.
But we weren’t done. The instructor told us to choose from our 10 most important values the three that really mattered most.
After a few minutes (this is all we were given) of soul searching, I narrowed down my list to three. As I waited for others in the room to finish up, I reviewed my three again. Yes, these mattered most. This step was, oddly, easier for me than choosing the original 10.
Then, the other shoe dropped: from the three, we were told to choose the ONE value that mattered most to each of us.
What would you chose, today?
From my three, I chose health. Easily. Without hesitation.
But I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that a few years ago health wouldn’t have even made my top 10. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think good health is something we all take for granted, until it’s threatened, or gone.
In my four decades of living on this planet, I’ve experienced my share of physical health issues: some incidental (broken fingers, fractured nose, mild concussions — all from an adventurous and active childhood), some minor in the grand scheme of things but recurring enough to be disruptive (chronic sinusitis, migraines, GERD, asthma), some constant and painful (scoliosis, degenerative discs, bulging discs, arthritis).
But none of these ever made me value my health. Not really. Not when it came to choosing what matters most to me. I could control these health issues, to some degree. I could understand why they happened, why they caused discomfort or pain, why they interrupted my life. I had test results, x-rays, CT scans, MRI results. I had remedies that helped me live with them.
It wasn’t until mental illness overtook me, wore me down, without reason or cause or anything I could understand, and led me to take time off work, that I truly valued the importance of good health.
Poor health impacts everything: your relationships, your sense of self, your ability to do your job, your finances.
My physical ailments vandalized my life. Depression robbed me of everything. I couldn’t feel enough, empathize enough, care enough to be a good family member, friend or colleague; I couldn’t think fast enough, juggle enough, show up enough to be good at my job anymore; I lost interest in all my former hobbies and passions that used to energize and refuel me; I didn’t care to eat well or exercise; I felt my physical pain more acutely than ever; I was off work without pay and couldn’t care less about my finances.
When I took that values exercise I had been back at work for a few months, after time off because of depression. I was coping okay: not great, but making progress, day by day. But then along came this values exercise and it knocked me on my ass. It made one thing very clear to me that I’d never given proper attention to before: my health, good or bad, impacts all areas of my life and, by extension, everyone and everything my life touches.
And — I can’t emphasize this enough — good health includes good mental health. In fact, I don’t understand why we differentiate between physical and mental health/illness. The last time I checked, the brain is an organ of the body. I’d even go so far as to say a pretty important one, as far as body parts go.
Thanks to this values exercise, I developed a new appreciation of just how much my health is worth to me. Recently, I received a new diagnosis of Bipolar II. This diagnosis reaffirmed for me the value I place on my health. It has made me more determined than ever that I will do everything I can to be as healthy as I can be while living with the conditions I have – for me, and for everyone and everything I value in my life.