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Uncovering Your Midlife Values

February '09

For a moment, call to mind something that truly bugs you. It’s an odd request, I know, but bear with me. See if you can find two things that are guaranteed to annoy you. They can be huge (the fact there are hungry people in the world), or seemingly small (someone zipped in ahead of you to take the last open parking space at the drugstore). Go ahead – be petty, be grumpy, get righteous! Got two things? Great! Make a mental note of them and tuck it aside.
Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist, once wrote:

“Wholly unprepared, we embark on the second half of life …we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as before. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.”

During the first half of our lives, Jung believed we move forward by adapting to our outer world, as we learn to form relationships, make a living, and generally follow the dictates of the society around us. In the afternoon of our lives, however, the route to fulfillment lies in adapting to our inner world. Midlife’s central task is to discover we truly are and find ways of expressing that essential Self in the world.

A large slice of that authentic Self is comprised of your values – those principles or qualities that are intrinsically important. Consciously, or not, you express your core values every day. But do you know what they are? While you might agree that integrity and kindness are values you respect, would they make it into your top four? The answer may require a bit of delving. Like a deep-sea diver, you will need to head below the surface of your conscious mind to uncover your preeminent values.

Once you discover these core values, you can define them. For one person integrity might mean, “walk the talk”, “tell the truth”, and “honesty”, but for another integrity could mean “wholeness”, “cohesiveness” and “alignment”. I always include values-clarification in my work with new clients, since honoring their core values is the key to developing a fulfilling life.

And the “What bugs you” question is a part of that values-clarification process. Values often hide under irritation. Because values are important ideals for us, we get upset when we, or others, disrespect them.

I invite you to revisit your answers to the “What bugs you?” query. Can you recognize the values that lie behind your responses? For example, two things that aggravated one client were: 1.) a neighbor’s intrusively loud music and 2.) wasting time stuck in traffic. Her top value (unearthed during our foundation session) was inner peace, which she defined as “feeling calm,” “time” and “peaceful surroundings.”

Can you see how her responses to the query of what irks her reflect a lack of respect for her core value of inner peace? Loud music disrupts “peaceful surroundings”, and wasting time stuck in traffic eats up “time” – both defining elements of her value of inner peace.

How about you? I’d love to hear more about your pet peeves and the values they reveal.

Happy end of winter,


  1. Meg said on February 28, 2009:

    I was just thinking about values the other day and therefore this newsletter was very relevant to me. One of my pet peeves is the way people litter. I care about the environment and strongly believe in reducing and recyling.

  2. Bonnie said on February 28, 2009:

    Hi Meg!

    What a perfect connection between a pet peeve and a value!


  3. terri said on February 28, 2009:

    mine is a little snowflake that somehow grows into a giant snowball when i see the lack of integrity in people in my workplace and they are able to get away with it – my field is nursing and it seems the ruder you are the more administration likes you – there’s no genuine compassion left for people who are sick – its just a body in a bed – treat the illness – forget about the spirit – its not even recognized – i work in geriatrics so by the time they get to me – according to the rest of the staff they’re already half dead anyway – so dont bother to do anythiing ——–that really bothers me

  4. Bonnie said on March 1, 2009:

    Hi Terri!

    You are the nurse we all hope to find when we are old and ill – keep that compassion coming!


  5. Lois Barbour said on March 1, 2009:

    What bothers me is the attitude of some teachers toward children. I’m sick of the gestapo mentality. Children are people, too. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated and they will likely respond positively. I’ve recently started in a new career as a teacher (Fall 2006) and just received my M.Ed. – MSN 5-12 from Bridgewater State. I love watching my students respond to genuine respect and caring. Most of my colleagues are great and their students benefit. Kids who have little self-confidence and who do not view themselves as competent learners need the support of those who believe in them. As President Obama says, “Yes, we can!”

  6. Bonnie said on March 1, 2009:

    Hi Lois!

    Congratulations on your new career and your new degree. We need intelligent, caring teachers in our public schools – those kids are lucky to have you.


  7. Alison said on March 16, 2009:

    What bugs me are fear, prejudice and cultural smugness. Having Arab/Muslim family connections, I’m a magnet for people’s fears about “those other people.” e.g. So many people I meet are adamant that Middle Eastern societies are just a field of weeds, whereas I see a lot of beauty and useful traditional knowledge, especially in women’s ways-(storytelling,conserving water, preparing food, maintaining spiritual health). On our shrinking planet even the thorniest culture should not be annihilated but somehow cultivated. I value “cultural cultivation” and the courage and imagination it takes.

  8. Bonnie said on March 16, 2009:

    Hi Alison!

    “Cultural Cultivation” – what a beautifully worded value! Your words portray how personally important that principle is for you. I’ll bet you feel wonderfully fulfilled when you honor that value of yours.

    Any other readers who share that value, or smething like it?


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