6 Ways To Improve Your Life Steering With Values

Our values steer our actions.  – Polynesian Voyaging Society

A year or so ago my youngest son participated in a canoe race in Waikiki that was the busiest and most fun contest all year.  There were so many people on the already crowded beaches; it was crazy.  It was a slightly different format than normal.  Usually, the canoe clubs of my son’s age (14 and under) did a quarter-mile on a flat straight course.  In this race, the annual Walter Macfarlane Regatta, they would paddle straight out into the waves, circle a buoy and race back in, hopefully timing it just right to surf a big set back in.  The waves that day were pretty a good size, definitely not for beginners.  For safety, the association substituted an experienced adult in the steers-person seat (number 6) to see the younger crews safely out and back. My son’s crew didn’t win that race but they had a great time in the surf.

He hewa i kapua ka`auwa`a panana`ole.

The fleet of canoes without a compass landed at Kapua by mistake.

The person who is steering a Hawaiian outrigger canoe is responsible for making directional choices and course changes. They use a specially shaped paddle that is weighed in ounces to adjust the direction of a 500 pound canoe.

Our lives, our choices and actions, are likewise steered by what appear to many as small, unimportant things:  our values.  I’ve seen enough people and organizations over the past 20 years as a pastor and as a consultant who either minimized the importance of their values, had no values or had mission/vision statements that were not in alignment with their values. They had no compass, no way to know where they were or where they wanted to be.
Values are defined in one dictionary as “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” I think most of us would, if given a choice, want to do what’s important. Why is it that we’ve seen and continue to see so many (myself included) who make choices that obviously are not in the “most important” categories?  Like a novice steers-person we zig-zag back and forth, using more effort and energy than required to get where we’re going (if we ever do).

We can learn how to better align our lives with our values the same way a person can learn to steer a canoe.  Here are 6 things to get you started in both activities.

  1. Know where you want to go and what you want to do before you get in the canoe.

    You want to be clear on who you are and what is important to you BEFORE you have to make choices and decisions. I’ll put up a couple of activities that can help you in identifying these things later this week if you’re unclear.

  2. Practice in calm waters.

    When you’re first learning anything on the ocean start small.  Want to learn to surf?  Don’t go to Pipeline.  When you’re defining your values and basing decisions on them for the first time I would suggest working on the small stuff first.

  3. Have a coach. 

    If at all possible have an experienced coach or mentor with you as you practice.  There’s something to be said for bulling on ahead and figuring things out yourself but, wow, reinventing the wheel (or steering blade) is probably not a good use of your time.  If you have someone to role-model for you, point out rocks or currents that might affect your journey, and encourage you along the way consider yourself fortunate.

  4. Don’t cry over huli-ed (turned over) canoes.

    Recognize that everyone makes wrong choices, decisions and turns and occasionally tips their canoes.  In fact, if you never make a mistake in choice or direction, you’re probably not risking enough.  You can learn from the times you got wet just as much (if not more) as from the times you stayed dry.

  5. Practice in rough waters.

    This may seem to contradict #1 but if you never go out to test your skills you’ll have a difficult time improving those skills.  Being conscious of how you make decisions will become more natural the more you do it.

  6. Keep on paddling. 

    This may seem like a no-brainer but you’ll get better at this the more you’ll do it.  If you tip over, i.e. make a poor course direction, adjust, re-align and continue moving.

I mua!  Go forward!

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