Be Yourself. It’s all you have.

During my senior year in college, I felt like I had finally figured out life and gotten it right. (Well, as much as life can be figured out at 21 ;))… Several months ago, I was working through the creation of a Values Alignment exercise for our clients at TODEM and their employees. Amidst creating this exercise, I was inspired to actually do it myself. This led me to think back on a moment when I felt entirely myself, and hence, back to my senior year in college.

Trying to figure out who I was in college was an interesting journey for me, as I’m sure it is for most of us. I started out Pre-med, majoring in Health and Exercise Science – it seemed like the logical choice for a career since I excelled in math and science. A lucrative, prestigious job seemed fitting. Then I realized that even though I was good at it, I really didn’t like science that much.

My freshman year, I had taken an Intro to Studio Art class as an Arts elective. At the end of the class, my professor asked me to consider majoring or minoring in Studio Art. I was flattered, but she had to be kidding. There is no way that my parents were going to pay my tuition to Wake Forest University so that I could major in Studio Art. I moved on and continued on my path to a Health and Exercise Science degree.

A year went by, and I realized that I was surprisingly jealous of a friend who was a Studio Art major. When I discussed it with my best friend, she told me that the word that she would use to best describe me was “creative.” I was shocked – how had I never seen this about myself?

After some soul-searching and an incredibly supportive conversation with my parents, I changed majors. It was freeing. It felt amazing to be exactly who I wanted to be, unswayed by the expectations of others. It all of a sudden made other problems disappear. I no longer needed to restrict what I ate to feel in control. I no longer needed to exercise multiple hours a day to feel in control. I wasn’t trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was finally being true to myself.

This leads us back to my senior year. Being in my apartment that truly felt like my first home that I created – a reprieve full of love, fun, and genuineness. I was surrounded by three roommates with my same values. I loved being at home – doing anything – art, listening to music, just being. I also enjoyed the social aspect of my life during that time – I was friends with everyone – people from all walks of life who were involved in totally different activities on campus. It had been a three-year journey that had finally led me to exactly who I was. Comfortable in my own skin. Proud of being unique and my true self.

The definition of a value is “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” When I looked at TODEM’s values while doing my Value Aligning exercise, I saw that “Be yourself. It’s all you have,” was one of our company’s values. It made me feel even more connected to my company to realize that I was working in a culture that valued the same things in life as I did.

So, in the spirit of being yourself, I can truly say that it is worth it to take the time to discover your own personal values – they will help you understand who you are and will bring purpose and meaning to your life. Being consciously aware of your values will also make it easier to make decisions because they will be guided by those values.

The New Brand Culture Model states, “We are all in the continuous process of defining our sense of who we are and what we believe… Brands are now creating value not just by the products or services they represent, but by the meaning they generate… Meaning, in fact, may be the most important product a brand creates today.”

If you are the leader of a company, I can truly say that it is worth it to discover your company’s purpose or “meaning” and values. It is also imperative that your employees understand them and feel connected to them. A healthy internal culture will inspire well-rounded and happy employees. This positive culture will radiate externally, drawing others to your company, and leading to company growth.

Whether you’re an individual whose considering going through this process personally or the leader of a company, it’s worth it to take the time and energy to explore your values and learn how to live by them. I promise the discoveries will be worth it because being yourself really is all each of us has.

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