Being –I believe this is the correct term– “Old as Fuck,” it’s easy to forget how overwhelming it can be to enter adulthood. My oldest son and his partner are doing just that. They both had the courage to admit that college wasn’t for them and, as a result, the buffer period a lot of people get between high school and adulthood doesn’t exist for them.
One day, my son admitted that he just kind of felt like he was drifting in life and was frustrated. I asked him what he wanted out of life and he said “I don’t know.” I assured him that it’s perfectly normal at 18 to not know what you want. Technically, our brain development doesn’t complete until we’re 23. Shit, I’m 47 and I still don’t know what I want half the time. Thankfully, I’m not flying blind. My old training as a life coach came in useful. I gave my son and his partner an exercise. I had them begin defining and articulating their Non-Negotiable Core Values.
Non-Negotiable Core Values are the things in your life that you will fight and die over. Beliefs about yourself, your family & friends, and your world that you will not compromise on under any circumstances. I used myself as an example when I talked with them. I explained to the Cool Kids that I will never go back to living as a man. If I get raped, beaten, imprisoned, or murdered living as a transwoman, then so be it. If hormone therapy becomes illegal, then I will find a way to buy my estrogen and testosterone blockers illegally. I will never give up being myself. I will never negotiate away one inch of my femininity. Sometimes it can be hard to sum up a belief this complex in one phrase. I wrestled with it for a while and I initially named this value Authentic Gender Expression when I made my list of values in 2015. I was still living in the closet but I had already admitted to myself that I was transgender. Those few moments without the wife or kids in the house when I could be myself were treasures and I had now articulated for the first time in my life that I was never budging nor being shamed out of expressing my truth about who I was. It was a turning point for me.
It’s challenging making this list when you start. What happens is that we confuse what we are good at doing with who we are. One of my friends said that one of his core values was that he was a guitarist. I told him, “I just cut your hands off. You’re never playing guitar again.” The reason you don’t have talents/gifts/abilities as Core Values is because they can be taken away from you. I can have a brain injury that wipes my knowledge about wine out… sayonara sommelier. I can get downsized out of an industry, like I was in radio. Core Values are deeper than a career, more authentic than a learned talent, and more central than what tribe you belong to.
I started redoing my list of values when I asked the Cool Kids to make their lists. I made the same mistake I always warn other people against. I wrote “An Adventurous Yet Loyal Sexuality” as one of my values. After decades of repressing my gender identity and decades of christian shame around sexuality and the body, I feel like I’m just getting to a place where I’m enjoying sex. My partner and I have a lot of fun together learning and discovering and exploring. But that can all change in an instant with a freak accident or a changed dosage in my antidepressants or a six year old that keeps coming into the bedroom to avoid going to sleep. I had made the same mistake that Guitar Boy had made… I was mistaking something I enjoy for something at the center of who I am.
What I did was pull the lens out a little and ask the bigger question: Why? Why do I value sexuality so much? I realized that it has to do with my body. A body that I’ve fallen in love with for the first time in my life. I realized when I asked “why” that my sexuality is wrapped up in that Authentic Gender Expression value I stated years before. So, what I did was make my sexuality an action item beneath the value. Does that make sense? I was able to give a nod of gratitude to my sexuality but give it a perspective beneath the larger statement of Gender and Identity.
“So what,” you ask? Why waste my time doing this shit?
It’s important because, once you have defined your Core Values, you have a clarity in life for what to say yes to but –more importantly– what to say no to.
For example, one of my values is Mental Stability & Health. I have a broken organ in my body (my brain) that I medicate and care for and manage. I’ve admitted myself to psychiatric facilities twice. I learned a lot while I was a patient and my stays in mental hospitals have kept me alive. However, I don’t ever want to go back to one. In the runup to my hospitalizations, I had been trying to ignore or push through my mental instability. I wasn’t managing it at all.
Since staying out of the place with the grippy socks is a priority for me, I say “no” to a lot in life. Sleep equals sanity, so I don’t do late nights, sleepovers, or anything else that takes away from my eight horizontal hours. I drink but I almost always limit myself to a glass or two because the wine/cocktail cancels out my antidepressants and I can tell a difference the next day or two. I also have to say “no” to visits to my hometown. I love Cajun Country. I love the food. I love the people. I love the culture. However, it’s an emotional minefield for me when I go home. I visited my hometown for my oldest son’s graduation and cried for a week afterward because it was so hard to see certain people and places again. There’s too much negative emotional power in Louisiana. Hopefully that changes one day but, for now, I have to say “no” to the motherland. My Mental Stability and Health mean too much to me.
I’m so proud of my son and his partner for asking for help. It’s an honor to help them flesh out who they are and get direction in life. My job as a life coach/spiritual guide/counselor was a job I deeply enjoyed. It makes me happy sharing with them… and with you, too. If you want to try fleshing out your Core Values and need a sounding board, feel free to reach out to me. It’s an honor to walk alongside people as they discover and reclaim themselves!