“I’m just a mom. A divorced, single, working mom.” How we identify with ourselves and the world says a lot about our values, and the forces that shape us and how we live our lives everyday. According to the Hall-Tonna Inventory of Values, “values are the ideals that give significance to our lives, that are reflected through the priorities that we choose, and that we act on consistently and repeatedly” (Hall, 2006, p. 21). As a graduate of Saint Mary’s of California (SMC) Master of Arts in Leadership, Cohort 26, I had the experience of assessing and interpreting my own values. Although I was skeptical of my initial results, deeper examination led to feeling validated and intrigued, as I was presented with information about myself I did not know I was even looking for. My first assessment revealed values that included being adaptable, flexible, generous, and compassionate. I was in personal transition, not knowing that personal transformation was yet to come. Similar to the values just named from my initial assessment, readers who are familiar with the Hall-Tonna values framework will recognize many of the names and definitions of values as defined by Hall (1998) throughout this post. For a closer look at the meaning and importance of understanding values, check out Values Matter elsewhere in the blog.
I completed the values assessment a second time in April 2012. My results clearly showed progress and personal growth in empathy, sharing, listening, and trust. My sense of identity and self-actualization as a student was so strong that stepping back into the non-academic world (“life”) after graduation was daunting. I had an epiphany on the morning of August 9, 2012 while my two children waited patiently to go to the zoo. After being away at my final graduate retreat, it was time I made good on my promise to spend the day with them. As I cleaned our table from breakfast, I felt a sudden mental and emotional shift, and thought “What now?” with a thought that answered: “I’m just a mom. A divorced, single, working mom.” My values shifted like an emotional rockslide from a firm sense of wholeness and self-actualization to lacking security and self-worth. My identity as a student filled me with a sense of belonging and security, which served as a springboard to increase self-awareness, and the unique gifts I had to offer.
The shift was a crash from the thrill of graduating and turning in my thesis, how exciting — I accomplished something huge! The avalanche of emotions was unexpected as reality struck that I was no longer a student or a cohort member. At the kitchen table, asking myself “what now?” brought up all the suppressed emotions of the painful divorce I went through in the midst of completing my MA in Leadership. Feelings of low self-esteem, shame, and fear, bubbled to the surface. I questioned who was I to bask in the glow of accomplishment when I had not fully attended to other, more sensitive issues, namely my family and divorce? Who am I, and where do I belong? I navigated this difficult transition by leaning into what I learned about values. I carried a sense of knowing into the next three years as my life went into, on many levels, a downward spiral.
I honed into my leadership experience and values as I wrestled with a series of unfortunate life events and recovered from trauma, mental health, divorce, and the struggle of being a single parent. My experiences shed light and meaning that in dealing with major life shifts, our values shift as well.
In 2015, my journey began to move towards positive change. As I spent many days in self-reflection and solitude, seeds of growth sprouted. In October 2016, I attended a 5-day yoga retreat in Utuado, Puerto Rico, and was overwhelmed at how deeply personal and transformational the experience came to be. My mother is Puerto Rican, and this was my first time visiting the island. I was driven by search, meaning, and hope as I quickly grasped an image of myself I had never seen or understood as I came face to face with the people of Puerto Rico.
On my last day of vacation, I spent the afternoon exploring historical Old San Juan. Taking in the breathtaking scene of brightly colored buildings and cobblestone street, I noticed my shadow as I walked and experienced a different kind of shift: joy. On my own, I was awash with a renewed sense of accomplishment and empowerment. My sense of presence was profound and intense. Visiting Puerto Rico was like finding the missing piece to a lifelong puzzle; my life and identity finally made sense. All doubts of who I was crumbled as I had reached the top of a metaphorical mountain of struggle, grief, shame, which were all led by growth, search, meaning, and hope.
I left Puerto Rico with an astute awareness of being self, and of owning my truths. Almost four years had gone by since my identity and values took a nosedive into uncertainty. I was happy and sure of myself for the first time since walking the stage at commencement. A month after returning home, I enrolled in yoga teacher training after being inspired by two women I met during my yoga retreat in Puerto Rico. Once again, the internal pull along this Journey of Values was drawing me closer to something deeply spiritual and larger than I could imagine.
I completed my yoga teacher training in December 2016 and constantly find new ways to share my love of teaching and mentoring others in my community. Empowering others to examine their own truths stems from a place of courage, compassion, and healing. No longer do I live with regrets from life or my experiences. Through constantly evaluating and recharging my values by leading from within, I thrive from giving and introspection, wisdom, and an insatiable hunger to never stop learning. My hope is that someone reading this will find a nugget of inspiration to share and give of themselves as well.
Authors Bio: Michelle Valteau, MA in Leadership Graduate, May 2012
Michelle Valteau graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California (SMC), Master of Arts in Leadership in May 2012 and completed SMC’s first Leadership Coaching course in Fall 2012, where she developed her strengths in coaching and mentoring. Michelle leads organizational change as a project manager for a major healthcare corporation.
Michelle lives in Union City, CA where she raises her two children. She enjoys spending time in nature to mentally and spiritually recharge, and constantly exploring new ideas through reading and writing.