by Bianca Turetsky
At our last virtual retreat we took an exercise from Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, and through the process of elimination discovered what our core values truly are. In the busyness of day to day life, particularly these past two years, it’s not a question we often give ourselves the time to dig into. What really matters to me? These central beliefs guide us in both our personal and professional lives because as Brene points out, we only have one set of values. A lot of unhappiness and unease creep in when one’s values at work don’t align with their values in their personal and home lives.
We shut off our cameras and individually pondered over an extensive alphabetical list of values ranging from accountability to leadership to wisdom. We started by picking ten values, which was challenging enough, and then reluctantly culled our list down to two values. The values that act as our North Star, much like how I describe a log line in a novel to my novel writing workshop. Everyone’s values were different. It was hard tossing out creativity, community, success, and learning. I felt tremendous guilt crossing out family. But for the sake of the exercise, I did it.
I was surprised at what I was left with:
Joy and Curiosity
Upon more reflection I realized that curiosity and joy felt like umbrella terms for many of the other values in my more expansive list. For me, joy includes humor, connection, well-being, optimism and love. Curiosity encompasses creativity, learning, and flexibility. When I looked at the two words again through this lens, they felt true to me.
I have always loved how joy was one of the first words of Writopia’s mission statement: Writopia Lab fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing. If you are in a place of joy, you are more open to learning and community and growing. You are not coming from a place of fear. I’ve always tried to take a Marie Kondo approach to life – does the way I spend my days bring me joy? Because of course as we all know, the way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. Writing brings me joy. Working with kids brings me joy. Helping young writers tell their stories brings me joy. And seeing the joy these writers experience when they write a sentence or story they are proud of makes me feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to put this value into practice.
I lead my workshops coming from a place of curiosity. I genuinely want to learn more about who these writers are and how I can guide them to tell their truths. I’m curious, what story are you destined to tell? Through our strengths based approach, constructive feedback is offered in the form of questions: I’m curious, how does your character feel at this moment? I’m curious, what does this magical forest smell like? I’m curious, what inspired this hilarious talking cat? I’m curious, I’m curious…
Even in her 90s, my grandmother is still the most dynamic person in the room. She has an insatiable curiosity that has never diminished. She is always learning new things, meeting new people, asking questions and actively listening to the answers. Not surprisingly, she was a beloved second grade teacher. A smaller group of us did this exercise a few years ago and I found myself with two different core values (“making a difference” and “creativity”). These are values that still strongly resonate with me. They definitely made my top 10 list this year. But a lot has changed in the world in a few years and I think when things seem really hard, I am actively leaning more towards joy. When the news seems confusing and scary, I am actively leaning towards curiosity. I plan to do the activity again in the future to see what resonates with me at that moment in my life. It’s exciting to know that even as adults we’re ever evolving. I hope to still be chasing joy with our young writers. And I’m curious to meet my future self and find out.