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Be the “Iron Chef” of Your Wonderful Life

What are the ingredients of the perfect you?

By Laura Berger

Can you imagine your best friends and you regularly acting out your own episode of “Iron Chef"?

Glen and I are huge fans of good eating. It is deeply ingrained in our lives.

When we host “ingredient night,” up to 10 of our best friends meet at someone’s house, each bringing a favorite secret ingredient. We then dive into organizing a menu. We often have a couple of talented cooks who roll up their sleeves with appointed sous chefs behind them while others hone their wine tasting skills. We have a surprisingly amazing meal — so gratifying to create and enjoy something with the people you care for deeply.

When you are at a crossroads in life and need to shake things up, you face a very similar exercise in creation. But do we really know our own secret ingredients — our core values?

I don’t think I go a day without thinking about my core values. I connected deeply with my core values while living in the jungle, surrounded by nature, a magical setting to tune into them. Now having returned from my Radical Sabbatical, truly living them has been a learned behavior. Over the past several years, I have taken actions to refine them even more. They are a litmus test for every material decision I make.

My core values are:

  • Fun and laughter with my family, friends, and husband
  • Open environment with warm weather
  • Helping animal causes
  • Focusing on health and beauty
  • A flexible lifestyle with fresh experiences

For instance, my decision to ditch my job and move to the gorgeous, untouched Costa Rican jungle seaside town I call Pair-o-Dice Village, was a core value driven decision. In less than 24 hours, I went from roaring subways to rugged dirt roads and wildlife dripping from the trees — so plentiful tarantulas dropped from the sky ... no joke.

Of course, those dearest to me thought I was absolutely crazy. But in deciding to go, everything was measured against my core values. I knew there would be warm weather, I would have to begin being an entrepreneur to have a flexible lifestyle — since that was all such a small jungle economy would allow — and that I would be in a peaceful setting to promote mental health and help me care for myself.

That said, Radical Sabbatical is described as an Eat Pray Love meets The Hangover for a reason. In the midst of a setting ripe for someone in the right mindset to truly find inner peace was the foibles of abrupt life change. We battled serpents and surreal insects. We risked our lives on harrowing mountain runs in decrepit 4x4s. We got mysterious potions from shamans. I, until then deftly afraid of heights, even launched myself from a 2,000 foot mountainside. And last, but certainly not least, we rather clumsily navigated a brand new culture. Hence, trying to keep our fairly new marriage together is the Eat Pray Love part and poking fun at our very frequent ineptitude is The Hangover part.

Nonetheless, the entire drama was the most useful experience I ever had, mainly because as this entire new world unfolded, I had the confidence in my goodness of fit test — how was it measuring against my core values? With this, I was always aware of possibly biting off more than I could chew, and I was constantly tweaking the experience toward not only my core values, but also Glen’s. For example, I immediately sought out people our age in a village generally much older than us — a real lifeline. And if we ever saw our triumphs turning to tragedy, we’d go play tourists for a couple of days, reminding us of how we fell in love with the place to begin with. I even helped found a free spay-neuter clinic to enhance my fulfillment.

So how did it end up? Well, authors have some tricks. The most fundamental is not to give away the story. Regardless, those core values gave me the strength to take a life leap that people still can’t believe to this day and that laid the groundwork for a beautiful life.

So how can you get to know your core values and live boldly with confidence? Do one, two, or all of these:

  • Buy a deck of core value cards, flip through them, and instinctively break them into three categories (highly, somewhat, and weakly aligned). Some versions are available for free as well.
  • Take a half hour to meditate on the handful of settings/circumstances where you have felt most alive and/or ways you gladly spend your time. Write down what values are common between them.
  • Build a timeline of the pivotal decisions and transitions in your life. Pick the five most positive, and from there list out the common values between them.

Then,

  • Take your output, and make one statement about each core value beginning with “I will be successfully living this value when...”
  • Vet what you have with a close friend who will be honest so that you can distill your biases.
  • Hang your statements on your mirror or somewhere you visit frequently.

Core values are magical. By knowing them, you are more apt to create optimal life experiences, and you immediately know the ingredients to throw into the inevitable episodes that don’t always go your way. No matter what your ups-and-downs or if you choose to go to the jungle or the gym, you’ll have the confidence of knowing you’ll always have a vision of your best life.

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Bestseller Radical Sabbatical, by Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo is available on Amazon, kobo, Barnes and Noble, and other major bookstores. 

How Brave Are You?