Christine Her, executive director of ArtForce Iowa, shares how understanding values and purpose can transform your work and your life.

Knowing and understanding my values and purpose has always been important to me. I believe when you understand your values and what really drives your decisions and actions – they can help keep you grounded, regardless of what’s happening around you. Yes, we all have bad days. Yes, bad days affect our emotions and sometimes our decisions. But understanding your values and purpose can remind you of who you are and who you’re meant to be, even at the worst times.

For a long time, I thought honesty was my #1 value. Then, in 2018, I experienced a big change in my life. At the age of 27, I was named the executive director of ArtForce Iowa, a nonprofit with the mission of transforming youth in need through art. It required me to confront myself and what had driven me up to that point.

At the time I was hired, the organization had been through a lot, including two executive directors in just a matter of months. As the third director to enter a difficult transitional time for the organization, I knew I wanted to be guided by what really mattered to me. I wanted to lead with authenticity. My purpose to make change has always been with me, and it definitely played a role at this intersection of my life.

After some self-reflection on past employment experiences, relationships, and everything I’d done; I learned something about myself: I’d worked at several jobs that didn’t bring me joy even though I was honest. Though I was experiencing and showing-up through my top value, I still didn’t feel fulfilled in those roles. It was an “aha” moment.

Before, I didn’t understand or believe that purpose was a value. I just thought it was something I cared about and that was important to me. As someone who is impacted by mental health illness, like depression and suicidal thoughts, my struggles always came back to: “what am I supposed to be doing with my life? I don’t feel like I’m doing it.” Or “I’m not good enough for this. I’m not living authentically to who I want to be or where I want to go.” It would put me in this cycle of feeling unworthy and bring on imposter syndrome. But I would remind myself it’s OK to be driven by something that may not feel real or believable right now.

Now, my purpose to make change is activated daily by the work I produce and this organization I have the honor to lead. Living with purpose has transformed my life. It’s not just my new top value; it’s a lifestyle. Every connection I make, and everything I say “yes” to, is driven by my purpose. It’s helped me feel fulfilled. More importantly, it’s helped me with my mental health by staying true to my value.

I believe so strongly in understanding your values that our ArtForce Iowa family participates in a Value Sort activity with those who engage in our work – from the youth we serve to our board of directors – and with each other. Each person has different leading values. Their values are safety, growth, adventure, acceptance, culture and honesty. And together, as a collective, we can say we value all of these things, and we work to honor each other’s values. This simple exercise has been impactful: It’s helped shape our strategic plan as an organization. It translates into how we serve our young people, artists, donors, and ultimately our community. It drives what we stand for and allows us to say no to the things don’t align with our values and our purpose. It’s what gets us up every day.

Having a purpose-driven organization is the key to our longevity and sustainability, as it supports our ability to meet young people where they are and execute on our purpose of making the world better for them and their families. And I’m thankful, because when you put your values and purpose at the front of everything you do, you can manifest results that align with them.

Did you miss Christine's Powered by Purpose Speaker Series Event? Watch it here: 

Powered by Purpose Christine Her

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Erin Drinnin

About The Author: Erin Drinnin

Erin Drinnin is United Way's Community Impact Officer for Health.