A False Sense of Self

by Kyle Hickman

This is a story of values. It is a story of how I came to find myself, over time, layer by layer. It is a story of mistakes, self-exploration and (at times) "coming to Jesus" moments. Most of all, it is a story of how someone like myself comes to learn who I truly am; just like we all do every day of our lives.

Let me start with a story...

During my first semester on the road as an educational consultant for the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, I had the privilege of visiting the University of Southern California. If you have never been to USC before, it is just as you would imagine it: a cozy little campus tucked away in an "interesting" part of Los Angeles. During my meeting with the Greek advisor, we discussed my proclaimed set of personal values, which I referred to as the "R.I.C.H. Lifestyle!"

R = Respect
I = Integrity
C = Courage
H = Honor

"Living R.I.C.H." was not just a set of values; it was a way of life for me. Interestingly enough, I didn't select these as my personal values to fulfill this catch phrase. At the time, I honestly believed that these four terms were my most important core values. Why did I believe that to be so? Well, I considered Respect to be important to me because I was working in an environment where respecting the organization and each Brother was important. Secondly, I had always believed in the idea of doing what is right when no one is watching, which lead me to Integrity (inspired by one of my high school coaches). Furthermore, I had always respected those who exemplified Courage and did my best to make all attempts to do the same. I was also fascinated by the superhero myth and any other story of heroic figures. Finally, at this moment of my development, I felt that honoring my fraternity, my family and my friends was incredibly important to me. Despite what anyone said, everything seemed to make sense. I was confident in my beliefs. Or was I?

The Evolution

Considering the predictable purpose of this blogpost, if you assumed that I may not be championing the R.I.C.H. Lifestyle any longer, then you would be absolutely correct. Of course, my core values have changed over the past two years. Wait - let me rephrase that: perhaps it's not that my core values have changed. Rather, my self-awareness of who I truly am has grown much deeper and my true core values have reared their head. Yet, this did not happen through a linear process; it occurred due to extensive conversations with a diverse group of people, continued education on a number of topics, and being thrust into a number of different circumstances/environments. If you take nothing else away from this discussion, just as I describe in my Finding Your Voice post, life is a continuous process of uncovering your own, unique self and dismissing any previous notions you had about yourself or the world around you. Without further ado, Let's see if I can properly document my evolution in values awareness:

1. Discover the R.I.C.H. philosophy

2. Replace the 'H' (Honor) with another 'H' (Honesty). Why did this change? It became increasingly apparent to me that I have extreme difficulties lying to people and I value honesty in all of my relationships. In my eyes, any news is good news and I could identify plenty of examples of Honesty in my life on a daily basis (unlike with Honor, which seemed to exist in a Phi Psi continuum).
3. After working with Jim Paponetti during our Presidential Leadership Academy, he helped me realize that Integrity itself is not necessarily a value; it is a total commitment to living up to your values. Therefore, I removed it from my core values (R.C.H. remained).
4. Several months into my graduate assistant position with the L.E.A.D. department at Texas A&M University-Commerce, I helped coordinate and facilitate our {I}Experience program. During my time with the students, I facilitated an exercise on identifying important personal values. This gave me a chance to re-evaluate my current personal values, based upon my most recent life experiences. This process encouraged the revealing of my most recent list of values: 

C = Courage
H = Honesty
A = Authenticity
L = Leadership
K = Knowledge

Quite the change, right? I still included the ideas of Courage and Honesty, including the
overall concept of complete Integrity to those values. Yet, you see a few new values: Authenticity, Leadership and Knowledge. These replaced some older values for several reasons. First off, as I've interacted with more and more people, I sincerely appreciate those who communicate authentically and whom stay true to themselves, no matter the environment. Not to mention, great connections with people develop from deep levels of Authenticity and Vulnerability. Secondly, I am ultimately committed to a career in personal Leadership, which includes facilitating the development of other leaders and maximizing the potential of organizations. Lastly, considering my background/fascination with science, evidence, and learning, I've come to learn that knowledge is incredibly important to me in everything that I do. I find strength in associating with individuals whom possess great knowledge.

The Lesson?

Look ahead! There is a long, open road waiting for you... a road full of mystery, happiness, excitement and (ultimately) unpredictability. For some, that notion may be a little scary to think about. But that is why I love the metaphor of the open road; it perfectly exemplifies the notion of self-discovery. 
...If you choose to explore that path, who knows what lies beyond the horizon. Maybe you will find your R.I.C.H., C.H.A.L.K. or some other set of principles that are much simpler in nature. 
Have I reached the end of my journey of self-exploration? That is highly unlikely. Just like me, we are all on the same path of discovery. Regardless of what that path looks like, it is sure to resemble only one unique individual: YOU!

Student Affairs - the First Years

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