From Cows to Values Integrity: Takeaways from the IPA Spring Conference Day 2

This is the second of two blog posts detailing the Iowa Psychological Association's two-day Spring Conference, which occurred April 28-29, 2023.

headshot for Dr. TaylorThe Iowa Psychological Association Spring 2023 conference was unlike any other professional meeting I had ever attended! I knew it would be a unique day as I drove to the event from my home in Des Moines. Navigating across parts of Iowa I had never visited with vast farmland and small-towns drifting by, I was deep in thought about the future of our state. Not far from the venue, I turned too early and encountered a herd of cows in a field, with beautiful rolling hills and tiny gravel roads in the distance. I definitely wasn’t in Colorado anymore!

My partner, two young children, and I moved back to Iowa last summer after having lived out of the state for more than half my life. I joined IPA as I started my private practice this past winter and was welcomed with open arms. I am so glad I decided to attend the spring conference to deepen my connection with IPA.

I could only attend the Saturday portion of the conference, so upon arriving early that morning, I walked into a room of unfamiliar faces. I chose the first table with an open seat and immediately felt a warm welcome from my tablemates. I was fortunate enough to have landed with Sarah Fetter, Katie Kopp, and Ashley Freeman. We immediately connected and shared stories, and by the end of the day, I had found a new group of friends. I am still in awe at the way that Iowans can seek to connect with others. “Iowa Nice” can indeed mean that people want to get to know you and truly value you for what you are bringing to the table. We formed deep and authentic connections that day, and I am truly grateful. 

A mid-career transition, major cross-country move, and job shifts were all front of mind when I saw that the conference theme was “Values, Burnout, and Finding Work-Life Integrity.” I was excited and decided to attend. Dr. Jenna Lejeune asked us to think about why we were attending the conference and what values we wanted to embrace. She evoked thoughtful introspection in the first few minutes, and I was all in! 

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from the experience:

  • Dr. Lejeune led us through a burnout scale and spoke about how most interventions only target the exhaustion element of burnout, while ignoring the disconnection and reduced personal achievement elements. Typical self-care ideas like going on vacation increase our disconnection from others and can end up exacerbating burnout. 

  • Instead, “Caring well for ourselves is how we can care better for others.” 

  • Throughout the day, she helped us distill our chosen values to establish meaning in the present. The idea that “Having unclear values allows us to lose contact with what is important to us,” was powerful and transformative for me. 

  • She shared, “Meaning is constructed in moments where we are connected with what matters, in contact with a life we would define as a life worth living.” 

  • These ideas deepened my understanding of living in accordance with my values and moved me away from just thinking about the valued domains of my life (e.g., family and health). I do more thinking now about how to BE present in those domains instead of just realizing that they are important to me. “Valued domains are the arenas where our actions play out.”

  • Dr. Lejeune shared that values are always immediately available to us. We can always take a step toward our values. The directionality is important, not the end point. 

  • Embracing spaciousness allows us to move toward values. 

  • Experiential avoidance predicts more mental health struggles.

  • Certain relationships bring out our values. Partnerships don’t have to be perfect but can be like salt to chocolate, just a little sprinkle of salt to enhance the flavor of chocolate…find someone who is the salt to your chocolate.

  • At the end of each day, when did you feel most alive? What do you like being? What days do you like who you are? Start with the value, then craft a life where that is supported. Values can guide you to a more meaningful and sustainable life.

  • Move towards values integrity. “Balancing acts are always precarious and the person on the losing end is you.” Values create a bridge across all areas of our lives.

  • For more on any of this, I recommend Dr. Jenna Lejeune’s book (with co-author and partner Dr. Jason Luoma), Values in Therapy: Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life.

What was truly the most unique part of the day for me was when Dr. Lejeune asked for a volunteer to role play with her. I slowly held up my hand, excited to have the chance to learn more from her and gain some insight. As I sat in front of the room, I was able to be vulnerable and present with Dr. Lejeune and nothing about her approach felt like a technique or exercise while I was in the moment. 

I shared an experience of hiking with my family and enjoying being fully present with my children. After that role play, we worked with some values card sorts. Through both of those activities, Dr. Lejeune helped me distill my core values, and she developed the phrase “gentle badass” to summarize what was important to me. I can be compassionate, gentle, kind, and loving while still challenging the status quo and embracing social justice.

Over the past month, I have thought about my experiences at the conference so many more times than any other professional conference I have attended. Though the day started with a wrong turn into a farm, I left with a sense of groundedness and direction in my career and values that will guide me for years to come. Thank you to the organizers of the conference, especially Dr. Nic Holmberg, for putting together such a lovely and connecting experience. 

-Your resident gentle badass, Nicole Taylor-Irwin, PhD 

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