Our personal values aren’t just the things that are important to us. They tell us why we do the things we do. They point to our goals. They give us a map to creating a satisfying life. Let me repeat that. Living your values creates a satisfying life. What happens when we live someone else’s values? I can’t tell you definitely, but I know that I didn’t find it satisfying. The people whose values I had borrowed didn’t seem impressed either.
Here is an exercise that has been successful for me. I’ve shared it here to help you find your core values.
Step 1) First we make a list. The list-makers whoop and the seat-of-the-pantsers groan. Don’t worry, there is a little something for everyone. Back to our list…
- Make a list of things you like to do. I mean really like to do. The things that put you in a better mood. The things that make you happy. Don’t be squeamish this list is for your eyes only.
- Add to the list the things you really dislike but you do them out of obligation or need. Hey there are lots of things we don’t like to do. I hate pretty much ALL housework. Don’t analyse it just put it on the list.
- Now add things about you that make you feel proud of yourself. Everything from T-ball championships to salsa dancing prowess. What do you want the world to know about you?
- Now let’s add things you aren’t proud of. What do you do that embarrasses you? We are often taught that the things we love are bad. Forget about judgments for a bit and just put the things on the list that you would be embarrassed for most people to know.
Do you need a break? If you aren’t used to asking yourself questions like this you might be feeling overwhelmed. Now is a good time to go do one of those things you love. When you feel relaxed and ready to dig a little more the list will be waiting.
Step 2) Read through the list. Is it a reasonably complete picture of you? If your 40 hour a week job, beloved beta fish, or obsession with Dr Who aren’t included now is the time to add them. Wow, that one was easy!
Step 3) Here is a list of things that people might consider their values. It certainly isn’t all of them and some might be the opposite of what you find valuable. Most are pretty generic so feel free to improvise (finally a bit for the seat-of-the-pantsers) or get specific. Categorize each item on the list. Sit with it. Think on it. What does this list of things say about what you value most in life?
- Why do you love to take walks? Is it the exercise, the natural world, the peace and quiet, maybe all three?
- Why do you vacuum the floor when you hate doing it? Is it to keep your home healthy, avoid the censure of others, so it looks nice? Consider all of your possible motives.
- Why are you proud of that T-ball trophy? Is it a connection to youth, the pleasure of a family experience, or maybe the beginning of your physical prowess.
- Why are you embarrassed that you can quote every line of every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Is it the perception of geekdom, or that you can remember that but can never find your car keys, or maybe a sign that you are disconnected from current popular culture? (Whatevs, Buffy will always be relevant)
Are you broken yet? Seriously. That was a lot of hard thinking about things we are usually not asked to think about. Great job! Need another break? Maybe take one of those awesome walks.
Step 4) Clarify your Values. Now we want to drill down to the things that are the most important to us. You can start by listing the values the come up several times. It might take some additional introspection. Do your interests in reading and cooking both feed your innate curiosity? Does your job and your volunteer work make you feel useful? I think this is a good time to remind yourself that there are no bad values. Remember that you are doing this work to help create a life that is satisfying to YOU. Here are some additional guidelines to help you condense the list.
- Shoot for 4 to 6 values but don’t throw out anything that is important.
- A value can be broad or narrow and the only thing that matters is your interpretation.
- There is no need to write them for others understanding.
- If you have 42 core values and they are each distinct and valuable that’s cool. You do you, boo.
Step 5) Celebrate. Look at these important things that make you who you are and enjoy the self discovery.
Did you celebrate? I do mean actually celebrate. Do something tangible and memorable. If you can’t rejoice in the things that inspire your life it will be pretty hard to walk the walk. Celebrate who you are. Go on.
Step 6) It’s time to take stock and make a plan.
- What do you do to feed each value? What would you like to do? Are there things that you can do more of?
- What are you doing that doesn’t nurture your values? It can be hard to walk away from these things. It might help to think about making space for someone who will love it. Create an exit plan that fits with your values and you won’t go wrong. Sure, not everyone will love it. You aren’t creating a satisfying life for someone else.
- Use your values as a yardstick for everything you do.
Now for the somewhat tricky part. Our values change with our life experiences. Today’s value of physical prowess may become tomorrow’s value of well being. Today’s financial stability could turn into tomorrow’s generosity. Be prepared to reevaluate so you can stay true to yourself.