What Is a Value?
Turning to “The Google,” here’s the definition: a person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.
For example, money and time are not actually values (despite the picture). It is what money and time give us (or we think they give us) that we value.
An even easier way to think about it is this: Every action you take (or choose not to take) reflects your values, whether or not you realize it.
And that’s the important part: whether you realize it or not. Unconsciously living according to someone else’s values is likely to cause you confusion and unhappiness down the road.
A values assessment is one of the first things I ask my clients to do. Understanding your values helps clarify what makes you happy and can lead to easier decision making. But first it’s important to make sure those values are actually yours.
We have a tendency to accept the values that were passed down to us by family, friends, the community where we grew up, etc. The messages about what’s right and what’s important are buried deep in our brains from an early age. This is normal—but—the values you grew up with might not be the ones that make you happy. If you aren’t satisfied in your life, compare what you value with how you are living. Examining your values can help you discover the core of what brings you fulfillment.
For example, a client of mine is incredibly creative and talented. However, creativity was not important in her family growing up; hard work was. It didn’t matter what she did, as long as she worked hard. Growing up on a farm, there was plenty of hard work to be done, but little attention and time for play, experimentation or creative pursuits. Her talents have languished in the pursuit of her parents’ values. Furthermore, the emphasis on hard work negated her creativity and play, making it seem frivolous. As a result, she never got the chance to develop her natural talents and live experiment with what was important to her.
It’s easy for us to adopt our parents’ values, but our parents lived through a different time and might have passed along a belief system that support a set of values that actually aren’t serving us.
Which is why my client came to see me. She has a hard time figuring out “what she should be when she grows up” because she spent her childhood absorbing and living according to someone else’s values. No wonder it’s difficult for her to know what she wants—she wasn’t permitted to explore what was truly important to her without experiencing conflict and negative consequences.
If you want greater fulfillment in your life, knowing what you value is pretty important. It may also require some digging because the messages you grew up with may be in conflict with what is true for you.
Take this value quiz.
Understanding What You Truly Value
Once you’ve done the values exercise, it’s important to examine those values.
Choose the five values that got the highest score and ask yourself these questions:
Why is this value important to you? And why is that (whatever you answered) important?
When you express, or honor, this value, what does it feel like?
Then, it’s good to know whether the value is based on fear or based on an intrinsic desire. Take a look at the answers you gave above. Do you value _____ because you want to avoid something bad? If you’re trying to avoid something bad, the value may feel like a “have to.” This is a sign that you value something out of fear.
Or do you value __________ because it feels good and right? Is it a “want to”? Ideally, we’d live by the values that we choose from a place of desire vs. living according to what we want to avoid.
If you weren’t worried about what other people might say, what values would you choose?
Values and Conflict
Most conflict arises from a conflict between values. Think about it. When you disagree (internally or externally) with a partner, spouse or co-worker, chances are that what is at the heart of the disagreement is a value. Being able to see what values are at play can be freeing, as well as frustrating if you believe your value is “right,” but it’s not the one being honored by the other party.
I learned this the hard way, of course. (Is there an easy way to learn these life lessons?) I was working at a company where I was very frustrated by the decisions of upper management and how things ran. Yet, other people weren’t as frustrated as I was. Despite all my efforts to point out how everyone else was wrong (not a very effective strategy, btw), they wouldn’t change. After going through the values assessment, it finally it dawned on me that their values were simply different. What was important to me was not important to them and never would be. It was ridiculous for me to believe that their values should change to meet mine. So I got out.
Understanding how my values were different from the company’s helped me let go of a lot of bitterness and resentment that was wholly unproductive.
How can you learn about a company’s values? Website, yes, but also look at a sample of job postings. What the company uses to attract talent can give you some insight about what they value. You can also read reviews on glassdoor.com or some other site. What is the most telling about a company’s values, however, is the action the company takes. Look at news stories about the company to see what they say and what they are doing in the community.
Finally, honoring a value a day keeps the blues away. I made that up, but my clients have told me this helps. ;)
If you are doing work that doesn’t align with your values and don’t know where to go or what to do, let’s talk. I offer complimentary 30-minute phone sessions. Send me an email.