Many of the coaching conversations I have evolve around a discussion about finding direction and purpose. People often feel stuck, and once they have the space to really dig into what matters to them, they realize that the day-to-day grind has kept them distracted from answering one truly important question: “Who am I, really? And what do I really want?”
Some of life's decisions are really about determining what you value most. Identifying and understanding your values is a challenging and important exercise. Your personal values are a central part of who you are – and who you want to be. By becoming more aware of these important factors in your life, you can use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation. When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, you feel fulfilled and content. But when these don't align with your personal values, things feel... wrong. This can be a real source of unhappiness, frustration and even depression.
This is why making a conscious effort to identify your values is so important.
If you value family, but you have to work 70-hour weeks in your job, will you feel internal stress and conflict? And if you don't value competition, and you work in a highly competitive environment, are you likely to be satisfied with your job? Also, as you move through life, your values may change depending on your current priorities. For example, when you start your career, success – measured by money and status – might be a top priority. But after you have a family, work-life balance may be what you value more.
In these types of situations, understanding your values can really help. When you know your own values, you can use them to make decisions about how to live your life, and you can answer questions like:
- What job should I pursue?
- Should I leave my current job?
- Should I accept this promotion?
- Should I start my own business?
- Should I compromise, or be firm with my position?
- Should I follow tradition, or travel down a new path?
So, take the time to understand the real priorities in your life, and you'll be able to determine the best direction for you and your life goals! You should continuously revisit this, especially if you start to feel unbalanced... and you can't quite figure out why.
Defining Your Values
When you define your personal values, you discover what's truly important to you. A good way of starting to do this is to look back on your life and identify when you felt really good, and really confident that you were making good choices.
Find examples from both your career and personal life. This will ensure some balance in your answers.
Step 1: Identify the times when you were happiest
- What were you doing?
- Were you with other people? Who?
- What other factors contributed to your happiness?
Step 2: Identify the times when you were most proud
- Why were you proud?
- Did other people share your pride? Who?
- What other factors contributed to your feelings of pride?
Step 3: Identify the times when you were most fulfilled and satisfied
- What need or desire was fulfilled?
- How and why did the experience give your life meaning?
- What other factors contributed to your feelings of fulfillment?
Step 4: Determine your top values, based on your experiences of happiness, pride, and fulfillment
You can use this tool for inspiration: Values Cards Exercise | Think2Perform
Step 5: Prioritize your top values
This step is probably the most difficult, because you'll have to look deep inside yourself. It's also the most important step, because, when making a decision, you'll have to choose between solutions that may satisfy different values. This is when you must know which value is more important to you.
- Write down your top values, not in any particular order.
- Look at the first two values and ask yourself, "If I could satisfy only one of these, which would I choose?" It might help to visualize a situation in which you would have to make that choice.
- Keep working through the list, by comparing each value with each other value, until your list is in the correct order. Look at your top 3. Do these feel right?
Step 6: Reaffirm your values
Check your top-priority values, and make sure that they fit with your life and your vision for yourself.
- Do these values make you feel good about yourself?
- Are you proud of your top three values?
- Would you be comfortable and proud to tell your values to people you respect and admire?
- Do these values represent things you would support, even if your choice isn't popular, and it puts you in the minority?
When you consider your values in decision making, you can be sure to keep your sense of integrity and what you know is right, and approach decisions with confidence and clarity. You'll also know that what you're doing is best for your current and future happiness and satisfaction.
The next step is likely figuring out how to make your daily life more in line with your values. If you’re looking to make a career change, the next step is likely to define “What do I really want?” and “What’s out there for me?” and “What is keeping me from taking that step?”. And if you’re just trying to live a more resonant life, the next step is likely to decide what things you will start saying yes to, and which things you will start saying no to in order to address your values and needs.
Wherever you’re going next, I’m sure it will be amazing. Good luck!
Dr. Lydia Wazir