We rarely need to think about our values in our everyday lives, and yet, they define everything we do. What we buy, who we spend time with, what company we end up working for and in what kinds of projects we enjoy ourselves. All these things are intertwined with what we consider valuable.
Sometimes we have to make choices that fight against our – conscious or unconscious – values. Sooner or later it leaves us feeling emotionally and/or physically quite uneasy. That’s why it is vital to recognise and own your core values.
What do you mean recognising and owning?
Shouldn’t it be perfectly clear to us what our values are? That’s what one would think. But our values are actually formed somewhat imperceptibly, and we almost never think about them actively. Once I asked from twentyish people if during the past year they had been examining what their core values were. Not a single hand rose. Would yours rise?
It is also problematic that sometimes what we value is not in line with what we think others find valuable – and which therefore should be valuable for us as well, right? The surrounding culture makes assumptions of the value of things. If you are not aware of your own values, you might not be able to understand or dare to defend your own choices. You will bend to perform a life that others value, but is not the right one for you.
Let’s get familiar with our values
We are not practicing science here, and you don’t have to get it all right immediately. I’m pretty sure that one’s values do change. On the other hand, our self-knowledge deepens gradually, and we might find out later on having made a wrong judgment earlier. The goal now is to get the first version, with which you can scrutinise your own life, and to understand your own reactions, conditions and choices better.
James Clear, who has been examining habits a lot, suggests us to narrow down no more than five core values that are most important to us from the list of common core values. If everything is the most important, nothing is the most important. I did this exercise just recently, and I was slightly surprised by the process and its outcome. I will go through the events one by one and I suggest you do the same right now; otherwise it will simply remain undone.
Wonderful Timi Wahalahti even made a clickable version of the core values list which makes the narrowing down a whole lot easier.
Eliminate the easy ones first, then compare “this or that”
As a base I chose to use James Clear’s Core Values List, which contains 57 core values. It is not perfect, and it’s not the only one and you can very well use any other list of values. What matters is that the list is plentiful and versatile enough.
First, I read the whole list through and thought about how the words felt. After that I went on by eliminating the easy cases. For example, I am not religious, so spirituality and religion were easy to remove from the list. But after the easy ones there were still about 35 core values left. What an arduous work.
At this point I reminded myself that this is not anything final and the outcome doesn’t have to be perfect. I would even argue that the final form of the list also depends a little on the day. So, I started to compare: this or that? Which one is more important to me, autonomy or communality? Which one matters more, kindness or justice?
By pondering my typical behavioural patterns and the choices I’ve made in my life I managed to select responsibility, autonomy, growth and harmony as my core values. But after all that hard work I still had about 15 values on the list, and only one free spot left.
An honest glance in the mirror
There were only kind of work-related values left, such as leadership, meaningful work, challenge, capability, knowledge contribution and recognition, reputation, honor, respect. I realised I was telling myself that reputation, honor and respect are the byproducts of meaningful work, capability and contribution, so if I chose contribution, was I to get recognition as well.
I had to stop there.
I tried to bargain with the values. I felt that I should choose contribution or knowledge. That I should value them the most. But when I’m really honest with myself, painfully honest, honest to the extent of embarrassment, I have to admit that recognition is valuable to me. I crave it, I seek it and I work for it.
I feel embarrassed to value such thing. Our culture highlights the humbleness and unconditional charity all the time. The fact that someone would do something to get respect and recognition doesn’t feel culturally acceptable to me. Regardless, that is what I do – at least at the moment – value.
Admitting is not easy, but it’s worthwhile
Finding this value explains a thing or two. It explains why I start to feel uneasy if nobody sees or gives recognition of the work I’ve done. I’m not exhilarated about this, but that’s how it is. It also explains why public tasks and work that involves performing suits me well. Why the applause feels good and why I only feel like I’ve succeeded after I’ve received positive feedback of my work.
I’ve always longed for recognition of my work and I have, for instance, left jobs in which I haven’t received it. Had I known this value earlier, I could have communicated about it to my bosses and perhaps I could have stayed. On the other hand, autonomy is so important to me, that entrepreneurship would have probably taken over sooner or later anyway.
So be honest to yourself even if you don’t necessarily like the outcome. Remember, that you and your core values grow and develop all the time. Be also aware, that you can’t escape your core values by denying them. In any case, you will end up feeling bad if you act against them.
Did you do the exercise? What did you come up with? Were you surprised? What other thoughts did this arise in you? Came have a chat in our Slack community or leave a comment!
TL;DR: Recognise and own your core values
- Core values are those that we consider the most important and that define our choices in life.
- It’s worthwhile to get to know one’s values and to see if they are in line with the choices we make in life.
- You can get to know your values for instance going through James Clear’s Core Values List and by selecting maximum of five the most important core values.
- Be honest, because sometimes we value different things than we think we should.