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The Implications of Knowing and Living Your Values
When you're faced with a tough decision – the kind of earth-shattering choice between two jobs, two relationships, or any two paths in life – what's your solution? For a lot of people, I'm sure it's a fight or flight response ending in some sort of panic attack. Others might push the decision under the rug until it's too late.
None of those options are ideal. But when decisions have the potential to completely change your life, it isn't easy to pick something and roll with it; your head echoes with 'what if?' and 'should I go back?'
It's no wonder we prefer to push things away and forget about them – but the truth is, you can't do that. You have to make a decision and live with it. And I've found that one of the best tools to help make that choice is understanding your values.
Beyond decision-making, values also open a window into your psyche. They help to explain why you think and act in certain ways; they increase the amount of empathy you have toward yourself. And yes, there are positive business implications, too.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these things we call our values.
A Bus Trip Back In Time
It's December 1st, 1955, and Rosa Parks is sitting on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She's going home from a long day at work. A white passenger boards the bus but cannot find a seat in the crowd; Rosa is asked to stand and give up her seat.
She refuses. She does not make a fuss when escorted to jail.
You might have heard a version of events where Rosa was too exhausted to stand. But she wasn't. She could've moved out of her seat easily for the white passenger – if not for her strong conviction that she should no longer give up her rights for the sake of someone else's comfort.
When most of us first heard this story, we assumed Rosa must have been quite a loud and obstinate type. Why else would she risk her freedom for a simple bus seat? But Rosa was actually a soft-spoken and gentle person, and it wasn't in her nature to cause trouble for any living soul.
On that day in '55, she wasn't acting out of rage. She was acting from her core values: of justice, and of doing what's right for the greater good.
What Are These Things We Call 'Values'?
I love Rosa's story for many reasons – she sparked a critical movement that still impacts our lives today, and she did so with great personal sacrifice.
But the story is also an excellent display of values-based decision-making. Values aren't just rules we set for ourselves, or qualities we admire and wish we had for ourselves. They are our fundamental core beliefs that shape how we think, feel, and act.
Or, according to a more academic source:
Values are internalized cognitive structures that guide choices by evoking a sense of basic principles of right and wrong, a sense of priorities, and a willingness to make meaning and see patterns.
We start forming our innermost values at a very young age. Some psychologists say anywhere from 7 years and onward; others even believe they start to form in the womb. They're not some optional trait we can pick for ourselves and discard at will – they're a part of our identity.
Morals, Ethics, and Values: There's A Difference
I went on a bit of a rabbit hole with this topic. (Well, what's new?)
What I found was truly fascinating to me, particularly as someone who thrives on the topics of personality types and self-improvement. I never understood the differences between lovely, self-important buzzwords like principles, virtues, values, morals, and ethics – but now I do, and it's really changed my outlook.
To me, values have always seemed a little airy-fairy. Yes, I like to tell the truth. Yes, I value ambition. Yes, I admire self-respect. But which of these are my values, let alone my innermost ones?
Values, as it turns out, are easy to identify with a little self-reflection. They are the attitudes and actions that hold the most weight in your life; you call upon these themes to make decisions about pretty much everything.
Someone who constantly pushes themselves to take new opportunities as they arise, regardless of their experience level, likely places value on ambition because it encourages them to take risks.
Someone who travels back home for a family visit every single year at Christmas time, regardless of their work or personal commitments, likely values family over personal gain.
Someone with a strong religious belief system guiding their everyday choices likely places faith above other values.
These people don't act the way they do because they're trying to uphold those values. It's the other way around. Because they value ambition, family, and faith respectively, their actions naturally reflect that.
Morals & Ethics
Our values relate to, but definitely aren't interchangeable with, our morals and ethics.
Morals are the principles that guide us to make decisions between right and wrong – for example, you might believe strongly that lying is wrong. Ethics are almost like a set of rules that dictate how we should act, based on our morals. It's the idea of 'doing what's right in the eyes of society'.
But here's where the three terms collide, and it gets interesting: your values can override your morals and ethics.
Let's say you have a secret that would cause your friend nothing but sadness if you reveal it to them. You strongly believe that lying is wrong, but one of your core values is kindness – so in that situation, you will probably choose to twist the facts and keep the truth hidden as an act of kindness.
What I'm trying to get across here is that our core values hold the most weight out of any other principle. Knowing yourself and your core values can help you make decisions that are true to who you are, even when morals or ethics or earth-shattering life events would suggest otherwise.
Why Should This Matter To You?
It's easy to disregard advice like 'get to know yourself' and 'find out what your core values are', but it's actually immensely important. “Your values become your destiny," said Ghandi – and he was completely right.
When you frame your values not as parts of your personality, but as the driving forces that influence everything you do in life, you start to realize that values aren't just interesting little sentiments floating around in your brain. They are your past, present, and future.
Entrepreneurs have found themselves at the helm of incredible companies because they value ambition and risk-taking. Writers have penned bestselling novels because they value creativity and artistry. Activists have changed the very course of history because they value empathy and justice over comfort.
Your values are going to write your story, and my values are going to write mine – but by fully understanding what those values are, we can fast-track the road to success (and dodge a few potholes along the way!)
How Can We Know Our Values?
This whole topic was actually brought to my attention in an interview with human behavior expert, Dr. John Demartini. He's deeply knowledgeable about core values and the role they play in our lives. I found his interpretation interesting:
"Every human being, regardless of culture, age, or gender spectrum, lives by a set of values. Every perception, every decision, every action that underlies their behavior is an expression of their values. And whatever is highest on their value hierarchy, they're spontaneously inspired from within to do; whatever is lower on their hierarchy, they extrinsically need motivation or incentive to do."
Pretty fascinating stuff – and it supports this idea that your values determine your actions, not the other way around. Dr. Demartini actually believes we begin developing our values before birth, and that living in line with our values directly affects our physiology.
When it comes to identifying your core values, here are his criteria:
If someone hovered over you with a drone and watched your life for a week, what patterns would they notice?
What topics do you talk about most often when someone engages you in meaningful small talk? (Your kids? Your work? A hobby?)
Which actions bring you energy, as opposed to draining you? Perhaps you're energized when people lean on you for emotional support and you can comfort them.
What sticks out to you as you walk through everyday life? Dr. Demartini gave the example of a shopping mall. Do you notice things you'd like to buy for your friends? Do you see foods that will enrich your body?
By asking yourself these questions, Dr. Demartini suggests you can begin to gain clarity about which values are most important to you and how they drive your life.
For me personally, I like to sit down with some sort of questionnaire. It helps if I can see all of the different values laid out in front of me; I go through each one and reflect on the role it has or hasn't played in my life up to this point.
It's like a puzzle – some pieces fit, some don't, but the more time I spend reflecting on it, the clearer things become.
Questionnaires To Try At Home
The most recent tool I used to figure out my core values is this simple PDF by the wonderful Dr. Brené Brown. I'm sure you've heard of her – she's an amazing researcher who focuses on the power of vulnerability, among many, many other things.
The PDF is so useful because it prompts you to connect your core values with your actions. I went into it with little hope of it actually working, and came out much more confident and clear about who I am and what drives me.
A few more resources to check out:
Barrett Values Centre questionnaire – a basic resource to start the self-reflection process
Gyfted Personal Values Assessment – links your core values with aspects of your life, like leadership and careers
Mindtools Resource – a comprehensive guide to understanding and identifying your values
I won't sugar-coat it – it takes a while to figure out your values. It's not a one-and-done kind of thing; the process is ongoing, and your hierarchy may shift a little over time.
Using Your Values For Success
Once you know your core values, the implications for your life are pretty incredible:
Your life feels congruent. By that, I mean there's no resistance between your innermost beliefs and the actions you take. It's like a wave of calm that comes over you when you make decisions in line with your values.
Your goals become easier to reach. Your values give structure and direction to achieving what matters most to you, so instead of feeling pulled in a million directions, it becomes much more clear how to get where you want to go.
You can bounce back quickly from failure or disappointment. When our actions stem from our core beliefs, we don't have the same sense of guilt and shame as when we're acting out of impulse or societal pressure. Knowing our innermost convictions gives us an anchor in times of turbulence.
You can resist outside influence. It's easier to stay true to yourself in the face of external forces when you have a firm grasp of your values. As long as those influences don't threaten our core beliefs, we're able to take them into consideration without compromising our integrity.
In terms of entrepreneurship, it's infinitely helpful to understand your values – because contrary to what many people believe, your personal and professional values are exactly the same. You don't go to work and switch into a new set of values as easily as you change clothes.
It suddenly gives you a world of clarity around everything from your leadership style to your hiring process to the type of clients you choose to work with. And instead of wondering whether something is right or wrong, you can simplify the decision-making process by asking yourself, "Does this fit with my values?"
Bit of a different topic today, but it's one I truly... value! And I hope you come to see the importance of your core values, too.
To wrap up, I thought I'd leave you with a list of some of the most common values seen in entrepreneurship. Maybe you'll resonate with one, or a few, or none of them – but either way, it's a great place to start digging deeper.
Integrity. Above all else, you strive to act in accordance with your highest sense of morality.
Accountability. You take ownership for all areas of your business, and you don't shy away from responsibility when things go wrong.
Growth. You're always looking to push yourself forward, whether it's through learning new skills or expanding your network and client base.
Innovation. Constantly on the lookout for better ways to do things, you embrace change wholeheartedly in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Collaboration & Community Building. You believe that working together is the best way to achieve collective success and make real progress towards shared goals.
Impact. You want to make a difference in the world, and your entrepreneurial pursuits are an extension of that desire.
Ambition. You would rather try something and fail than sit still and wonder what could have been.
Adaptability. You understand that the only constant is change, and you're always willing to adjust your approach accordingly.
And finally, another tip from Dr. Brown: if you can't narrow your list down to one or two core values, try to find the values that influence all others on your list. If you put a tick next to both adaptability and ambition, for instance, perhaps innovation is the overarching value that ties them together.
That's all for now – until next time!
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