Back when I was in junior high, one of the projects we did in health class related to our personal values. We were supposed to create a personal coat of arms that incorporated our key values. I remember this as being an almost impossible task for me because as a 14-year-old, I had no clue who I was or what my values might be. My main goal was surviving junior high without making a fool of myself.
Fast forward to now. The coaching work I do uses lots of different tools to help clients find their inner resources. I spend lots of time helping my clients discover and live by their own values.
Your values provide the compass for your life. Your values may change as you move through life, but you will probably find that you have some core values that never deviate, no matter your stage of life. We all have values, but not all of us know what they are, or stop to think about whether the decisions or directions we take are in alignment with our values.
Ideally a person will be able to identify their values and live their life at work and at home in line with their values. When your values align with your life, you experience peace and fulfillment. Unfortunately, many people live a life where their values are not aligned. They may have made decisions that were necessary, like taking a job so they could pay the bills. But that job may not align with their values. Or they may have health as one of their values, but the actions they take every day don’t reflect that. They stay up too late, eat junk food, or don’t exercise.
A value can be identified as being something you can live out. For example, if honesty is one of your values, you can live this out in your daily life. Something like “money” or “a good job title” are not values, because you can’t live them out. Those words or phrases might actually show that you value safety, stability, or achievement.
Our values answer the question of “why”. Why do we prefer one choice over another, why do we prioritize some things and not others. Understanding our values can help us more deeply understand our selves.
People often seem to have the greatest misalignment between their values and their jobs. I have clients tell me that their jobs drain them of energy because they need to act in ways that aren’t congruent with who they really are. This is difficult to change, unless the client is interested in making a large leap to a different job or even career (or start their own business). However, there are still ways to create action steps that will take the client in the right direction. Perhaps the client values creativity and feels that their job is very routine. I might help them create action steps that would add more creativity to their life outside work so they can feel fulfilled in that area.
Looking back to that junior high project, I wonder who decided that would be a worthwhile exercise. Not only did none of us kids understand our own values, but there was a good chance that we wouldn’t be truthful in that situation. The chances of anyone showing any vulnerability at that point in life were pretty low. Discovering values is something that requires a safe space.
Values can be intensely personal, and the journey to discover them may take a lifetime. It requires an individual to know themselves and be very honest with themselves. Beginning to align your life with your values requires courage, but the rewards from that alignment have far-reaching positive effects.