Let’s Begin With a Backstory
You may have noticed, but I haven’t posted to my blog in quite some time (ultimately deleted old posts). My only excuse is that my life has been crazy and wacky and insane, and I didn’t yet have the words to describe it. I think we can all agree that these are unprecedented times. But what a perfect time to consider identifying your core values.
In mid-February, my longtime day job laid me off. It wasn’t shocking. I was miserable and had been saving money and planning to quit for months. I actually intended to pull the trigger at the end of March, so it just happened slightly sooner than expected. My fun job was still in tact, though. I was going to be okay.
[COVID-19 has entered the chat]
Today I sit, unemployed. Well, technically furloughed from the fun job. I haven’t been able to reach anyone at the unemployment office for going on three weeks now, so I’ve decided a self-assessment’s in order. One thing I do have plenty of right now is time. All those excuses that I didn’t have enough time to [insert action here] before? LIES!
One of the first exercises I assigned myself during this work hiatus was a reassessment of my core values. I’m all about self-assessment and lifelong learning, but my former day job left me burned out. I’d been neglecting my values, and many other potential learning opportunities, for a long time.
Going through this process helped me understand why my life has been so out of balance. I look forward to referencing these core values when making future decisions or deciding if something feels right. I wrote a little thing about the process I used below.
Identifying Your Core Values
Identifying your core values is a useful step in becoming self-aware. One might think of core values as a guideposts for our behavior. They are our principles or underlying beliefs about life. Core values shape our decisions, help us establish boundaries, and otherwise serve as a reference point, especially during those dark nights of the soul.
Our values will keep us on track…unless we ignore them.
This thought provoking article from the Harvard Business Review (Make Your Values Mean Something) focuses on corporate values, but the sentiments are the same. Your objective is to live out out your values, not just create a list of beautiful words with very little substance.
Above all, you don’t need to write a book about it, but you do want to make sure they’re an accurate reflection of your character.
So how does one determine their core values? If you’re already reasonably self-aware, the process may be an easy for you. It will be as simple as choosing a few words that speak to you. For instance, maybe you already know you crave stability and family, so jot those down.
Reviewing a list of descriptive words may jog your brain. Here’s a small sample of words to start with:
Ultimately, you will be aiming for about five or six words that represent your character. You can choose more if you wish but try to keep it under ten. Otherwise, you risk spreading your energy too thin.
Try Grouping Words
If you’re using an exceptionally long list of words, it might find it challenging to narrow it down to only five or ten. I recall juggling around 30 words all of which seemed meaningful. In this case, you can try grouping similar words together. Often, doing so will help you determine a catchall word that represents them all.
For example, my original list of 30 included passion, creativity, lifelong learning, intelligence, discovery, and adventure. I decided on the word, curiosity, because I felt represented all of these words in some way. For instance, I’m not always adventurous, but I’m curious enough to try anything at least once.
Or Contemplating These Questions
If you’re still having trouble, reflecting on the following questions may be helpful:
What makes me feel happiest? Are you the love or money sort?
What makes me feel most comfortable? Do you crave security, or are you more of an adventurous soul?
What makes me feel angry? Sometimes our anger can indicate a violation of our values.
What is the key to life? For me, trying to achieve balance is key.
I went a few steps further with my assessment. I drafted a fleshed-out version of the process, and included accountability statements under each value. If you’d like to check out my example, you can find it here: My Core Values page.
There’s no right or wrong to this process, though I would suggest steering clear of prioritizing two opposing values. If you crave security, it will be tough to achieve if you also value unpredictability.
Don’t think of this process as a be-all, end-all, as our values can change. For example, maybe you used to prioritize your career above all, but your families’ security and happiness take precedence now.
That’s okay. This process is about prioritizing and honoring your current beliefs. I would actually encourage you to revisit your values periodically to make sure they still represent the person you’ve become.