The continuing challenges of 2020 have given us the time to reflect and review all aspects of our lives. With upheaval at work, many women in particular are questioning what’s really important in our lives, and as a result a quarter of women are seeking to launch their own businesses. Over 60% are planning a complete career pivot as they seek a more positive working life.
It is fantastic to see so many women taking this period of adversity to take stock and grab hold of their dreams, goals and aspirations. But it’s not always easy to make that leap. Whether you are stuck in a satisfying role or yet to find your calling, it’s often because something fundamental about your situation does not play to your values and simply changing jobs may not remedy that. Often we become dissatisfied at work (and in our wider lives) because we are not spending enough time living or playing to our values. When there is alignment between our career and core values we can enjoy greater satisfaction, happiness and fulfilment.
‘It’s not hard to make a decision when you know what your values are’ – Walt Disney
What are values and why do I need them?
Values are the energy and motivation behind your goals. They are activities, behaviours, beliefs and qualities that make your soul come alive. They are the principles by which you want to live your life, professionally and personally. Having this understanding allows us to make better choices, meaning we prioritise things that give us greater satisfaction and fulfilment.
In our working life our values help us to choose the right organisation to work for or inspire better business ideas. Knowing our values ensures we communicate ourselves and what we stand for and can help motivate others to live by positive values too. For example, the values I bring to work include:
Honesty: Build a true and honest connection with others and with myself
Connection: Creating a mutual supportive network that allows me to have roots, keep building connections and keep me grounded with new people and understand them.
Growth: Constantly learning and evolving
What you need to define your values
1. Time. It takes time to work out your values, but this time away is a valuable investment as it will soon become a checklist for any decisions you make! Make sure to take yourself somewhere quiet and away from your normal routine. Banish any guilt about you-time!
2. Cluster and listen. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone with you to do this, to listen to you and help identify themes. This can be a trusted friend, colleague or coach. My only caveat is that you pick someone who doesn’t know you too well as this may hamper his or her ability to be subjective.
3. A journal, paper, pen, ipad – somewhere to record your thoughts and ponder the questions we’re about to ask!
4. Self-care. You’re going to be addressing some big topics here. Doing a values session and then heading to an all team meeting at work may not be the best idea. But a walk, little nap, etc. may be kinder.
Insightful exercises to uncover your values
There are many techniques available but let’s start with some questions. Make a note of your responses to the following:
- What brings me joy?
- What am I passionate about?
- What am I doing when I feel at my best?
- What am I doing when I’m at my worst?
- What do I value in others?
- Which do I dislike in others?
Next, we’ll look back at five key moments in your life and uncover why these memories are significant to you. What’s important here is not what was happening but what that moment gave you or you were lacking. For example if there are common themes about when you were with your friends and family as a highlight, your value is not about being social it’s about what those occasions gave you, so it may be a sense of belonging, connection or community:
- When were you living your best life, what were you doing?
- What was it about this moment that makes it so significant?
- Identify 5 moments when you were at your lowest point?
- What was happening?
- Why was this important to you?
Finally, consider the values you appreciate in others and the values you dislike in others? (you will often find that the opposite of this is something that you value) and list them.
Clustering your themes and giving them a name
You are probably starting to notice overlap in themes, scenarios and words that have come up during these exercises. Now you can see patterns you can cluster those that align with others and begin to draw up headings. Don’t do this too hastily – sense check if some are actually different from one another or in the same area or territory. For example, ‘advising’ and ‘listening’ can sometimes seem to cross over very closely but are actually very different!
Once you are happy with your clusters, here’s where you can start naming them. Again, don’t rush this. You may need some help or inspiration, here’s a list of core value descriptors that will help.
Once you have arrived at a set of values (usually around four to six), it’s important for you to define them. Describe what each word or value means for you in a line or two. Two individuals may have faith as a value but for one it means having belief in religion or a greater power and for another it may mean faith in actions and all they do. You can see how I’ve done this in my examples above.
From useful list to real life
Once you have identified your values, now can you embed them in your daily life. That’s where the real work and magic begins (but where you’ll get the best reward)! It’s about becoming aware of when what you are doing is playing to your values or if certain situations are going against your values. Using those insights to find a way forward. Do you need to find an organisation, role, pastimes that aligns and allows you to play to your values? This might mean reflecting on them with a trusted friend or coach. It might mean just taking ten minutes to read back over your list and asking yourself how the choice in front of you aligns with those values.
Having worked with a coach to define my own values, in 2018 I set out a new path and using a values based approach I reached my goal of a business focused on helping others, realised my dream of running retreats on the Cornish coast, securing a book deal in the process!
Here’s what one of my clients said about the value of this work:
“Spending the time to honestly look at myself…I have learnt more about myself and what I want and need out of life than I ever thought possible…a toolkit for life.”
Values acts as a way-finder, a guide and a grounding tool to be used as you need, when you need. Making decisions about your career based on your values can only lead to better. As Oprah Winfrey says:
‘Do what you love and you will more than succeed, you will soar’
AUTHOR: Abby Dixon
Abby Dixon is an award-winning business owner and consultant, accredited CIM trainer and ICF certified coach aka The Whole You Coach