Through Simon Sinek's famous TED Talk “Start with WHY- How great leaders inspire action” we all became more aware of the importance of knowing and communicating why we are doing what we are doing. Unfortunately, few people take the time to (re)connect with their values repeatedly.
In the coaching journeys with my clients and through my own journey, I see how powerful it is for empathic professionals to explore their unique values and take the steps to express them authentically. This applies to important work life decisions, crossroads and taking aligned action. Being in touch with these will help you design a meaningful, fulfilling work life.
In this article I will share with you what values are, what the consequences are if we are not aware of them and 3 powerful tools to discover them.
What are values?
Your values are part of who you are, deep under the surface. Like a tree with deep roots they give you stability. They guide you on what is important to you, what you care about and what it means to be true to yourself. They are not just good-looking on paper or understood at an intellectual level. They are driving forces and motivators when you to take decisions and direct your (work) life. Often without your conscious awareness, values reflect your behavior and decisions on a day-to-day basis.
That’s why you cannot differentiate between work values and personal values. Of course, if you work for an organization, they will have organizational, company and team values. There may be a gap between the company brochure or website and the real systemic behaviors. It is up to you how you integrate or deny your personal values for the bigger system you work in.
Values like family, relationships and financial security drive human behavior across the world. Others, like tradition or material possessions, vary depending on the county or culture you grew up in. Many people think their values are what is expected from them. For example, culturally (“reliability means being on time”) or judgements they have been raised with (“to be successful you need to be working hard/all the time”).
Why is it important to reflect upon your values
Let’s be honest, we hear a lot about purpose, meaning and values. But we rarely take the time to reflect and embody what we stand for. Reflecting on your values can be eye-opening and truly transformative, that's what I experienced myself, too. Through coaching, I discovered how much I value freedom for example. I need to have space to breathe, to be creative and enjoy doing my own thing in my own time.
Values are usually stable, as they relate to who you are at core. Yet, values can change naturally over time. Even if you decided on a career according to your values five years ago, it might not be the right thing for you right now. Important work life decisions are easier to make and outcomes are more fulfilling when you view the decisions through your personal values.
When you honor your values consistently, you feel aligned and fulfilled. The issues come up when the things you do on a daily basis, like your work life, don’t align with your personal values. That's when you can start feeling restless, uncomfortable, stuck and frustrated. It was eye-opening for me to understand that the more I was complying with a fixed working hour schedule in a fixed office setting as an employee, the more tired and frustrated I felt. That I didn't honor freedom in my work life as much as I wanted to.
Maybe deep down you believe you care a lot about your family or about your customers (“we are customer-centric”). Yet, you hardly spend any time with them or don’t know much about them. That’s a sign that your values and behaviors are not aligned.
3 powerful tools to discover your unique values
Coaching works well to discover your true values. As your coach, I will ask questions and provide scenarios that take you into your real (work) life, rather than into your head.
At the beginning of the coaching journeys with my clients, (re)discovering their unique values is a very empowering process. It’s not only about writing down aspirational, well accepted words like health or family or ranking them in a certain order. It's about digging deeper, peeling the layers like an onion and discovering how your values are expressed in your work life.
Freedom is one of my values. How is it expressed in my business?
I walk my talk. I encourage myself and my clients to push forward through self-imposed hurdles and fears. I push them to go for a work-life which energizes and fulfills us.
Furthermore, it’s important that you find your own names and meanings for your values. Adventure can mean 1000 different things, depending on who you ask. For me it simply means alone time, being on my own. For you it probably means something else. Please don’t copy and paste but find your own meaning.
1. Good indicators to find your unique values are peak experiences of our past.
What was a moment in your life where you felt truly alive and in flow? What happened? What where you doing? Try to reexperience this moment as much in detail as possible to distil your motivators and values.
2. Think about experiences, situations that have been frustrating for you. Instances you cannot stop debating and looking back to for better solutions are showing you what you really care about. What is a topic where you would give everything to change or make it better?
3. What or who inspires you?
Reflect on people in your life or that you follow and write down what inspires you about them. What are they expressing in their work life that you truly admire? I really like to read about female entrepreneurs and their stories. Marie Forleo for example who is an international speaker, 8 figure business CEO and NY Times Bestselling author who used to be dance teacher, bartender and now combines all her passions in such a unique and pioneering way.
After you have peeled the layers and discovered your top 5, get honest with yourself again and score to which degree you are honoring each value. Use a scale of 0 to 10. Most clients find this exercise very revealing, and they are often shocked at what they learn about themselves. Generally, I pay particular attention when my client indicates that a score is below 7.
How you can honor your values in your work life
You looked in the mirror and went through a whole discovery, scoring and revealing process. You can now think about how you can narrow the gap between what’s important to you and your behaviors, routines and decisions. Take the first steps in expressing the values that you feel you have been neglecting or compromising in your work life.
One of my clients discovered that authenticity and being who she truly is (also at work) was super important to her. She realized that she had been adjusting and adapting too much to the work environment around her. That meant turning down the volume, laughing less, not expressing her extrovert personality in order to fit in. She started to have more proactive conversations with her manager. She changed her team. Finally, she co-founded her own business, as she realized her energy was not appreciated and valued.
Another client realized how much she compromised her creativity, fun and spiritual growth. She had been going through several challenging times and crises in her career. Through the coaching she remembered how she used to be and what used to be important for her. She realized how living in “survival mode” had stopped her doing things that bring her joy. Step by step, she started bringing these hobbies, self-care practices back to her life. She began saying no to things and people that would have drained her energy and attention instead.
Expressing your unique values in your work life is not a straight-forward process. But the career fulfillment that will come from this shift is worth the time and effort. It's an important step into creating a satisfying work life that nourishes your soul and gives you energy.
Trying to make these changes on your own can feel overwhelming. Coaching can guide you through this experience and help you get out of your own head to discover your own deeper truth. If you need help with this, the best way to get my advice and practical tips at the moment is through my fortnightly Purposeful Growth Letter. Click here to sign up and get yours.