Clarifying Values

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Our Values are who we are at our core, they’re what we stand for, what gives our life meaning. They offer a lens, a framework for looking at our selves and the choices we make in our lives.

I often like to say that if you were on a deserted island, your values are those things that would still be important to you. For example, I have a value around community and connection. It’s critically important to me. If I were deserted on an island, I would find a way to organize the fish, or the shells, or something so that I would feel like I am a part of something larger than myself. Connection gives my life meaning. It is a deeply held value of mine.

Our values are different from beliefs, which change over time. As a young adult you might be a raging liberal, and as an older adult you might become a more fiscal conservative. Those beliefs shift and change as our understanding of the world changes. Our values, on the other hand, are more of a constant in our lives. Their importance to us will shift over time – how we prioritize them would change after a near-death encounter, or with the birth of a new child – but their fundamental nature does not change.

In fact, we each have 1000’s of values. I do an exercise with my Full Impact clients to help them clarify and hone in on their top 8-12 values. It takes an effort to extract someone’s core values, because left to our own devices we tend to “vote” on what we might “want” our values to be. But once you get a handle on your true values, it is a powerful tool for growth and change.

What’s so important about values? They are a critical foundation for decision-making. When you become clear on your key values, you can use them as your guide. They help you set priorities, and accept the natural give and take that comes with maneuvering life as an adult.

Values are a bit complicated, though. Here are some important truths about values that help us understand how to use them in our daily lives

  1. Values are always in conflict with each other. If you think about it, we are always making choices between our values. For example, if you have a strong value around health, you may honor that regularly by getting to bed at a reasonable time every night. Great. But sometimes, if you also have a value around playful celebration, you may find yourself excited to go out for a party, or to a concert, knowing that you may not make the “healthiest” choices that night. Instead, you’re choosing to honor a different value.

  2. You have the choice to honor your values.

  3. Bully Values. Sometimes, we have a value that would have us believe that it is more important than any of our other values. That value is a bully. Occasionally, I find that bullies may come from obligations or expectations, but the results are the same. For example, if you have a strong value around order and structure, and you also have a strong value around love and connection, can you see how those values might come in conflict with each other when you’re raising a teenager? If you allow the “order” value to become a bully, you will spend excessive time structuring your teenager’s life and reminding him to pick up his clothes, potentially at the expense of the caring, connected relationship that is also important to you. You don’t have to choose one over the other. But sometimes, you do have to choose to honor them at different times!

  4. Hidden Values. Occasionally, you’ll discover a value that is so deeply ingrained that you didn’t even recognize it as a value in the first place. We see this in private coaching when the coach and client all of a sudden recognize a value that they’ve never named, but has been there all the time. Awareness allows you to make choices with your values. When it’s hidden, sometimes it doesn’t get honored, or it becomes a bully – either way, its healthier when your values are uncovered and clear, so that you can be at choice.

  5. The same values may not look the same for different people. Quite often, others may reflect a value quite similar to ours, but it looks completely different. For example, my parents have a strong value around beauty and creativity. So do I. They like to go to art galleries, and appreciate what artists have created. I love that creative process, too, but I find natural beauty to be a greater expression of that value for beauty and creativity than anything you’d find in a museum. We both have deeply held values around beauty and creativity. They just show up differently in our lives and our choices.

  6. Your kids don’t necessarily share your values. As a parent, we want to instill our values in our children. When we do that, we naturally foster those values that our children share with us. But our kids come into this world with their own innate values, their own core sense of what’s important in the world. While we can influence their prioritization, we can’t change their values. When we help them identify “what’s important” to them, and get clear on their values, we’ll give them a framework for decision-making that will be powerful tools in their toolboxes as adults. Whether you’re talking about how they do at school or getting along with their sibling, when we help them identify THEIR values around something, instead of expecting them to assume ours, we’re setting them up for success.

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