“Your core values act like your internal compass which navigates the course of your life. If you compromise your core values, you go nowhere.” ~ Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
This past month my daughter was applying for university. It’s hard to believe we are at this point, but I am so excited for her and this next phase of her life. While most universities base acceptance on grades, her top choice school also requires applicants to write a personal profile, consisting of several essay questions. This definitely added extra work to the application process however I thought it was so valuable. All of the essay questions required a lot of introspection and self-awareness. One of the essay questions is “What is most important to you? And why?” After much thought, I was incredibly impressed when she said that living her core values was the most important to her. (PS, I have her permission to share this.)
I think this is such a great answer to this question because our personal core values are like our compass, and we all need a compass to know where we ought to go, where we are, and to help us figure things out. They are foundational in all of our major life areas – school, career, relationships, etc. I believe living our core values is something all of us would benefit from. Just imagine the trajectory of your life if you had figured out your core values at 17 years old! I can say with 100% certainty that I had absolutely no idea at that age. In fact, I was well into my adult life before I had really thought about them, which probably explains a few things 😉
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” ~ Roy E Disney
What are core values?
When we know our core values life becomes far easier to navigate. Whether we realize it or not we base many of our decisions on our values. But what are values? While it’s a term that gets used a lot (both personally and in organizations) many of us struggle to define it. Essentially core values are like your personal compass, representing an individual’s highest priorities and deeply held beliefs. They are your fundamental beliefs, ideals or practices that inform how you conduct your life, both personally and professionally, underpinning and guiding your decision-making and behaviours.
They are your personal truths, not universal truths, linked to your interpretation of right and wrong. Values are something people tend to lean on when searching for direction and a sense of meaning in their lives. When faced with a “fork in the road” decision, always defer to your values. Your values look a lot like a compass pointing you on the right path in life.
It’s hard to be confident (see this post and this post) or be true to yourself if you feel lost in life. Knowing your values is the first step to living more intentionally. They are key to being true to your authentic self and creating a meaningful life. And, to stay true to yourself you must not compromise your values. Once you are clear on what they are, you must boundary the crap out of them (read about boundaries in these two posts – here and here). Essentially, your core values are your non-negotiables.
How do you know if you are (or aren’t) living in alignment with your core values?
Our parents, media, society, culture, and our peers all contribute to the formation of our beliefs so it is often difficult to distinguish between what we’ve been taught to believe and our own personal values. If you haven’t given much thought to what your personal core values are, then you might not even know if you are living in alignment or not. And, even if you are clear on your values often the busyness of life can make you lose sight of them, and your sense of purpose, and what is deeply important to you. When we move through our days without holding these values in our awareness then we are like an explorer without a compass, and we become misaligned with what is deeply important to us. This leaves a rumbling deep within us, a quiet sense that something isn’t right, and a certain level of unease. Holding our values in our minds and hearts as we move through our days helps to guide our decision-making, ensuring that we are living life in alignment with what is important to us. The following are some common clues that indicate that you might not be:
- You feel stress, anxiety, and/or overall unhappiness;
- You feel lost or without direction;
- Something just doesn’t “feel” right, or might “feel” wrong;
- You want to “feel” something so you search for emotions like excitement like buying things you don’t want or need;
- You do extreme sports to feel that adrenaline rush just so you feel something.
How to discover your personal core values
Your core values determine who you are, what you stand for, and define what kind of a life you want to live. It’s all about you and what matters the most to you, not anyone else. Finding and defining your personal core values requires being honest with yourself. If you are unsure about your core values then learn all about your Striving Style and your innate gifts and talents, and what triggers your self-protective system. Understanding your Striving Style will offer some incredible insights into who you are, including how you are hardwired, and what motivates and drives your thoughts and decisions. To discover your core values it’s important to take the time to reflect on what’s important to you.
Clearly identifying your core values will require time for self-reflection. This means that you can’t just randomly pick values from a list until you’re clear about what you stand for and what you don’t. Discovering and clarifying your core values requires some deep reflection.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Who has inspired you in your life and what qualities about them were inspiring?
- What was a time when you were at your best and why?
- What qualities or traits do you admire in other people or aspire to cultivate in yourself?
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- What are your greatest accomplishments?
- What motivates you?
- Are there any qualities in others that you can’t tolerate?
- If you had to describe yourself in 15 words or less to someone who doesn’t know you, what would you say?
- How would you want to be described by the people remembering you after you’re gone?
- What truths do you stand behind?
- What matters to you the most?
- What are rules that you’ve set for yourself that you strictly follow?
- What rules have you made for yourself but find difficult to follow?
- What have been your greatest failures, or what are things that you wished you had done better?
- What makes you feel good, smile, laugh, or feel fulfilled?
- What values do you envision changing, and which would you like to keep the same?
- Can you identify a time when you feel you were inefficient or your efforts were misguided, and why?
- What things, settings or resources are necessary for you to do your best work?
- What qualities do you feel make strong, healthy relationships?
- What qualities do you wish to develop in yourself professionally and personally?
- What are your future goals? What qualities will it take to achieve them?
- What would you die for?
- What would you live for?
You’ll have a better idea of your core values based on understanding your Striving Style and how you answer these questions. Once you’ve clarified what’s important to you and identified your ideal self and life, then refer to the list of core values. Contact me and I’ll happily email you my Core Values list.
Review the list of core values and identify your top 5 to 10 that resonate with you. Choose the ones that are uniquely your values. Don’t choose one because you consider it socially acceptable or because it fits with your current situation, your family, work, culture, or society.
Living your Core Values
Once you’ve identified your top 5 to 10 core values, consider how you can embody them and bring them more fully into your everyday life. Imagine yourself in situations when you’re embodying your values and how they will look and feel in your life. Find a specific activity or situation where you have the opportunity to practice connecting with your values. Consider why your value inspires you and the moments in your life when you are or have been deeply connected with it. Is there someone who inspires you, or is there something specific that drives you to follow your values?
Knowing your core values and staying connected to them in your everyday daily life will give you a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in your life, as well as an overall sense of confidence and happiness.
Now, it’s your turn.
Do you know what your top 5 to 10 personal core values are? If so, how have they helped guide your decisions in life? Are you currently living in alignment with your values? Please share your experience.