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Most people don’t stop to consider what’s really important to them when considering either their career path or which specific company they want to work for. Just as we can fall into partnerships with people that don’t make us feel good about ourselves, often we fall into careers that aren’t right for us. We take jobs because it follows a subject we were good at in school or perhaps because our parents supported it or even just because it was available at the time and seemed like a fun and interesting thing to do.  The problem is, unless our choices fully support our values, we will never be able to excel to the point that we truly shine and are genuinely happy. This in turn will affect our psyche and the longer we persist it causes us stress, which can lead to depression and worse. We change relationships or jobs thinking it’s our current partners or employers’ fault, but the same thing happens once we get ‘settled’ because we haven’t taken the time to get to know what matters to us – what our values are.

 

What are values?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines value as “the worth, desirability or utility of a thing, or the qualities on which these depend.”

Values are the moral codes we live by. They’re the standards we set for ourselves and others. They determine our interactions with everyone. All of our actions are based on our values. Therefore, our principles affect our choice of friends, partners, the way we spend our time and the jobs we thrive in. In fact, we can tell when we are acting out of integrity with our values because we will feel stressed, shame, guilt and very out of sorts. 

Everyone has values. Even those who seem to act in a socially unacceptable way have principles. It’s just that they have a different set of values to those that we hold.

 

How Are Values Created? 

Values are mostly formed in our childhood, when we learn from the conduct of our parents and others close to us. As we get older, we create some of our values ourselves by learning to make moral judgments and by developing empathy.   

From birth to age seven, values are primarily subconsciously imprinted. This is the time when we largely learn from our parents and teachers/carers. During these years, our brains are like sponges and are not sufficiently developed that we can question what we see or experience. This is where many phobias or beliefs are formed that come to control our decisions and actions in later life. 

The modelling period between the ages of eight and 13 is a time when we consciously and unconsciously copy our friends and idols. Our brains are not developed sufficiently to develop our own core values until we are around ten years old. This increases during the socialisation period between 14 and 21 years, where we end to develop the values that affect our major life decisions. 

 

What is classified as a ‘value’

Values fall into two camps – ends values and means values. To get to an end value, you need to fulfil a means value. Money and freedom are both values, but freedom is an end and money might be the the means. In other words, to have freedom you need money. If you want freedom from a 9 to 5 routine, you need enough money to live comfortably. 

Examples of values are:

Accountability | Authenticity | Achievement |  Awareness | Authority | Autonomy | Balance | Beauty | Boldness | Calmness | Compassion | Challenge | Commitment | Community | Competency | Contribution | Creativity | Curiosity | Confidence | Connection |  Courage | Determination | Dependability | Dignity | Decisiveness | Diligence | Diversity |  Duty | Education | Empathy | Effectiveness | Fairness | Faith | Fame | Friendships | Flexibility | Fun | Focus | Freedom | Growth | Generosity | Gratitude |Happiness | Healthy Living | Honesty | Humour | I Health | Humility | Influence | Inner Harmony | Integrity | Justice | Kindness | Knowledge | Leadership | Learning | Love | Loyalty | Meaningful Work | Openness | Optimism | Organisation | Peace | Pleasure | Passion |  Professionalism | Poise | Popularity | Recognition | Religion | Reputation | Respect | Responsibility | Resilience | Respect | Security | Self-Respect | Service | Sacrifice | Sincerity | Spirituality | Stability | Structure | Success | Status | Trustworthiness | Trust | Understanding | Uniqueness | Vision | Wealth | Wisdom |  Warmth

Most people will be able to select a good number of the above values as being important to them. The key is to list these in order of importance as this will highlight your core values – that is the things that are of the utmost importance to you. These are the values that you know are being compromised because you can feel it in your body and they direct your actions. 

And of course, our values can change as we progress through life. You may have noticed this in your own life. Your idea of having fun (a value that’s good to have!) could be very different today than when you were a teenager. Today, you may find curling up with a good book more enjoyable than going to a party where everyone gets drunk. 

Or perhaps you were shy when you were younger and are just coming out of your shell. Maybe as a child you spent most of your time reading, but now the highlight of your week is a dinner party or a chance to go out and hear your favourite musical act with friends. 

Likewise, those who take the time to get to know themselves – through practising mindfulness, meditation and getting to grips with their own emotional intelligence, often find that their core values include less material and more compassionate elements.

 

Consider how your values are playing out in your life 

It’s important to regularly consider how your values are playing out in your life. And, most importantly when you are considering a relationship or your career, do your values meet with the values of the person concerned / the organisation. Taking work as an example, if you value nature and the environment then working for a Petrochemical firm may be at odds with your core values even if it does make the most of your Chemistry degree. Likewise, if family and friends are high up on your list then taking a job with a long commute or lots of time away from home is going to cause you unnecessary stress however much you the love the job. You may even find that the job and Its location Is perfect but the people you work with have very different values to you. If you find yourself in any of these situations you need to ask yourself why you are tolerating not living by your values and what is stopping you from making the changes necessary. 

Answering these questions honestly will help you to apply these guiding principles to all areas of your life and in turn will help you change your life for the better. 

For many years, scientists believed that once we reached a certain age, change was no longer possible. We were stuck with the personality we developed as young people. However, today we know that ‘neuroplasticity’, or the ability of our brains to adapt, carries on into the last years of our lives. We can always change. 

To help guide you in finding your core values, try out the questions below and then, truly assess each area of your life to ensure that you are living your values. If you are compromising in any area – create a plan to make the change! 

If you were asked to say what 3 things you are most proud of in your life, or that you have achieved in your life – what would you say and why are you proud of these?

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What in life annoys you the most and why do these things annoy you? (typically we are most annoyed by things that go completely against our values – so once you have made your list – write the opposite emotion/word/value next to it)

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Who are your roles models (whether people you know or even celebrities) and what is it about them that you admire?

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What patterns have emerged? Can you link your discoveries above to list your top 5 values?

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