The importance of living your values
Our values help us to grow as people. Here's how you can define them.
In the business world, it’s perfectly normal – desirable, even – to establish a set of values that your company stands for. In our personal lives, though, we rarely pause to think about what drives us and what’s most important. It’s even rarer that we take the time to learn what our friends, colleagues, and loved ones value.
Our personal values reflect who we are; they’re like an inner North Star that guides us as we navigate life. They sit behind our behaviours and are a core component of our personal identities. So if we don’t live true to our values, it can feel like a betrayal of the self.
The organisations, communities, and relationships you move through in your life will each have a set of values. To thrive, you need to find and focus on where these values meet your own. This alignment will boost your chance of success and make your connections more positive. Without it, you might find friction and frustration.
Before we can use our personal values to better engage with what we do, strengthen our connections, and unlock greater success, we first need to identify what they are!
Establish what’s important
Our values start forming early in life and help to shape us as we grow. Parents, other people of influence, life experiences, upbringing, and environments all inform how we interact with – and respond to – the world. But it’s important that we unearth our own set of values along the way so that we don’t just echo those passed on to us.
There have been several times in my life when I’ve deeply explored, defined, and articulated my values. The first time was in my early 20s, when I had just entered the workforce and was also training to get to the Olympics as an aerial skier. I thought hard about what success meant for me, as an athlete and a young professional – and not just what I wanted to achieve, but how I wanted to go about it. I grew up middle-class and had to work hard to participate in such an expensive sport and progress against the odds, while also working full-time. For this reason, values like self-belief, hard work, professional development, being results-oriented, and financial discipline were important to me.
When you’re trying to uncover your values, you need to invest significant time – I’m talking half a day, not a few minutes – to really think about the things you care about and respond to. This is very introspective work and you don’t want to rush it. First, find a long list of values online (there are plenty of different versions freely available) and print it out. Take yourself out for a coffee and then really mull over the list. Listen to what your gut, your heart, and your head are telling you. Which words do you feel drawn to? Keep circling values until you’ve chosen at least 20 or 30.
Next comes refinement. Try to ascertain which values are most important to you and compare them against one another. You’ll start noticing that some values stand on their own and jump out as priorities (such as health or family), while others will be somewhat related – for example, engagement, passion, joy, and purpose. To refine a group of similar values, choose the one that best represents the collective.
Make a statement
When you’ve refined your list to around six values (a challenge, I know!), it’s time to craft a statement of purpose. Think about what each value means to you and why it’s important. What significance does each hold in light of your past, present, and future? How could these values guide the way you’ll spend your time and energy moving forward?
Now, turn your thoughts into short statements that describe your values in action. For example, you may have chosen achievement, financial security, passion, personal growth, and community. One of your statements might look something like this: “I achieve in my area of work to make good money and provide security for my family. I do this while helping others to grow because I’m passionate about giving back and strengthening my community.” You should be able to write two to three strong statements you can regularly refer to as you go about making short- and medium-term decisions.
Revisit and refine over time
After the Olympics, I was at a major juncture in my life. I was in my early 30s, I’d achieved a significant life goal, I’d retired from sport, and I was uncertain about what I wanted to do next. I had a lot more questions than answers, so I took the time to revisit my values as a way to uncover what was going to be really important to me in this next stage of my life. Earning money was still relevant – I’d been in so much debt as an athlete – but new things like independence, excellence, achievement, courage, growth, and family were now strongly resonating with me.
Understanding how I had evolved as a person helped me to better navigate that transitional period. It’s completely normal for your values to shift significantly over time as you collect experiences, meet new people of influence, and change your circumstances. But if you don’t stop to check in and review them every few years, you might find yourself behaving in a way that matches old values. Trying to retrofit old values to new situations can cause deep-level agitation.
When priorities change
The last time I sat down and re-did my values was after I became a wife and mother. Trying to juggle the different roles and responsibilities I had as a working parent – not to mention running my own business and managing employees – was becoming pretty stressful. I realised I was still making decisions and pursuing my life with the values I had in my 20s and 30s, rather than those of a 40-year-old. Relentlessly working to achieve, grow, and lay foundations had created daily habits that were incongruent to my new life with family.
Excellence, family, and personal growth were still core values, but integrity and community had become increasingly important. My values were now less about chasing my own goals, and more about helping others. I wanted to keep performing at a high level in my work and have financial security, but I was also keen to experience more joy and inner harmony too. Collaborating more broadly and helping others achieve their full potential had become my new motivation.
How values inform your life
Things can be quite easy when the people around you or the organisations you work with share your values. Sometimes this happens without conscious thought; we seek out places of employment and social environments because of common values. But what happens when our values clash with the values of the people we come into contact with or the organisations we work for?
When there’s a disconnect or you feel frustrated with a person or situation, reflecting on the cause can help you discover the misalignment between the different things that both parties value. Being able to articulate your values in these situations, as well as understanding and respecting the values of others, can be extremely helpful. Try asking a curious question, like: “Why is X, Y, Z more important to you than A, B, C? I’d like to better understand where you’re coming from.” This way, you can find areas of understanding and potential alignment as you work through challenges and discover new opportunities.
So much in life is about more than just what we achieve – it’s also about how we do it. When you offer your values and are curious about the values of the people you work with, you’re more able to be empathetic and resilient, and to make decisions where you can achieve win-win outcomes with others.
When you truly understand your personal values and how they help you achieve your goals, you can better direct your life and live in a way that makes you more content and fulfilled. With this inner clarity, you’ll find it gets a lot easier to prioritise where you spend your time and energy. You will also be more able to pivot away from the people, activities, or roles that don’t align with your values and hold you back from better.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.