“I guess really don’t know what I value…”
She stared blankly back at me with sad eyes, realizing with new awareness what her statement actually meant.
She had screwed up (and she knew it). This was the start of her realization that her actions weren’t congruent with the leader she wanted to be and that she had some work to do. Luckily, she was only 19-years-old, and a college sophomore with big dreams and goals, and it was my job to help support her growth and development.
So I sat there in my UCLA office over a decade ago and we had a deep conversation about what core values are, how to identify and live by them, and what to do when we mess up (because inevitably we will…). These are the kind of conversations that made me realize that this was not just a job in student leadership development – it is a life’s work and a daily practice no matter where I am and what I’m doing.
Fast forward to present day, summer 2017. The weather is warmer, kids are almost out of school, and you’re excited about upcoming vacations and adventures. As you prepare to make the most of this summer season and sunny days, I also invite you to consider this:
How are you living out your values now?
This question gets to the heart of the DEEP work that your life needs so you can be full engaged and present. This summer, we’re going to be exploring the intention of values-based living to help amplify your leadership and re-align your life. And the best part is that you can jump into this “work” at any stage or place…and still take it on vacation with you!
Defining Your Values
Simply put, your values express what matters most to you – your priorities, truths, and beliefs that point to your overall purpose. When attended to and activated consistently, they ground and guide your life so you feel more fulfilled and energized. When ignored, they cause emotional friction that rubs in awkward places and causes you to notice areas that are tender or painful.
On the surface, our values appear to be easy to identify. We all have them, after all, but how often do we intentionally reflect on, identify, and practice them?
Typically, our values are something we assume we’re living out daily until moments of tension or friction make us reconsider how in or out of alignment we are with our values. These tough times point us inward (if we choose to listen) and offer us moments of reflection to realign with our greater purpose.
You can use these questions to begin getting clearer on your core values now:
What matters most in your life now?
What five words best describe your purpose?
What is one defining aspect of your character?
Now write down as many words and phrases as you can to capture your core values. If you’re curious about what types of values are out there, here’s a comprehensive list we’ve compiled.
Strengths + Values
Your values also interact with your natural strengths to amplify your energy and enhance your overall impact in amazing ways!If your strengths are what naturally give you energy, your values help activate your strengths… Click To Tweet
For example, if you have a value of adventure and one of your natural strengths is curiosity, you can use your inquisitive mind to begin asking questions and pondering fun things to do to get even more excited about whatever new explorations are ahead!
Take a moment now to list your top strengths and compare them with the core values you’ve previously identified. Notice any natural interactions or cross-over points where your strengths and values amplify each other. What is the impact here on your leadership and life?
Values Clarification Life Map
When I was sitting in my UCLA office with this sophomore so many years ago, I helped her start identifying meaningful times in her life that pointed to her core values. Through our conversation, she articulated what mattered most to her then and how she could begin living more authentically and congruently with her values.
You can do something similar using the following steps:
1. Make a list of significant moments in your life (positive, negative, neutral). This can be over your entire lifespan or for a specific decade or range you choose.
- When did this happen and what was the result?
- What stands out about this experience to you now?
- What did it teach you?
2. Consider what values grounded you in each of these moments.
- What values were being honored in each experience?
- What values were being ignored or challenged?
3. Notice any consistent patterns as you identify what values are most resonant throughout your life.
- How are you living and leading with these values now?
- What needs to shift so you are living with more alignment with your values?
Over a decade later, I often wonder how my student is doing now and if she still thinks about and lives out her values. I want to believe that our conversation that day made a difference in her life, or at the very least, helped her notice that the path she had ventured down wasn’t serving her at the time so she could realign and reboot.
That conversation reinforced something life-changing for me: Values work is life work. It is the work. Our work. And it takes work.Values work is life work. Click To Tweet
In each season of your life, carve out some time to be with yourself and continue the practice of clarifying your values and re-aligning your life. Your present and future will thank you for it!
Have a wonderful summer!