Values as Life Essentials (Literally)

If you almost lost hope this third (and final) installment of the “Just Who are You in the Midst of Now” series would appear on the LEADr Board [now Imagine Bravely], you’re not alone. And yet, the cause of the delay mirrors the message I’ll be sharing on the importance of values. Four months ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Every day since required active choices of how to allocate my limited time and energy. Possessing a clear understanding of my values enabled those choices.

The definition of “meaningful” and “successful” living varies by person. If identifying a personal mission or core purpose provides a destination, values provide the signposts for navigating the journey. This post will cover:

  • How to surface values,
  • Why values play an essential role in our life and work, and
  • An example of how values guided my decisions over the past few months.

As a companion to this post, you have free access to my step-by-step Values Sorting Exercise (click here). How to surface personal values involves a series of selections; there are no “right” or “wrong” choices—the end result is personal to you. In the first step, I offer a comprehensive list of potential values. Quickly work through these by asking, “is this important to me?” Next, examine the shorter list. Compare similarly themed items, for example “health” and “well being.” Does one of these encompass the other? Consider contrasting items, such as “risk taking” and “security.” For each pairing, down select based on each items relative importance to you. In the final step, you identify your top five values and write a definition of what each means to you. The final values most closely reflect who you are (or who you’d like to be) and how you seek to lead your life.

So why take the time to understand our foundational values? How does this self-knowledge benefit us? Let’s begin with a simple analogy. The origins of coffee date to the 13th century. Until recent history, a simple question of choice involved whether or not to select coffee as a beverage. Roughly a hundred years ago, an innovative process offered a new option—decaffeinated coffee. Aside from “regular” or “decaf,” the selections for how to dilute and sweeten coffee broadened. Milk or cream transitioned to include half-n-half, non-dairy and flavored non-dairy. In addition to white sugar, we’ve expanded to brown or “natural” sugars, as well as pink, blue or yellow packeted non-sugar sweeteners. Today, the local coffee house offers patrons an entire menu (and “secret” off-menu) of options. When the flow of information and decision-making options expand, we need a method to filter and make meaningful choices. Applying values to the array of coffee options might look like this:

  • If we value adventure, we might try something different each time.
  • If we value simplicity, we may opt for plain coffee.
  • If we value justice, we will look for product sourced through fair trade.
  • If we value community, we’ll support local coffee houses or chains treating employees and the community well.
  • If we value relationships, we might elect to take time and engage with a friend or colleague over our coffee.
  • If we value productivity, we might use the drive through.

Personal, social, and organizational environments present us with an unrelenting barrage of options far more pressing and complex than choosing our coffee. Values help us anticipate potential outcomes and navigate across all aspects of living and working, personal and community, individual and organizational choice. Values provide scaffolding for determining whether our decisions …

… Reflect our personal ethics and integrity.

… Assure we treat people with dignity and respect.

… Balance long-term impact against short-term objectives.

Most critically, our values should be present in our everyday life, and not an exercise we do periodically as part of personal or professional development.

As a personal example, the idea of cancer never entered my mind until faced with the reality of the diagnosis. Values provided a foundation for choices that prioritized my health. Because my family is so important, I committed to actively fighting and doing everything possible to facilitate recovery. To conserve physical energy (one of the most prevalent side effects of treatment is fatigue), I temporarily tabled my dissertation and left household tasks undone. I proactively focused on the essential, engaging in activities furthering my mission in life (such as teaching a leadership class) without over tasking my capacity. A timely resource I discovered early on was Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (I highly recommend this book, click the link to view on Amazon!).

Today, I’ve reengaged with my dissertation research and will be easing back into blogging. I’m making a dent in the piles of deferred paperwork and revisiting writing projects. I’ve added a new coaching client. At the same time, I’m mindfully saying “no” and protecting my health. My values continue to serve as a guide on my life and professional journey. Enough about me, though! What about you? Take a moment to share your thoughts about this post, the values exercise, or how insight about your own values helps you address challenges or make decisions. Add your thoughts and comments at the LEADistics Facebook Community!

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