Yes or No? The real question to ask is, “Why?”

What Makes you tick?  Why do you do what you do?  What drives your decisions? Prompts your behaviors?  Guides your choices?  The answer is: your values. I like to call our values the secret force behind our “yes” or “no.” And though they can change over time, many of our values are rooted deep in our childhood, fashioned from our earliest experiences and role models.

Understanding Your Values Can Open Up Doors to Opportunity

Understanding Your Personal Values Is, Well, Invaluable

Knowledge IS power. The self-awareness that comes from understanding your own values can be a real tool for you. Driving so much – our career paths, our choice in a spouse, how we parent, how we spend our free time, what we feel satisfaction for doing, what we feel compassion for, what we choose to fight for – it makes sense to understand our values. With this understanding comes greater self-knowledge, which can further guide the choices we make, and steer us clear of potential pitfalls.

Most telling, it is when we are making choices and partaking in behaviors misaligned with our core values, that this self-knowledge becomes most valuable. Maybe you’ve experienced this before when something “just didn’t feel right.” Or, maybe you weren’t feeling fulfilled in your personal or professional life but could not pinpoint what was going on. A classic example of the latter entails a situation where the individual has all the trappings of success but feels anything but satisfied with life.

How You Might Go About Determining Your Values

You probably have a hunch or two about what you value. Some will be more obvious than others. Author and regular Psychology Today contributor, Jim Taylor Ph.D., noted, “… perhaps the most telling question reflecting what you value is: What do you spend your money on—a home, cars, travel, clothing, education, art, charity? Because money is a limited resource for most people, they will use their money in ways that they value most. Over and above what people say and other indicators in their life, where they spend their hard-earned money says the most about their values.” Similarly, some find reflecting on what they spend their time doing shines a light on their values system. Yet it is important to ask yourself, “Are your values based on what other people think?” Are any of your values based out of fear? Fear of failure, fear of losing something….

When I work with clients on values, I begin with a values clarification worksheet. I ask my clients to consider a list of values, assigning each a classification. The list of values is broad, including everything from “Moral Fulfillment” and “Honesty” to “Wealth” and “Success” and “Romance” and “Sexuality.” The next step for my client is to single out the top values. This isn’t always easy, but the discussion and thinking behind the ranking is always enlightening. There is no wrong answer and no two individuals will have the same interpretation for their top values. Finally, we hone in on the top values, digging into how past choices may have been driven by these high-ranking influences and how choices moving forward can honor them.

My Client the Professional-Turned-Stay-Home-Mom

A few years back I worked with a client – Suzi we’ll call her – who had been struggling with her sense of self seven years into motherhood. Suzi had always been a high-achieving, people pleaser and had enjoyed success in her career. Motherhood is especially hard on worry-prone, neurotic (her description, not mine) perfectionists because, as so many of us learn when we have children, so much is out of our control.

Suzi wanted nothing more in life than to have her own family to love, but she also enjoyed working and gained a significant amount of her self-esteem from working outside of the home. She came to me deflated and exhausted after spending five years working in a couple of roles that each began as the “perfect part-time job” for her, but she ended up feeling frustrated, and unfulfilled in the roles.

Suzi completed her values assessment and came up with the following top ten values:

Growth/Self Improvement

Over a series of sessions together, Suzi came to some enlightened conclusions. Working through her values analysis, we discussed how there are many seasons in life. And, in my opinion, the season of parenting has the most seasons within itself, i.e. infant months, preschool years, elementary and middle school times, high school, empty nest, the list goes on. As with all seasons, it is important to consider your choices in light of your values. For Suzi, each time she began what she thought was the perfect part-time job, she perfected her performance and did her people pleasing, gained more responsibility, forgot her boundaries, and landed in a space in conflict with her core values of love and purpose (family in her case).

The key for Suzi was to acknowledge her core values and make professional choices in line with them. She had the goal of continuing to work (note the “independence” and “growth” value rankings) outside the home, so we started by first defining the characteristics of her dream job. Next, I had Suzi create a list of professional roles that might be a fit with her criteria. Suzi began exploring in earnest and I’m happy to report she now does a combination of freelance and part-time work, which she is able to do with pride without interfering with her vision of family.

What worked for Suzi is what worked for Suzi. Each of us is going to have our own set of values and circumstances. No two will be the same. This is why there is no one-size solution for the working mom (or stay-at-home-working-mom, or working dad, etc.).

Finding That Sweet Spot Professionally

I’m often asked how personal values play into the professional world. They’re just as relevant. As Suzi found, when her professional activities interfered with her top value, she was not happy personally or professionally. Once she found professional work that aligned with her top values, she settled into rewarding occupational endeavors. Understanding her values and how they played out at her current stage in life gave Suzi a clear vision of reality. What is more, she found work with individuals who appreciated her value of family, which has made a difference.

In their book Career Handbook for Working Professionals the leadership coaching organization, Next Step Partners, explains, “Values clarification is a process used to identify what is important to an individual, department, company, or for that matter, a country. When an individual is said to be true to his or her self, that self can be defined by a clear list of values. Not surprisingly, individuals’ career satisfaction and fulfillment are much higher when they can express and realize many, if not all, of their personal values in their careers.”

Values clarification

There’s a clear message in this for those of us leading teams. It pays off to understand what our partners and employees value. It pays off to communicate our organizational values to current and potential employees.

There is a police force in a small community in north Texas with the slogan, “Policing with Empathy.” They put their slogan on all of their police cars. Talk about making their values clear. Citizens, employees and leadership are all reminded daily. It’s a safe bet this department recruits employees who value empathy.

The sweet spot is to have organizational values that overlap with employee values. When we can hire to the overlap, we’re going to set ourselves up for success. When we can adjust the workplace to accommodate more of what our employees value, or when we can hire specifically to our values, we’re going to be rewarded.

Get To Know The Values

I encourage you to spend some time with your values. Get to know them. Understand them. In that same vein, consider the values of those you work with on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to get to know them. Our values drive our behaviors. They cannot be pushed aside for long. When we give them the nod of approval they warrant, they will open doors to opportunity.

Are you ready to become Your Best Version?  Do you believe your team hasn’t met its full potential?  Brain Basics Coach-On-Call program may be the perfect solution. Kathy Walter has been helping teams and individuals become their best through individual coaching, team development and assessments like the Energy Leadership Index and the EQ-I 2.0. Visit Brain Basics at to learn more.

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