Have you ever been asked, “what are your core values?” On the surface, it seems like a really easy question to answer, but in reality, it’s paralyzing. So we never ask ourselves this important question. But why? We all intrinsically know that we have core values, but we don’t address them or stay in the discomfort long enough to truly evaluate, name, and commit to them.
Instead of staying paralyzed, let’s strip away the baggage you carry to free yourself and begin searching for those values you can be confident in. Because when we know our values, we are better at living by them and are guided by them.
When we choose values, does it mean we don’t value other values?
If you ever go through a values exercise, it typically consists of looking at a bunch of words and whittling them down to the ones that resonate with you. Shouldn’t be hard, right? Well in reality how do you choose values when they are all good values? That’s right, who wants to be the person that doesn’t value Communication. Excellence. Honesty. Respect. Truth? Because making a decision means that you have to say no to others and choosing values means that you didn’t pick others.
According to one therapist, the number one complaint millennials have is, “I have too many choices and I can’t decide what to do. What if I make the wrong choice?” How do we make the right choice when all the choices are so good?
How to overcome decision fatigue: Know that choosing values doesn’t mean that you don’t respect other values. Consider looking at a group of values that resonate and finding a theme that connects them for you. Values don’t work in a vacuum but are complementary and have a much wider reach than often connects them to other values. What you consider honesty, may include truth, integrity, responsibility, and loyalty. Ask others what that value means to them and be prepared to share your meaning as well. More often than not you’ll find common ground even if you don’t have the “same” values.
What if my values feel unattainable? Will they be used against me?
I believe there is an innate fear that announcing your values allows others to judge you by them. If you say your value is loyalty, what does that now say about you? What if you cheated on a lover in the past? Or maybe needed to switch departments or jobs? When we declare values, it can feel like an overwhelming pressure to be perfect at that value. In reality, we aren’t perfect… but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
A study found by the American Psychology Association found that between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10%, socially prescribed perfectionism increased by 33%. That's right, we are putting more and more pressure on ourselves (and others) to be perfect, so why would we allow others to think that we should be perfect?
How to overcome value pressure: Take the time to reflect on your values and actions weekly, daily, or however often works for you. The more you can align with the values, whether they be aspirational, spiritual, or instinctual, the more you will continue to live by them. You must get over your own need for perfection and allow yourself space for growth. We choose our values because that is who we want to be, we aren’t ever complete as people.
A final word of caution: don’t choose values to appease others.
How often do we have values to appease others? You say something in a job interview to make it look like you align with the company. You say you value what your partner values so you don’t fight. Neither of these situations will end well if you aren’t honest and true to yourself. Find the things that inspire and motivate you and your values will guide you towards peace and fulfillment.
I hope that this will inspire you to continue your search for values. That you will take a moment to reflect and seek values that resonate with you. And to do it without fear of judgment (from yourself or others). Because finding values that you are willing to commit to is a game-changer. It is a tremendous step in the direction of self-growth, self-awareness, and confidence.