Aligning your work with your core values
When I used to teach business and self-employment skills in the classroom, as an exercise, I required the students to identify their core values. Core values are a set of principles that reflect what matters most to you. If you are in a field of work where many people are offering similar types of products or services, embodying your core values is one of the easiest ways to distinguish yourself to your potential clients or customers. Most people will choose to purchase from those who have values aligned with their own. However, the reasons for doing so go far deeper than just “making a sale”.
Aligning your work with your values is essential to achieving what many people earnestly seek, which is fulfillment, meaning, and joy.
To facilitate the classroom activity, I would hand out a checklist of common values and ask the students to pinpoint what they deemed to be their “top eight”. There was no significance to the number “eight” itself, I simply wanted them to focus on what was most important to them.
Your personal values are your work values
With pen in hand, the students would hunch over their worksheets and start perusing the list. Just as the room went quiet, without fail, someone would wave their hand in the air and ask, “Am I supposed to select my personal values or my work values?”
I would raise an eyebrow and respond with my own question, “Why are they different?”
It is modern convention to separate the ideas of our “personal” and “work” lives, however, in my eyes, they are not separate. If we show up in work as one version of ourselves and then in the rest of life as another, we experience a fractured sense of self. This disconnection diminishes access to our own energy and leads us to feeling uninspired, even depressed.
To experience our innate wholeness, we must show up in both our personal and professional lives authentically as who we are.
When we give ourselves permission to be our true selves in all arenas of our life, our natural vitality returns. We are then able to infuse our aliveness into our work. To be in integrity with our own values is what connects us with ourselves and shared values is what connects us with each other.
Values are universally desirable
Once the students went back to making their selections, I would then have to field another barrage of questions. “What does ‘this one’ mean?” Now, I love discussing the definitions of words (as any of you Vision Program alum can attest), however, in this situation, I didn’t want to divert from the task at hand. Instead I would advise, “If you don’t know what it means, it’s highly probable that it’s not one of your core values.” Not very erudite, I know, yet still true.
As the clock continued to tick away on the exercise, inevitably someone would grumble, “This is hard, these are all good. I walk to pick them all.” It’s true because that’s what makes a value, a value. It’s a quality that we hold dear. Since having engaged in this exercise with so many different groups of people over the years, an interesting commonality presented itself:
Within each and every person there is an inherent knowingness about what matters to us universally as human beings.
Even though we could generally agree that all of the values were desirable, I still challenged them to get clear about their highest priorities. Others reported it was easy to choose. They noticed that those which were their core values seemed to “jump off the page” whereas the rest would just fade into the background as if they didn’t even exist.
At the end of the allocated time, I would sing out, “Okay, time’s up.” Then came my favourite part of the exercise. One-by-one, I’d have the students read out their selection of eight core values.
Your values represent your unique expression
With a clap of my hands, I’d glance around the room and ask, “Who wants to share first?” Most would suddenly find a speck of dust on their desk they had to tend to. Hardly anyone would look me in the eye. After an awkward silence, some brave soul would finally volunteer themselves, “Alright, I’ll go.”
With a shaky voice, they would read out their list of eight. They’d glance back up, their cheeks a little flushed. I would ask, “When you read those out loud, does that sound like who you are? Is that you?” After a brief pause, they would smile and nod their heads with a bit more confidence. Then I polled their classmates, “Does that sound like who they are?” I would see grins of acknowledgement all around. “Yes, yes, that’s them.”
I’d return my focus to the person in the spotlight. “Does that feel like who you’ve always been?” A look of contemplation would cross their face. “It’s something I’ve grown into,” many would answer.
Our values are intrinsic, but it can take time to become aware of them on a conscious level. From my own witnessing, it is my conclusion that our values are indeed who we’ve always been, however, sometimes our response to the myriad circumstances of life is to repress what is true for us. As articulated by one of my favourite educators, Parker J. Palmer:
“What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been. How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity – the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.”
There is an ease that comes over us when we no longer have to be who we are not. The barriers dissolve. Our sense of self returns. We move through the world with conviction that who we are matters. There is an undeniable steadiness that permeates all we do, including our work.
What often surprised the students was that no two people would ever chose the exact same set of values. Many assumed their classmates would prioritize the same qualities, however, what’s actual is that everyone has their own unique blend. That said, two people could have the same values, yet how they choose to express them in their work will still be subjective.
Your values inform how you work
As mentioned at the top, your core values help you bring your individual essence to whatever it is you do. They guide you in accomplishing tasks, developing products, and offering services in a way that no one else can. When people feel lost in a sea of sameness, I like to point them back to their values. When you allow your values to direct your actions, your work registers to others as original and genuine.
When I began this business, I recognized the necessity of aligning my work with my values. To me, this is what inspired work is – it is the work that is the truest expression of who we are. If I was going to teach this concept to others, I certainly needed to integrate it within myself. The following are my personal core values and how they are expressed in my professional life:
- Adventure: To perceive work as an ever-unfolding journey into the unknown.
- Authenticity: To embrace being our true selves in all aspects of our lives.
- Contribution: To add value to the world by being who we are.
- Creativity: To receive new ideas and birth new potentials in the world.
- Discovery: To use work as an exploratory pathway to realizing our true selves.
- Inspiration: To allow source energy to flow through us into the world.
- Learning: To continually evolve our understanding of existence.
- Uniqueness: To honour the individual expression of every human.
If you’ve ever been in a classroom with me or worked with me in any other way, you will have noticed that these values are the threads of every single conversation we have. If you have ever interacted with me in my personal life, similarly, you will have seen that they weave the tapestry of the world I inhabit. There is no separation between who I am at work and who I am in life.
Your inspired work is derived from your core values
If you want more clarity about the work that would be fulfilling, meaningful, and joyful to you, it is worth your attention to identify your core values and reflect upon the various ways they can be expressed through your work. I would summarize the steps to be:
- Identify your core values.
- Expand upon what those values mean to you and their relationship to work.
- Create opportunities that allow you to work in alignment with your own values.
- Live it.
Even though those I taught were pursuing self-employment, this conversation is equally applicable to working within any type of organization. When I reflect upon my set of values as above, it almost reads like a “job description”. It is an accurate representation of what I would consider to be my responsibilities and duties. My day-to-day tasks then are the actions I perform to create all the various offerings through which I share and express my values.
The benefits of aligning your work with your values are tremendous. You realize an incredible sense of self-worth and self-expression, which are the basis for long-term satisfaction in your work. The easy part is that you don’t need any additional “qualifications”, you already have all the experience you need. Simply be you. The happy result of integrating your personal and professional values is that you end up being paid for being exactly who you are.