It is an interesting contrast of conversations that I hear on values. There is a cynical grunt that goes up when my clients talk of the use of values at corporations and at the same time, the internal hunt for balance and satisfaction leads back to alignment with values.
The word ‘values’ seems biased towards the corporate connotation, and I have seen people visibly shut down and start to dissociate when that word comes up. I have learnt to start the conversation by just asking what is important to them in life and keep going from there.
Values as someone interestingly pointed out are our North Star. They may not tell us precisely what to do at each moment of our life, but they set the direction. If we keep looking up from time to time, we know we are heading the right way, and when we’re uncomfortable, it’s generally because we have strayed without realizing it.
A client I coach once worked with an organization with a clear purpose. The purpose was strong and the organization honest about its drive-in achieving this, and yet my client was uncomfortable. What started as an exploration in prioritization and balance ended up with the realization that despite the alignment of purpose, the ‘how’ to get there was creating a clash in values. It is hard to say that there is a values misalignment with an organization which is very purpose-driven, but there it was, right in front of our eyes. I share this to highlight that while purpose might tell you if there is an alignment in what you want to achieve, values will also shed light on how you want to achieve it. Moreover, even if the ‘what’ is aligned, the ‘how’ may not be.
While you might take a while to uncover an organization’s true values, discovering your own might be a good starting point. We need to go beyond labels to truly understand what we value. Integrity to one client was all about financial honesty, but to another, it was about living up to commitments. Working with a coach would be a great way to uncover your values, but if you want to navigate the path yourself, here are four steps that you could use:
1. What are your Vitals?
Start with a blank page. Countless people start with a pre-determined list and then start to circle the values that are important to them — creating a tunnel vision for most people, making them focus on pre-existing definitions that are external to one’s own experiences. Start instead with what is important to you in your life. Let’s call them your Vitals. List your Vitals and then around each Vital add keywords for why that Vital is important for you. Don’t limit key words keep going till you can and want to. Create a ladder, ask your answers another why and keep going till you can. For example, a client once spoke about a good job being a Vital, the ladder of whys brought us to the need for recognition.
2. Moments in Flow
Another blank page! At one end, identify moments in your life when you feel you have been inflow. You are connected with yourself, and you were happy and creative, and your best energies just seemed to come together. Around the moments, write down what was it about the moment that seemed to create the flow.
3. Moments of Dissonance
At the other end of the page, identify moments when you were in dissonance. There was discomfort, unhappiness, or just a wait for the moment to end. Around these moments too write down what was it about the moment that seemed to create dissonance.
4. Brining Vitals and Moments together
Bring the vitals and the moments together! Are there themes that exist there? Do you see pockets of values that drive you and are important for you to be in flow? Do you see values that may not spur your flow but the absence of which might create dissonance?
For example, while honesty, was an essential value to a client, it did not create excitement and satisfaction. The absence of honesty, however, meant a foundation had been breached, and despite everything else being in place, it brought on intense discomfort. (There was nothing illegal going on, but there was a lack of honesty in sharing information and reporting on details!)
You should now have a list of values that bring you inflow and a list that are your fundamentals that are not to be breached. When you say a value now, it should conjure up a clear vision of what it looks like in your life and why it is important to you.
When I did this exercise, I realized that being able to help people was a key value in my life. As I looked through my vitals and moments, I realized that being there; and being able to help those around me brought me my flow, my peace, and my happiness. When I was focused on goals that kept me away from this value, no amount of achievement brought me the same satisfaction. With this value in life, I could align with my other values more efficiently, and the flow made me more productive and creative.
So just like that, the path ahead became clear. The North Star had been spotted, and I was not going to take my eyes off it anytime soon!
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