For what it's worth

Values are weird to talk about. They're simultaneously very important and very personal, like what kind of underwear you wear or how you like to sleep.

Unlike those things, though, it's possible to go through life without ever thinking about your values. If you're lucky, your life will unfold in keeping with your values and you'll feel pretty good about things. If you're not lucky, though, living in ignorance of your values can lead you to make bad decisions, take wrong turns, and possibly find yourself in those places Dr Suess warned us about: a Lurch, a Slump, or even a place where the streets are not marked.

So read on to learn how to figure out what your values are and why it's important to name them.

This owl is definitely living into their values.


Start at the beginning: what are values? They're principles, guiding stars — ideas or concepts which are so significant to you that they influence all your decisions.

Values are abstract. You might start with something concrete like food or money, but you need to dig deeper. What is it about food? Is it the creativity of cooking, the community of gathering with loved ones over a meal, the productivity of making something useful out of raw ingredients? What is it about money? The freedom to do what you want? The validation of being paid for your skills? The power to influence people?

Just thinking about it real hard is a fine way to figure out what your values are, but it's not the only way. Here are three others:
  1. Take the VIA Character Strengths survey (you have to register). I know that it says "strengths", not "values", but VIA stands for "Values In Action": the survey reveals how your values show up in your behaviour.
  2. The peak experience exercise: Think of a time when you felt like you were at your best, and capture it in detail in whatever format works for you: paragraphs of prose, point form, as a word cloud, sketchnotes, whatever. Capture what happened, how you behaved, how you felt, and what about the experience made you feel good? Then go back and circle the ideas which resonate. Ask yourself, "why is that important to me"? Keep asking yourself that same question until you get to an answer which seems right – sometimes it takes a couple of rounds.

    For example, if you circled the word "community", ask yourself what is important about community. The answer might be that you like the feeling of belonging, or that you want to be of service to people. So ask again: what is about belonging (or service) that's important? Once you start to circle around the same answers again and again, you know you are on to something. [Full disclosure: I have never tried this exercise by myself, only with a coach, so I'm not sure if it works as a solitary reflection. If you try it, let me know!]
  3. Find a values shopping list. I'm not a huge fan of those big lists of values because I think it's too easy to get distracted by all the values that you think you should have, but they can give you an idea of what kinds of things might be values, and to remind you of stuff you take for granted which is worth flagging. There's a good list of values [PDF] on Brené Brown's website.
How many values do you get to choose? Some people say you have to choose your top two; others say five or seven. I tend to think that you can have lots of values, but some of them will be more important than others, and the more you claim, the less useful they will be. Try and pick your top two to five. (Of course, you can always revisit, reconsider, and reprioritize. Things change.)

But why bother? Why put a name to our values, if they're going to be there anyway?

If you don't know what your values are, you will make choices for reasons that come from outside you: peer pressure, advertising, social norms, family expectations — influences that might be fine, or might not be. After years of making decisions this way, you can find yourself in a life which is entirely incongruous with your values. And the only way to dig yourself out of that hole, of course, is to figure out what your values are.

Knowing and naming your values will help you make plans and set priorities. But perhaps more important, knowing your values will give you the courage to act with integrity when you are faced with a difficult choice. If you have to choose between spending your vacation savings on a trip to a cousin's wedding or a week in Peru, knowing whether family or adventure is a value will help you decide, regardless of what your friends or your mom say you should do.

Amy News

Yesterday was the first classroom day of my eight-month practicum at Adler. We talked about lots of great nuts-and-bolts techniques, did some practice coaching, and confronted some of our own demons. (Can you imagine a roomful of coaches? Lovely but very intense.)

I'm offering a pay-what-you-can rate until the end of summer to fill my roster for practicum. If you know someone who might be interested in coaching, please pass my name to them. I can work with clients all over the world, and I'm particularly interested in working with researchers, software developers and engineers, musicians and creative entrepreneurs.

Fun and Interesting

  • It's summer and my Instagram feed is full of holiday pictures from Paris, Rome, Croatia, Seoul, Jamaica, and even Toronto. But what happens when you come home to the same crap you left? Going on vacation won't cure your burnout, by Sarah Todd (Quartz)
  • A vacation sounds great, but you need to give your brain more frequent breaks if you want to learn something, be creative, or make sense of the world. Why your brain needs idle time, by Markham Heid (Medium)
  • If you need some inspiration to be idle and you run Firefox, install the Whimsy add-on to replace the usual new tab thumbnails with silly gifs. I guarantee you will get distracted and forget why you opened a new tab. (Full disclosure: my husband made this add-on, and got paid for it. He has ascended to the highest level of having fun at work.)

Thank you for reading this far!

If you like what you read, hit reply and let me know, or hit forward and let someone else know. If you have questions or comments, hit reply and let me know. If you have seen something interesting out there, hit reply and let me know. Are you seeing a trend here? If so... hit reply and let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

Copyright © 2019 Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching, All rights reserved.

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