“Authentic values are those by which a life can be lived, which can form a people that produces great deeds and thoughts.” – Allan Bloom
As we enter a phase of striving to be successful, we need to realise that at various points along the way we will need to make a decision. The impact of these decisions will vary, but they will affect our success, happiness and feelings of self-fulfillment. We do not have unlimited time to make these decisions and there is perhaps no clear guide to help us either. How then do we go about making decisions in a consistent and proactive manner that brings us long term satisfaction? What we need is a structure that will help us define our intentions and actions.
What are values?
Anne Loehr defines values as that “what is important to us, what we value, and what gives us purpose.” This is a simple definition but for many people its hard to pin down what those important things are. What we could do is look at few points of reference. Think about the things which give you a sense of purpose. What do you strongly believe in and would stand up for? What kind of things do you do that make you feel happy and fulfilled?
The realisation of what is important to us and what gives us purpose comes from a number of sources. We may have had a religious upbringing. Our parents might have had a particular approach to dealing with difficult situations in life. Perhaps we grew up surrounded by friends who encouraged us to be adventurous. Our need to achieve could be driven by a competitive schooling system or society.
One of the values I believe my father holds closely is preparedness. As an expat from India, he would get fixed-term contracts to work in different countries. This would usually be for a few years at a time and there was no guarantee of another job or income stream. During this period, he planned and saved wisely. His actions ensured that we (his family) were never in financial trouble, could afford a decent standard of living and were never dependent on anyone else. By acting this way my father felt a sense of inner peace and fulfilment. I’m still in the process of fully understanding my values. As I’ve gone through the different life event, certain aspects of my life have become more important than others. Fairness,modesty, lifelong learning, helping others reach their potential are some of the core values I try to live by. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to better align to my value of helping people.
Values and Young professionals
Now that we have some concept of values, let’s think about how they relate to us as young professionals. During this more independent and uncertain phase of our lives, we have to make a choice. We could continue living our lives based on the values we always grew up with. This could be a safe option but we are unlikely to grow as a person, fully understand ourselves or reach our true potential. We could discard the idea of living based on values and instead, adapt our actions to a situation based on achieving some goal (e.g financial, sexual etc.). I feel that this kind of living may provide satisfaction and a sense of achievement in the short term. However, in the long run, our misalignment with our values will prevent long term self-fulfillment and happiness. The best choice I believe we can make is to use our new found independence and freedom to redefine our values. We must think deeply about what matters to us and keep those values which are still meaningful and redefine or discard those which are not as relevant anymore.
It’s worth mentioning a few key benefits of living a life based on values. One benefit is that our thoughts and actions will be a better reflection of our true self. This will allow us to build deeper connections with people because they will be able to trust our intentions and actions. As a consultant, I found that acting in a consistent manner allowed our clients to trust us more. Though there might have been short-term conflicts, by sticking to our values as a company we engaged in long-term relationships with clients who we really wanted to work with and vice versa.
When it comes to making important decisions like who to marry, we need to think carefully and decide whether our values and that of our potential spouse will be compatible over the long term. It is not difficult to find similar hobbies or activities to do (e.g. watching movies, going to the beach, travelling etc.). It is a far bigger issue if you fundamentally differ on something (e.g. You believe in living life as per a strict religious code and your spouse is an atheist).
Living a life aligned with values means that we should be doing the things that matter most to us. If we as young professionals are doing this, we will probably be more energised and willing to produce something of greater value. If we are able to reach our greater potential then we can contribute more to society. If for example my work provides me with the opportunity to mentor new employees, I would expend more energy into this role as it aligns to my value of helping people reach their potential.
The road is not easy
It is not always easy to live a life based on values. Many of us will find it easier to stick to our everyday life pattern, rather than make a strong effort to be better. Some of us grew up under the overly strong influence of our family and now live our lives based on their expectations and goals rather than ours. Sometimes it is easier for us to react to a situation in a way that seems to please everyone than make a stand and stick to our beliefs. It’s also important to recognise that values will evolve over time. As we move through different phases in life, certain values may become more important than others. For example, we may be career driven in our early working years but become more family driven as we get married and have kids. It is up to us to rethink and redefine how we live periodically. We need to keep thinking about how we can make decisions that bring the best out of us over the long term.
Brunner, T. (2012, March). A Values-Based Life Focus: the yellow brick road to growth and prosperity.
Clear, J. (2014, May). Let Your Values Drive Your Choices.
Loehr, A (2014, May). How to Live With Purpose, Identify Your Values and Improve Your Leadership.
Mind Tools Editorial Team. (2014, March). What Are Your Values? Deciding What’s Most Important in Life.
Pavlina, S. (2004, December). Living your Values.
Tomlinson, I. (2015, April). Values Based Living. How to Connect To What’s Important.