The Foundation

Session 1 - The Importance of Core Values

Welcome to our first session in the Foundation Series, The Importance of Core Values.

Consider that “value” implies something of worth. Sometimes this refers to a quality, trait, characteristic, or behavior that increases the worth of something. Sometimes it means something you prize highly. Sometimes it refers to an element of your life to which you dedicate time and energy. Since values are supposed to benefit your life, let’s call anything – person, place or thing – that improves your life a value.

I recently asked my friend Joshua if he could name his six top values. The question surprised him. He said he’d never thought about it before. So he stopped what he was doing and thought about it right then.

He began quickly. “I really enjoy being outside,” he said. “I love the sights and the smells. I like the feel of sun and wind. I try to enjoy the sunset every evening.”

I asked, “Then would you say you value nature?”

“Yes. And I enjoy striking up conversations with people, strangers. I like just exchanging a few words with them, acknowledging that they’re people.”

“So making connections with others is important to you,” I acknowledged.

Joshua went on, always starting with something he enjoyed and then sharing what he liked about the qualities he named. 

Audio of this Session

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Handout – Values List

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Looking at what we enjoy is one way to identify what we value.

Later that same day, I asked my friend Mary about values and priorities. Interestingly, I had been thinking that identifying priorities was another way to identify values, but she twisted it around. She suggested that by looking at values first, we discover our priorities.

Both friends were curious about my purpose for asking. Basically, I believe knowing our core values helps us expand our access to our personal power.

Values and Personal Power

So let’s address what Values are and what they are not.

First, values are closely related to emotions and in some cases, they bear the same name. Take, for example, such qualities as curiosity, audacity, acceptance, fun, courage and compassion. For instance, if we delight in the feeling of curiosity, curiosity may be high on our list of core values.

Second, values are not the same as virtues, although, again, there is a great deal lot of overlap. They differ in this way: Values are usually consciously chosen, and virtues are almost always instilled in us by others or by external groups of people. Such influences can include parents and close relations, the community, schools, churches, and society. Personally, when I was growing up, I was taught at home and in church such virtues as patience, obedience, modesty, and to be both nice and studious. I was supposed to overcome procrastination, conflict, whining, and self-pity.

Some of these virtues I have incorporated into my life because I found them to be of worth and adopted them as important core values. Others never became true for me. (I try to be patient; I still procrastinate; I’m too rebellious to be obedient.)

Third, your personal core values are the guidelines you live by. Either consciously or sub-consciously, your values influence your choices.

Fourth, the more mindful you are of your values, the more true they are for you and the more true you can be to them. In other words awareness strengthens your values. If values exist only in your subconscious, they exist more as paradigms than either values or virtues. Paradigms are hidden models for living that exist only in the subconscious. They’re the rules and reactions we pick up by experience, from our cultures or communities, from the examples set by others. Sometimes they accumulate deep within us as we struggle to survive.

Fifth and last, another way to determine your values is to ask, “What’s in it for me?” While this is a question people often ask when making sure they get their share, consider it now as a way of looking for how a certain quality adds value to your life.

Values are the foundation upon which we build meaningful lives.

Let Your Highest Values Motivate Your Choices

To illustrate what happens when our values aren’t clear enough to motivate our choices, I want to share Eliot’s story with you.

Eliot has always wanted to be an artist. He’s talented and creative and frustrated. If he could, he’d divest himself of most (if not all) of his obligations and belongings and move to some scenic coastline and paint. However, he’s got high blood pressure so he wants to stay close to his doctor. His wife works at a minimum-wage job with no insurance, so he needs to stay with his company for the benefits. He has a mortgage he hopes to pay off in twelve years. His children are young and in school. He loves his family, but he pretty much hates everything else about his life.

Consider the values that influence his choices:

  • Security – his job provides a salary and benefits.
  • Commitment – to his wife and children.
  • Stability – having a home gives him a sense of security.

Of course, if we probe a little deeper into the results of these actual choices, we might recognize other values Eliot holds, such as:

  • The need to be right – if he quit his job and became an artist it would invalidate all his past choices.
  • The need for validation – his salary allows him to dress well and drive a good car, and such displays prove his worth to the world.
  • The fear of failure – if he doesn’t try he can’t fail.

The choices Eliot makes come from his deep (possibly subconscious) convictions of what is right for him. Sometimes he phrases these convictions in terms of what is right for his family, which of course arises from the value he places on family. Though he yearns for art, he believes he needs the security of a good job with benefits. He places the stability of home and family above the need to see what’s really inside him. However, no matter how much Eliot might resent his current obligations, no matter how much he may regret not pursuing his art, he still makes his choices based on what he values.

And if that is so, it means values do not always motivate choices. When we look around at the amount of anger, hatred, conflict, frustration, poverty and illness in the world, we can imagine millions of people value something else more than they value peace, hope, or compassion. 

 To reflect on your values and how they influence your life, I invite you to consider a couple of introspective questions.

The first question: What kind of person do I want to be?

In contemplating this question, you might want to identify the personality traits you know are already true for you – or those you’d like to have. Or as Joshua did, you might want to consider the kinds of things you currently enjoy – or that exist only on your bucket list. Or like Mary, you might want to establish your priorities and then discover the values that support them. Or you may want to ponder your relationships or interactions with others, and if they are not satisfactory, ask yourself how would you prefer them to be.

If you were to assemble a list of attributes others have named as values, that list might contain dozens or even hundreds of items. My personal list includes people, such as family, friends, teachers, etc. It also includes things: my home, my computer and my favorite shoes. It includes qualities of being: growth, service, joy, etc. It includes activities: adventure, hiking, writing and napping. And last, but certainly not least, it includes behaviors, such as enthusiasm, peace, compassion and audacity.

I do not give all my values equal weight, and very likely neither will you. I encourage you to consider your values in terms of your priorities because both will be stronger if you do.

I suggest you begin by reviewing this Values List with two highlighters. With the first color, mark the values you currently hold. (Don’t judge yourself for how many or how few you select.) With the second color, mark any you don’t hold now but believe you would benefit if you adopted them. Now look through all the ones you marked and circle your top 10-15.

Handout – Values List

Now we come to the second reflective question: Which of my values evolved naturally, and which have I consciously chosen?

Because we are influenced by the beliefs, attitudes, and priorities of other people from the moment we’re born (and possibly even before that), we quite often adhere to values that do not intrinsically belong to us. For instance, I was taught to value truth – which I continue to hold as a high value – but I was also taught the church my family attended was “the only true church.” I have discovered over the course of my life that while I find many institutions to have value, I do not value any institution in and of itself.

You will, of course, find value in a great many attributes that you would not name as “core values.” It’s unlikely your list of core values will match anyone else’s. What matters is that you know what you value, that your core values are true for you! And that you can be true to your own, personal, carefully-curated core values. 

Look at the world with wonder and at yourself with warmth.

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Session 2 – Alignment

If you are not already enrolled in a Path of Mastery workshop, I encourage you to do so now. These 10-week workshops combine the study of my book Being the Creator and group coaching. I invite you to explore and participate in the wealth of other free programs offered on this website.