The easiest way to look at values and their importance is to examine how you make important decisions. Think about the last time you had to decide on something that mattered, or a decision you want to make for your future. What was behind your decision? Why did you make that decision and not another one? When you’re in a dilemma, how do you decide? How do you know it’s the right call?

Getting to Values

There are a series of things that influence the way we make decisions and they have a lot to do with the stage of development we are in our lives. In the early stages, in our teenage years and 20’s, our decisions are based on our parental and cultural programming. This means that we are guided by what we know and believe to be true/false, good/bad, nice/not nice etc. based on what we were told and taught by our family and educators. Our decisions are based on beliefs which, typically, are not our own. It’s easy to remember when you decided to do something that you didn’t want to, just because you told yourself I have to do this, because it’s the right thing to do, or “I have to do this, because he’s the boss, I’m the employee“. These are example of belief-based decision making.

As we progress in life, we may come to an understanding that our beliefs are not who we are. I say “may”, because it’s not mandatory, as most of us don’t get to this stage at all. And when we reach this understanding, we start looking for what truly makes us feel good and which things we should stop doing, because we don’t see ourselves in them. Who am I and What do I really want? are two questions that start keeping us awake at night. When we answer these questions, values start to surface. Values are a representation of who we are, what we’re made of and what is really important to us, in our lives. Not wanting to get into a debate on definitions, the difference between values and beliefs is this: beliefs are not our own – they are assumptions we think are true, based on what we saw/felt in the early stages of our lives and what we were told/taught; values, on the other hand, are who we are and what we want, in complete connection with our own needs. What we need, what we find important for ourselves or missing, is what we value.

Values: The Light & Dark Sides of the Force

Money, family, friendship, productivity, freedom, creativity – just a few examples of values we may hold dear. And they all sound good, right? They do. But, for example, if money was a value we both shared, what I understand from money may be very different from what you would understand. Let me elaborate on the money example.

Do you know somebody who values money, in the sense that they want to have a lot so as not to care for anything? Like they just want to look at their online account balance and see that it’s full. Do you also know somebody who values money because it helps them achieve their dreams? Because they need it to accomplish what they set out to do? You can probably see now how the same value has completely different representations from one person to another. In the first instance, the money value is based on fear. Fear of not having enough. And that person is very likely to never feel they have enough, no matter how much money they make. The second instance is about the money value based on trust. Trust that the person has enough and it’s not about how much one has, but what they do with it and how what they do makes a difference. The same with family, which is a very common value – is family something that you value because you see it as an environment you feel loved, respected and free, no matter what? Or is it like concrete you stuck your leg into and you cannot accomplish your goals because of what your family would say/think?

So, values are either fear-based, or trust-based. Fear-based values imprison us and act as self-limiting devices that we are not even aware of. Trust-based values free us and offer us the freedom to live a life of joy and fulfilment, along side with anyone else who shares them.

A Life of Values

Finding our values is hard. It requires becoming aware that only we decide what happens to us (except for natural occurring phenomena or external conflicts) and it also requires letting go of those beliefs that hold us prisoners of our past. And when we do find them, we need to start learning how to live by them with integrity, which is not easy and takes a while to learn. Once we decide to live by our values, we may start feeling the need to reconsider our relationships with our friends, family, co-workers, bosses etc. The people we once saw as close, we suddenly realise don’t share our values or they don’t live by values at all, which will lead us to close ties with them. And it’s not a pretty feeling, but it’s a necessary step in our own evolution. We may also decide to quit our jobs or even leave our countries, because our values are in conflict.

The good news is that the feeling that a life of values gives us is like nothing else. It is that sensation of fulfilment, as opposed to happiness. We’re happy when we meet our basic needs: having enough, being loved and being recognised for our talents. And it rarely lasts. Fulfilment, on the other hand, transcends individual needs. It has to do with living with purpose and significance, with doing things that really make a difference, with having a positive impact on lives around us. Fulfilment is something that lasts and is the direct effect of living a life of values.

Explore Your Values

In partnership with the Barrett Values Centre, we offer you the opportunity to explore your own values and get an understanding of how they manifest in your life. Click the button below to take the short values assessment and you will receive a document containing details about your values, mapped against the seven stages of psychological development and exercises for you to deepen your values experience.

Photo by Félix Prado on Unsplash

Laurentiu Horubet

Founder & Consultant @ Let's — Talk | Leadership Consultancy