A lot of my coaching work involves working with people to figure out what their deepest held values are, and what they consider important in life. It is often surprising that many people have no idea what their values are. And that included me too for a long long time. If I introspect, I realize that I had never thought of my values before I started being coached back in 2010.
I often wonder why we don’t know our values as adult human beings? Why don’t we know what is important to us and what we care for? Why don’t we know our worth? It seems to be an important question, yet most of us face this question by accident, and not by design.
It is difficult to understand why our current education system doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on character formation. I am not talking about someone telling you about right and wrong. What I mean by character formation is encouraging people to think for themselves and make their own decisions about what they care about or not?
Shouldn’t this be at the center of our formal education? We teach all about different subjects to children but fail to teach them how to discover their values and how to be the kind of person they want to be? Unless people don’t know what they care for, how will they know their worth and standing in life?
I sometimes wonder what is the job of the school or the teacher? Is it to drill a specific lesson into the pupil’s heads or to prepare them for life with values, lessons, and tools that they can use in good and bad times alike? Who will teach our kids about resilience, empathy, care, and collaboration instead of only knowledge, chasing success, competition, and ambition?
This kind of teaching is severely missing from our educational system. How is one supposed to act in our dynamic and chaotic world if we don’t even know our values? Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond our schools or the education system. We seem to live in a culture that has forgotten the importance of having values. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Why Do We Glorify Achievement Over Values?
In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks argues that society took a turn for the worse somewhere in the mid-20th century when the focus shifted to individualism and self-desire. As a result, modern society seems to have lost touch with our values. Our culture now glorifies achievement at the expense of character development, and parents are not spared either. Instead of imparting values to their children, they focus on report cards and career progression as they seek glory in their children’s success.
Teens today think it’s more important to have money. Out of all the teenagers surveyed from 2005 to 2007, 62% thought it was important to have lots of money in life. Compare this to just 44% between 1976 and 1978. During the 1970s, close to 49% of teenagers expected to earn more money than their folks. This number rose to 60% by the 2000s.
But as the desire for wealth increases, teenagers rarely demonstrate a great work ethic. During the late 1970s, a quarter of the teenagers surveyed admitted they were not willing to work hard for results. A few decades later, this figure had jumped to 39%.
Focus on Eulogy Virtues Instead of Resume Virtues
Resume virtues are those qualities that make us seem competent at our jobs. On the other hand, eulogy virtues are values we would want people to associate us with after we are gone. If you want to live a meaningful and satisfying life, stop thinking too much about yourself, your skills, and your possessions. Instead of focusing on the never-ending climb of achievement, focus on the inner struggles that challenge you to fight your own daemons, and grow the courage to go after what really makes you alive.
The very belief that we can control life is the biggest lie that we tell ourselves. Life, by its very nature, is messy and unpredictable. Good and bad things will happen to you. Your education, job, the country you live in, or any other reason which gives you the illusion of safety, is a very bad armor against life.
Embrace the uncertainty of life and experience real FREEDOM. Go out and play. Learn a new language. Take a new job, or live in different cities/countries and soak in different cultures. Write, paint, or do anything else that makes you experience life rather than draining the life out of you.
Don’t try to be nice or do what is expected. Don’t live for the gallery. Be authentic. For a change, LIVE for YOURSELF. And you can’t do that unless you know what your values are, what is important or not important, and what you stand for? In short, unless you know your own worth?
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
Accept Your Flaws
We must not kid ourselves. Perfection is an illusion. As human beings, we are innately flawed. However, we should always strive to be better. Our imperfections are not something to be fixed. Instead, our imperfections (strengths and weaknesses) make us the unique human being that we are. We are perfect in our imperfections.
Pride and overconfidence trick you into thinking you are better than who you are. When dealing with your own imperfection, you need to be humble. For instance, you must accept you can’t know it all and that you may never know some things. Perfect knowledge is unachievable. However, you can leverage the experience you gain and your unique strengths, skills, and values to go after what you really care about.
Find a Purpose
It is not possible to have a fulfilling life unless you take care of what you care about. Stop searching for happiness since it is not something you should crave for as a means to its own end. Instead, live an intentional life. Joy and satisfaction is a byproduct of going after what is really important to you – irrespective of whether you succeed or fail at your efforts. When you go after your calling, it gives your life meaning, and joy and aliveness will naturally follow.
I like this definition of success by John Wooden the most, “Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Knowing what your values are and what is important to you is more important than what you choose to do.
When you connect to the things that matter most, you experience true joy. Otherwise, you may end up doubting yourself and questioning why you are doing what you are doing, even when you achieve success by society’s standards.
Research was conducted among Stanford University students who were heading home for the winter break. They were each asked to keep a daily journal. Some of them were asked to write down their most important values and how they were connected to the events of the day. Others were asked to write down the positive events that occurred throughout the day.
The results were startling. Those students who jotted down their personal values were healthier, fell sick less often, and had more energy and a better attitude than the students who wrote down the positive events in their life. These findings have been replicated in subsequent studies. In his book, The Upside of Stress, Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal argues that writing about our values has short term and long term benefits for our health, mental attitude, and social life.
Importance of Knowing Your Values
Self-awareness begins with knowing what makes you tick, and what is most important to you. The following are some benefits to be gained from knowing your worth – your values and what you stand for.
- It Breeds Maturity
Knowing your values may not lead to fame or fortune, but it will foster maturity and help you stay grounded. When you become mature, you focus on becoming better than your own previous self rather than comparing yourself to others. You move from fragmentation to centeredness. As a consequence, the restlessness disappears, and the confusion about the meaning and purpose of life dies down.
- They Help You Find Your Purpose
Do you know your purpose in life? As it turns out, this is not the case for most of us. It is only after identifying your values that you can begin to understand this purpose. You won’t know what you want out of life if you don’t figure out what is important to you. The first step is always to ask yourself this question – What do you care about? And the second question which can take you to your purpose is – How can you take care of what you care about?
- They Regulate Behavior
Values are principles that guide and regulate our behaviour without it oscillating between extremes. When you’re faced with a difficult situation, it is natural to react impulsively. You can use your values to determine your actions in moments of crisis. Your values can serve as a moral lighthouse in those tough times. Self-awareness will ensure you behave in a manner that matches what you aspire to be at your core.
“Human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth.” – Albert Einstein
- They are Valuable in Decision Making
Emotions and struggles tend to cloud our judgment if we are not aware of what we stand for. When faced with important life decisions, it would be important to stop and consider how someone who shares your values would approach the situation? As a result, you are more likely to make clear-headed decisions rather than emotionally charged ones.
- They Help You Identify What is Important
We are constantly distracted by so many things these days. In our consumerism-driven society, we are bombarded with advertisements, notifications, and information constantly.
Identifying your values will help you clear out the clutter. It will help you clear the mud from the water allowing you to see clearly. You can then focus your time and energy on what matters and brings value, satisfaction, and aliveness into your life.
- They Help You Choose the Right Career
With so many options available, it can be hard to figure out what you want to pursue in life. However, choosing a career path is easy when you know what matters to you most. Perhaps you value interactions and forging meaningful relationships more than endlessly chasing after results. Perhaps you value just the opposite. Knowing what you stand for, and what matters to you, will help you consciously take your life and career forward, rather than just drifting with the flow.
- They Help You Develop a Sense of Self
Knowing your values and worth shapes your beliefs. It enables you to develop strong opinions about key subjects. You can’t just believe what your parents or friends believe and want you to believe. You have to figure out what you truly stand for so you can be your authentic self around others. In both good times and bad, your values can serve as a moral compass always guiding you to your north star.
- They Impact Your Overall Happiness
At the end of the day, knowing your values brings joy into your life. When you take action aligned with your values and to take care of what you care about, the result will be a more meaningful and happier life. When you are able to do so, you will find aliveness, joy, and satisfaction even if you have to face some tough challenges on the way.
As adults, we must dig deeper, introspect, and ask ourselves the tough questions to know our values. Identifying what is important to you will enable you to live a more meaningful life. You will be able to find your purpose, make the right decisions, navigate through tough situations, and choose the right career path.
Ultimately, values will help you develop a sense of self, shape your character, improve your confidence, and increase your overall happiness. When you know your worth, you know where you stand and where to draw a line.