Career Management:
Discovering Your Values

See also: Developing Your Super-Strengths

Our page on Career Management Skills highlights five areas that are helpful in managing your career. These are super-strengths, values, confidence, networking and future possibilities. This page examines the second of these, values.

Values are principles and standards that govern your behaviour, and motivate you. They are a key part of what makes you unique, and particularly in terms of what matters to you. They are—or should be—an important part of your thinking about jobs, careers, and what you do in life. However, few of us have really considered or even identified our key values. They tend to be internalised, and often subconscious.

Understanding Values and Beliefs

Values or beliefs can be thought of as the ‘why’ behind most of your behaviour.

They are deeply-held, and often subconscious, because we tend to develop them during childhood. We often absorb them from our parents without even realising, and do not examine them closely until something happens that causes us to do so.

Indeed, many people only identify fundamental beliefs when they come up against something that they feel strongly is wrong, but are unable to identify why that might be the case. A strong emotional response to a situation, especially if there is no really logical explanation for it, can be a sign that one of your values has been challenged in some way.

Values are not necessarily rational, and they are also not universal.

Values are so deep-rooted that it often comes as a surprise to discover that other people around you have fundamentally different values from you. This is perhaps even more the case because these are not things that we discuss routinely.

When different beliefs emerge, it is not uncommon for people to say things like:

“But I thought everyone believed that.”

How can you believe that? It’s just wrong.”

It is therefore important to remember that values and beliefs are not wrong, per se. They just are. Some values may be more socially acceptable than others, especially among certain groups—but that does not mean that other views are incorrect. They are simply different.

Values are important because they drive behaviour and ability (see box).

The place of values

Robert Dilts identified six ‘logical levels’ of thinking and situations, which can be viewed as a hierarchy.

Dilts' Logical Levels: Environment, Behaviour, Capability or Competence, Beliefs, Identity and Spirituality

Each level directly affects those below it in the hierarchy, and in turn is affected by those above.

Beliefs or values are fairly high up the hierarchy. They therefore influence capabilities and competences (what you can do), behaviour (what you do) and environment (where you are). In turn, they are influenced only by your identity (your sense of self) and your spirituality (the idea that you are part of a bigger system).

You can find out more about this idea in our page on Dilts’ Logical Levels.

Values and your Moral Compass

Values matter because they drive behaviour. Or rather, and more importantly for career management purposes, they affect how comfortable you feel with being asked to behave in particular ways.

We might think of our values as a key part of our ‘moral compass’, governing how we think we should behave. Your moral compass points you towards what you think is right.

You can find out more about learning to use your moral compass in our page on Goodness.

I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values—and follow my own moral compass—then the only expectations that I need to live up to are my own.

Michelle Obama, in a speech at Tuskagee University, Alabama, 9th May 2015

Values are also an important part of how we remain motivated.

Daniel Goleman, the author of several books on emotional intelligence, identified self-motivation as a key component. He broke the concept of motivation down into four areas, one of which is personal drive to achieve, improve, or meet certain standards (there is more about this in our page on Self-Motivation).

This is where values come in: they are the standards to which we aspire in life.

In career terms, you need to be working in an environment that enables you to meet the standards to which you aspire (or at the very least does not actively force you to work against those standards).

Identifying Your Values

It is therefore clear that:

  • Values really matter; and

  • They are not always clear to us.

It is therefore important to take some time to identify your values, to ensure that your career choices are guided by your ‘moral compass’.

Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, authors of The Squiggly Career have several suggestions for how you can start to identify your values (see box).

Ways to identify your values

1. Career highs and lows

Think about the times that you have felt happiest and least happy in the course of your career (your career highs and lows). In as much detail as possible, think about what you were doing, how it made you feel, and why. This will help you to identify career ‘must haves’ and ‘must not haves’.

2. What’s important to me?

Ask yourself ‘What’s important to me?’ in relation to four areas: the people you work with, the work that you do, the organisation in which you work, and the environment in which you work. Try to answer in as much detail as possible.

3. Find the words

Building on these two exercises, start to write down single words or phrases that reflect important characteristics that matter to you. For example: respect, knowledge, power, kindness, belonging. If necessary, use a thesaurus or dictionary to identify more words, until you have a list that you feel is ‘right’ for you.

Once you have done these exercises, you then need to narrow down your list

Try to identify the ten most important words. When you have two or three words that mean very similar things to you, group them together (for example, you might group autonomy and responsibility). Once you have a list of ten, you can start to prioritise.

Compare each word on the list with each other word, and decide which of the two is more important to you. Put a tick by the most important one each time, until you have compared each word with every other one. At this stage, you may find that you have several words that mean very similar things to you. If so, go back a stage, and combine them, because otherwise these ideas will become diluted.

In order of ticks, list the four with the most ticks.

Ask yourself: Does this feel right? Are these four really the things that matter most to me in life?

The final part is to define your values.

For each one of the four, write yourself a quick definition of what each one means to you, no more than one sentence. This will ensure that you fully understand why each one matters to you.

Source: The Squiggly Career, Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis.

Identifying your values is not necessarily either a finite or linear process. You can (and should) keep coming back to it, and reconsidering your exact values, until you feel that they are right—and even then, you may not have all the information you need. When you have new information, for example, your response to a new situation, you can amend your values until they feel right again.

Using Your Values

The real point of identifying your values is not that this is an end in itself. Rather, it is a way to ensure that you can live your values—and therefore ‘your best life’.

For example:

  • Does your current job give you opportunities to live your values? Could you make it fit better if you did some job crafting?

  • If you are faced with a new opportunity, and you are not sure whether to take it, ask yourself if it will offer you more chance to live your values than your current job. Part of your hesitation may be because subconsciously, you are not sure that it fits your values, even if on the surface it looks like an ideal opportunity.

Your identified values don’t have to guide everything. Indeed, if something feels right, but seems to go against one of your values, it could actually be that you have not quite identified the right value. Try going through some of the value identification processes again, and see how you feel.

This is a long (possibly lifelong) process. It is worth taking time and reflection over.