What is most important to you?
Your core values determine how you answer this question. Your core values guide your behaviour, providing you with a personal code of conduct. They highlight your standards and represent the essence of you. There is tremendous power in values.
When people live by their values, they experience greater connection to their authentic self, which leads to increased fulfilment and happiness. When people don’t honour their values, they create internal conflict and their mental, emotional, and physical health suffers. The problem is, most people don’t know what their core values are or what’s important to them. Or worse, they do know and consciously choose to ignore them. Instead, we put priority and focus on what our society, culture, and media tell us to value.
A Lesson in Values from a Small-Business Owner
I buy essential oils from a small-business owner in Australia named Jane. Jane has a notably personal touch with all of her customers that attracted me from the first time I placed an order from her shop. Her authenticity is extraordinary and is one of the reasons I will continue to buy from her and recommend her business to others.
Jane recently sent an email to her client base apologising for not replying to the people who had left a product review on her site over the previous two years and promised a response in the coming days. She explained that when she added review software to her store, she listened to the advice of marketing professionals who insisted it is best to not comment on reviews unless it is a direct question. For two years, Jane felt rude and ungrateful and it caused her torment because she was acting out of alignment with her core values.
Impressed, I reached out to Jane to applaud her for listening to her heart. She responded, “It can be so easy to lose yourself in business and stray off the path. It seems our values and ethics are layered with ‘what we should be doing’ rather than what we actually feel. I remember my Buddhist teacher telling me years ago that if you do not fully believe in something, research it, and if it still does not sit well with you then chuck it out. I find that easier to do in my personal life, but harder in business. I was so relieved to send that email.”
“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
What Are Your Core Values?
Can you name your core values off the top of your head? Unless you have gone through a discovery process or actively prioritise awareness of your core values, it’s challenging to readily identify what is important to you. It’s easy to get confused with what you think you should value because you have many streams of input coming at you from all directions telling you different things – your family, your religion, your profession, your friends, the media, etc. Tuning out the white noise and leaning into who you authentically are and what your unique core values are takes a lot of effort.
Getting In Touch with Your Authentic Self
Ask yourself questions when you are selecting what you feel is important to you so that you are focusing on your authentic self, not your desired self-image. What commendations have you received that are the most meaningful to you? How does it make you feel when you are complimented on your appearance, your quality of work, your parenting skills, or the way you show up for others? All endorsements are nice, but a few will stand out for you. Explore those.
Conversely, what makes you really angry – like, blood boiling angry? How do you respond differently to some offences? I am a vocally expressive person. When I get mad, my volume goes up and I verbally attack. When one of my values has been violated, I go silent and retreat into myself. I joke with my family, “If I yell, I’ll get over it; if I get quiet, worry.” I am acutely aware of the difference between an irritation and something that cuts to my core.
Your Core Values Should Be Your Blueprint for Your Behaviours, Decisions, and Actions.
When you know what you value, you can align your choices accordingly. Put your core values in a place(s) where they are visible to you daily. Sticky notes, reminder apps, and screen savers are great for this. My core values are bravery, integrity, grit, and humour. I wear a necklace that has those four words etched onto interlinked rings, so my core values are literally next to my heart every day. You will also find them displayed on my website and on many of my business communications. Your core values are a huge part of your authentic self so live and breathe them in everything you do.
Over your lifetime there will be thousands of things that are important to you and that you will value, so remember it this way: everything that’s important to you can be written in your biography. Your core values are what you want to be written on your tombstone.