Living Your Values

It’s not uncommon to see organizations list their values on their walls and in corporate screensavers — honesty, integrity, innovation, safety, respect, etc. Firstly, if you have to put your values on a wall and on screensavers, you have a bigger problem to deal with. Secondly, the problem with having those values listed out is that they won’t make an iota of difference in your organizational culture. It could very well be that management knows and practices the values they espouse, but if the rest of the organization does not value those same things, then that’s a problem.

Values are what you do or things you live by. Values have to be verbs, not nouns. For instance, instead of asking someone if they value honesty, a better way to do that would be to ask if they did the right thing. It’s a higher standard to be held to. More importantly, it doesn’t leave any room for subjectivity or interpretation.

Values work independent of situations. Our values remain the same no matter the situation at any given point of time. Values are essentially what you value in life by virtue of who you are and who you choose to be.

Values are how we attract others in both our personal and work lives. In other words, we attract those who believe what we believe and repel all others. Our values manifest in our actions.

For instance, you only want to work with those who believe what you believe, and you only want to be friends with people who have similar values. In any case, that’s who you will attract as long as you remain true to yourself. The problem is, we try to cater to everyone because we have forgotten who we are, whether by trying to keep relationships in our life or working with those we dread.

We also value things in others that we want most for ourselves. For instance, if you are a Roger Federer fan, you might believe in what he embodies — always being kind to others, always keeping emotions in check (never loses his cool on and off the court), carrying himself well, working hard, living modestly, etc.

If you think about it, any group of people who rally around a cause have the same set of values. It could be a family, sports team, an organization, or what have you.

A lot of times, we have values that we aspire toward, but when you reflect on it, it turns out you aren’t living those values. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to values in the future, but it’s hard to get there unless you know what your existing values are. So, if you say having good health is a value you think you have, I would question that by asking how you are practicing that. Are you eating right most of the time? If not, it’s probably a value you aspire to have and not a value you have right now.

Here are some reasons why we need to make our values more explicit, be it in our personal lives or in the organizations we work in, so we can better navigate the ever-changing world.

The world around us is always changing, but there is a part of us, our changeless inner core, that will remain the same no matter the situation. Sure, our values can change over time, but I believe they are constant at any given point of time. Values also serve as reminders of what’s important to us so that we never get lost.

I always had some sense of my values, but I never made it explicit. In hindsight, it was fairly easy for me to attribute my failed relationships in the past to clear value differences. When things don’t work out between two people, one of the main reasons is because you value different things. We ignore these differences at the outset (against our better judgement) hoping it will work itself out later, but it never does. For instance, you can’t be in an abusive relationship right now hoping things will get better later. It just doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.

I also learned that in order for any relationship to even remotely work, your interests can be different, but your values (what you do) and beliefs (how you think about the world) have to be at least in the same ballpark as the other person. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before you part ways with them.

Values are how you determine if your employer (or your prospective client) is a good fit for you. One can always learn technical skills later, but you can’t change a person to be something other than who they inherently are. Values determine that. It’s not uncommon to see those working in management to “test” potential hires by taking them outside in real-world situations to find out if their values match those with that of the organization — not with what the hires say, but what they do in those situations.

Values are how we make decisions. For instance, I attended a film festival not too long ago where they were showing more than 100 films in a week. The highest number of films you could see every day was 4-5. It’s easy to deduce that this maximum was not realistic, but that didn’t stop some people from trying! My perspective was I wanted to watch the fewest number of films possible — only those whose synopses resonated with me. The value behind this perspective was Less But Better, meaning doing fewer things better. In the context of this festival, this meant I could watch any movie, but not every movie. So I picked 10-12 films (after doing research) to watch over a course of the week that I really wanted to see and forget about the rest. In essence, it was about watching fewer films and enjoying them without feeling drained.

How do we determine our values? Well, we already have values by virtue of our actions. The question is if we want to keep or change them. We can only change them once we identify them. Look at the things you do every day to determine your values. Each one of your core values has to feel authentic to who you are. We want to be constantly reminded of them so we can make decisions. Core values are something you already have, not something you aspire to have. For example, if you think you can’t live without your family, it’s probably one of your values. These values can serve as a great starting point for your personal and work life. I remember talking to a friend a couple of years back and she said I have at least 50+ values.

What do you see in others that you dislike? What are you against? For instance, I am not a fan of pretentiousness, so the opposite values for me would be simplicity, humility, and authenticity. For me, those values manifest in different ways by virtue of who I am and the life I lead. I am a huge advocate for simplifying our lives, slowing down, and having the courage to express oneself in any situation.

Here are some of my other values:

Always be learning. I believe true learning never stops. For instance, every morning I read a bit of philosophy as a way of being a better human. I also find that it keeps me centered for most of the day.

We need to figure out early on in our relationships, be it in our personal or work lives, if we want to spend time with people and invest in the relationship. I do that in my business by having a brief call with my prospective client to figure out if we are a good fit for each other. Doing this at the beginning saves us both a lot of potential trouble later on. In other words, it’s the difference between a project being a success or not. It means being prepared to walk away from business if you find it violates one of your values.

Another one of my values is keeping in touch with those that matter to me, so I make a point to reach out to them every few weeks. Other than that, I keep an attitude of gratitude — being grateful for being alive and never taking things for granted — and only doing work that matters.

We already have values by virtue of who we choose to be. The question is if we want to stick to those values or change them. Are these values serving us or are we serving them? When you make those values explicit, it helps you filter things quickly. You’re able to make tough decisions while navigating complexity, and it attracts those who have the same values as you.

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