This excerpt from my forthcoming book, Vital Vocation, looks at the importance of discovering and clarifying your work values:
“People are pulled by values.”
~ Viktor E. Frankl
What Do You Value?
Once you’ve taken a look at your personal profile of talents – an essential step in finding your vital vocation – an important question remains. What do you want to accomplish with those talents? What principles and standards do you want your life to serve, and how will you express them through your work?
The talents you were born with (and the skills you have developed over the years) can be made to serve almost any purpose you choose. But to feel fulfilled, you must be clear about how and why you want to put those talents and skills to use. Clarifying your work values is an essential part of building a career – and a life – that you love.
What Are Work Values?
Values are the principles and standards that are intrinsically desirable, worthwhile, and important to you. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, each of us develops a unique system of values that determines how we feel about a whole range of things in life, including our family, finances, personal relationships, and – of course – our work.
Work values can also relate to the needs we see in the world – in other words, what aspects of the world around us do we feel need to be supported, or changed?
Although morality can have an influence on the creation of our work values – particularly if we are strongly guided by a particular code of conduct determined by, say, our political or religious persuasions – it’s important to realise that there are no such things as absolute values in reality, because they differ across cultures, societies and individuals.
In other words: you may choose to subscribe to a particular philosophical or religious perspective, and in that find what you believe to be “absolute” values, but even then you are making a personal choice.
For the purpose of discovering your vital vocation, the most important thing is to make a choice about what is important to you; not what you think should be important to you based on the opinions of another person, doctrine, or even of a whole society.
That’s easier said than done, of course! A great way to start is to discover your own work values, and to then clarify them by thinking about what those values mean in your own life.
Try the following exercise to give you a head start…
EXERCISE: Finding And Clarifying Your Work Values
Set a clock timer for five minutes. As soon as it’s counting down, read through the following list of possible values, and jot down only those that immediately stand out to you as being important. If you can think of any values that are important to you that are not on the list, write them down too. Do this now, before reading any further.
- Financial security
- Freedom from pain/worry
- Getting ahead
- Hard work
- Interesting Experiences
- Looking good
- Making money
- Personal development
- Reaching out
- Reaching up
- Setting an example
- Using talents
- Add others of your own if they’re not on the list.
Have a go at prioritising your list. You can either do that by instinct, or you could use an online prioritizing matrix. There’s one at www.prioritizer.idea-sandbox.com (or you can Google for one).
Write “clarifying statements” for each of your top ten or fifteen values. See below for an example based on Benjamin Franklin, who apparently kept a book with a list of his “governing values” along with statements clarifying each one.
Benjamin Franklin’s Governing Values:
Reading Benjamin Franklin’s biography may well leave your head spinning. Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, he was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass ‘armonica’. He formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania.
Feeling inadequate yet??
Interestingly, much of Franklin’s life was directed by a set of “governing values”, based on his Puritan upbringing, which he kept note of in his diary. In addition to identifying particular values, Franklin actively defined what they meant to him, so that he had a clear sense of how to live them on a daily basis.
Franklin was able to use his list of governing values as a kind of “compass” which guided him in his many endeavours and achievements. Here’s an example of some of his governing values, and the clarifying statement he used for each. Although this example might seem quite archaic to us today, the aim of the above exercise is that you produce something similar for yourself.
Temperance: “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
Order: “Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
Industry: “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
Justice: “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.”
Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
Based on the above, consider: what do your work values and their clarifying statements tell you about the kind of work you’re likely to find satisfying?
“You get much more than a paycheck from your work. If most of your important values are rewarded, you’re well on the way to a very satisfying life.”
~ Nicholas Lore
Magnifying glass image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net ; Benjamin Franklin image courtesy of Wikipedia