Our values start forming early in life and help to shape us as we grow. Parents, other people of influence, life experiences, upbringing, and environments all inform how we interact with – and respond to – the world. But it’s important that we unearth our own set of values along the way so that we don’t just echo those passed on to us.
There have been several times in my life when I’ve deeply explored, defined, and articulated my values. The first time was in my early 20s, when I had just entered the workforce and was also training to get to the Olympics as an aerial skier. I thought hard about what success meant for me, as an athlete and a young professional – and not just what I wanted to achieve, but how I wanted to go about it. I grew up middle-class and had to work hard to participate in such an expensive sport and progress against the odds, while also working full-time. For this reason, values like self-belief, hard work, professional development, being results-oriented, and financial discipline were important to me.
When you’re trying to uncover your values, you need to invest significant time – I’m talking half a day, not a few minutes – to really think about the things you care about and respond to. This is very introspective work and you don’t want to rush it. First, find a long list of values online (there are plenty of different versions freely available) and print it out. Take yourself out for a coffee and then really mull over the list. Listen to what your gut, your heart, and your head are telling you. Which words do you feel drawn to? Keep circling values until you’ve chosen at least 20 or 30.
Next comes refinement. Try to ascertain which values are most important to you and compare them against one another. You’ll start noticing that some values stand on their own and jump out as priorities (such as health or family), while others will be somewhat related – for example, engagement, passion, joy, and purpose. To refine a group of similar values, choose the one that best represents the collective.