Getting personal: defining your core values

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To preface: I can’t believe I’m sharing this. This is personal to me. But here goes.

A few years back, I was on the cusp of huge success on a project I was working on. I knew I would soon come up against ethical decisions beyond anything I’d ever faced before, and I wanted to ensure that I stayed grounded when the time came to make those choices. So, one Monday morning, I sat down and put together a document I titled, “Personal Values.”

On it, I listed thirteen values that are core to who I am. They’re broken into two categories: personal and professional. Together, they define my ethical makeup. They are, in my view, nonnegotiable in how I choose to conduct myself in the world. My purpose in writing these was to think ahead to the future challenges I might face—the tempting choices I might have in the name of money and success.

I also simply wanted to clarify who I am and what I stand for. That clarity was, and is, important to me.

These were private. I hadn’t planned on sharing them. However, a few weeks after finishing the document, I decided to share it with a close colleague who would be making those tough decisions with me. I also shared them with my husband. And now, I’d like to share a few of them with you.

(Honestly, I can’t believe I’m about to share some of these. Did I say that already?)

As I defined my values, I asked myself what was most important not just for my life at that moment but for myself and my family moving forward. For example, I had the potential for a lot of travel and seemingly endless work hours, and I wanted to be really clear on how I would shape my family’s future. While I understood that there might be a period of one or two years in which I’d be grinding it out in the name of the goal (both in time and travel), I knew I needed to define what balance looked like and what was important to me in the long run. One of my values reads:

I will be as committed to my family as I am to my profession. I will be home most evenings and weekends, and take reasonable vacation time each year.

I’m also passionate about human and animal rights. Since I was working with actual products that would require sourcing and manufacturing, another value reads:

Nothing I do will harm or devalue humans or animals, either directly or indirectly.

On the professional side, I wanted to make sure I was clear on what would happen in the face of failure or disappointment. One value reads:

I will understand that failure is necessary to success, especially when it comes to innovation. I will find ways to learn from failures and help my team see through mistakes to take us one step closer to our goals.

Yet another value deals with integrity:

I will be honest and ethical at all times, even when it is not the popular or most beneficial action.

I also wanted to define things that were important to me in reinvesting in my community:

I will look for opportunities to mentor young women and invest heavily in their success.

And I clarified how I would conduct myself in public versus private:

I will walk the talk. What I “preach” will be reflected in how I live my life.

Am I perfect in all of my values? Nope. I do a pretty good job, I’d say, but I’m not perfect. Just this past weekend, for example, I worked for a good portion of both Saturday and Sunday. Failure, too, is not easy for me, but it’s something I strive to embrace. And I’m certainly not flawless in my parenting or relationships. Who is?

That’s not the point of my personal values, though. Yes, they’re nonnegotiable in my view. But defining them doesn’t mean that I’m proclaiming myself at a level of moral superiority. These values are both actual and aspirational, and some I haven’t even had to deal with quite yet.

The values that are core to who I am, however, such as honesty, ethics, mentoring, and integrity, I’m proud to say I consciously adhere to. And that’s in part, I think, because I’ve clearly defined what matters to me. I’ve clarified the type of person I want to be.

I keep these values close, and in moments where I lack clarity or direction, when a choice seems tempting but doesn’t feel right, I come back to my values. I let these guide my life and work.

OK, writing about my values wasn’t so bad. Exhale. Actually, sharing my values with you feels pretty good, like I’ve deepened my commitment.

With that in mind, here’s my challenge to you:

As a prep for creating a great year in 2017, set aside thirty minutes this week to define your values. Do this at a time when you’re not feeling rushed and your brain is fresh. Focus on defining what is core to you. Think about now and the future. Consider things that could come up—no, will come up—when your greatest goals in life and work are realized. What is nonnegotiable? What type of person do you want to be?

There’s no number to hit here. It could be three values or twenty. All that matters is that you’ve gotten clear on who you are and who you want to be.

If you feel so inclined, send one or two my way. I promise to keep them private. Sharing something that’s created in a moment of authenticity and clarity is an interesting exercise and maybe, like me, you’ll find that it furthers your commitment to your values.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even publish part of your list someday?

With gratitude,

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