Purpose Hacks

How to figure out your values

There’s value in understanding your values: three tips to determine what your values are. 

Understanding what your values are is about getting in touch with what is important to you in life. This insight goes a long way towards finding work that has meaning and purpose. But without it, many people struggle to find a job or career that they find truly satisfying.

How to know if there’s a values misalignment

I didn’t always know this. Early in my career, like most people, I didn’t think much about values at all. What mattered was landing a good job that paid well and allowed me to grow in my field (in retrospect, I realize those were my values at the time). I knew when a job didn’t feel quite right; not because I wasn’t qualified or because the position itself wasn’t suited to my interests, it was a gut feeling that something felt “off”. When there’s that feeling, it’s usually because there is a misalignment between what you perceive to be important and what the organization you work for, or the leaders of that organization believe is important.

My first experience with mismatched values

The first time I became aware of this feeling was when I was a newly-minted MBA with an interest in exploring a career in the field of hospitality consulting.  I had made an appointment for an informational interview with the leader of the tourism practice at one of the big consulting firms and arrived for my meeting on a Friday afternoon of a long weekend. As I followed the person I was meeting with to the conference room, we passed a long row of offices and cubicles. Everywhere I looked, I saw bedraggled people sitting in front of a pile of papers and files. No one looked happy to be there. Why would they? They were still working on a Friday afternoon when most people had by then already left the office to start their long weekend? I knew right then and there, before I even sat down for the conversation, that this was not the place for me. Why? Because I perceived a values misalignment. I didn’t mind hard work and long hours, but I simply valued my ability to enjoy long weekends and leaving early more than I valued the prestige of working for one of the world’s most recognized firms.

It was an “ah-ha” moment that made me realize that there is a lot more to a job than the job description and that a corporate values system plays a huge part in job satisfaction. We should never underestimate the value of gaining this kind of understanding about ourselves to help us find our true purpose in life.

How to Figure Out Your Values: Tips for Figuring Out Your Values

Where do you begin when you’re not sure about your values and how to define them?

  1. Start by thinking about the times in your life when you were at your absolute best and when life felt effortless.
    Think of both professional and personal examples. What were you doing? Who were you with? What felt important about those situations and relationships?
  2. Do the opposite.
    Think of the times where things just didn’t feel right, and you got upset or angry at a situation. What was happening then? What made things feel “off”? List the opposite of those feelings to get at your values.
  3. Google “core values”… but only if you are stuck.
    Try to avoid this initially. Seeing the words in front of you might guide you too much and you’ll miss out on the opportunity to have your true values reveal themselves to you. This is particularly important when, as can sometimes happen, you have values that may feel in conflict with one another. In my case, it was knowing that I wanted to work in consulting but also wanting long weekends off. As a result, I explored opportunities with smaller firms and now work as an independent consultant who makes her own hours.

Try to come up with a list of 5-10 values. Fewer than that and you won’t capture the true essence of who you really are. More than that and you’ll feel overwhelmed. Now keep that list handy for whenever you’re looking at a job description and go to an interview, whether informal or actual, and use those values to help you decide whether a place of work or an employer is right for you. After all, you’re going to spend an average 90,000 hours, or about one-third of your life at work. That’s just way too much time to feel like things are not quite right.

Written by Kathrin Bohr. Kathrin has been working in the Impact space for over 15 years. For the past five years, she was the industry advisor for sustainability, CSR and the non-profit sector at the Schulich School of Business Career Centre. She holds an MBA from Schulich and recently opened a coaching practice specializing in  Impact careers. To contact Kathrin email: impactcareerscoaching@gmail.com

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