If you do any reading about business at all, you’ll run across tons of folks talking about how everything revolves around your core values and you have to define your values and everything about your life and business has to reflect your values.
No pressure or anything.
So this whole values thing has been on my mind since Stationery Academy. And it keeps coming up in webinars I attend and books I read. (P.S. Click on those links to attend an awesome webinar and read an incredible book!) So while I believe my core values have always been in my heart, I think it’s time I really connect with them. Out loud. In writing. And of course–on the internet.
First, the process. How do you figure out what your core values really are? The first step is to take a look at how you spend your time and money. Not how you think you should spend your time and money, but how you actually live in your real life right now. This is a scary process because in my dream world I spend my time and money on important things like family and world peace. In my real life, I spend more time on facebook and more money on coffee than I care to admit. But push past the embarrassment and shame and know that whatever values you are spending your time and money on are okay. They’re values. They can’t be bad or wrong. At first glance, I’m embarrassed that sometimes I lose an entire morning to just emailing friends. But then when I dig deep into why–it’s because I value my friends. I value connecting with them and spending time talking to them. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Another game you can play is “Which matters more?” There are a ton of lists of values out there–just lists of words you can look at and cross off the ones that don’t matter until you magically end up with the 5 that matter most. Except that when you’re doing it, you’ll eventually get to a spot where you still have 20 words and you feel weird crossing any off and saying you don’t value honesty or teamwork! So when you get to that spot, the trick is to pick two words on the list and ask yourself, “which matters more?” You’re not creating a list of all of your values here, you’re trying to narrow down your core values. Your top 5 hills to die on. Your “They can take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” values. (If you’re Braveheart. And if one of your core values is freedom.) So while yes, I value teamwork.,I love teamwork, and I believe in teamwork, if I have to imagine my life without a team versus my life without the ability to create, I value creativity more.
This is not a ten-minute game. This may not be something you whip out in an afternoon. Let this question sink in. But write about it, too. Your gut will probably lead you to a top 5ish. And as you ponder it and come back to it over the course of 6 months, my guess is your answers will be generally the same as what your gut told you in the beginning.
And now, my top 5!
Creativity – When I look back at the moments I’ve felt most alive, it’s when I’m creating something new. Drawing when I was little, writing, doing crafts, painting, designing invitations, even creating a business. When I was teaching, the lessons I designed myself were the most fun and the most effective. (And losing my freedom to be creative in my lesson planning ultimately lead to my career change!) Creating a little person has been my greatest accomplishment.
Connection – When I first made my list, Family was first and then Friends. But my list was too long. So I had to consolidate! (Tricky, aren’t I?) But the truth is, when I really ask myself what it is I value about my family and friends, it’s the ability to connect with them. And I value that in so many areas of my life. One of the best parts of my job is connecting with each customer in a really personal way during an exciting time in their life. I’m that weird girl who talks to strangers in line at the grocery store. I just like to feel connected to other humans throughout my day.
Entertainment – For a long time I felt guilty about this one. I had a friend who cancelled cable so her family could afford to buy only organic food. And that’s great. That’s what she values. My family spends time and money on tv. Not because we value tv necessarily, but because we love to be entertained. We love laughing at sitcoms and being thrilled by dramas. We also love going to concerts and plays and movies. It’s just something we enjoy together and because I value my family, I value the things we enjoy doing together!
Surprise – So this is a bit of an odd one. But I love surprises! I love being surprised and surprising people. I love it SO much, it’s one of my core values. It’s truly thrilling to me to surprise someone I love and I feel like the element of surprise is something I crave in my daily life. When I look at my invitation designs that have been the most successful, they’re the clever, unique, surprising designs. I think because I love surprises so much, I put more of my heart into those designs and they’re just better!
Growth – I’m a bit of a self-help junky. Well not just self-help, but any type personal and professional development! Webinars, how-to books, classes, workshops, if I could just learn for a living, I would! I enjoy learning about a lot of things (which is why it was super hard for me to pick a major and why I insisted in a dual-specialty for my master’s and why I make drastic career changes) but what I enjoy learning about most is how I can improve in whatever I’m doing at the time.
And if I were to sneak a 6th value into my Top 5 it’s… Beauty – Not in a superficial way. Just in the sense of appreciating when I’m surrounded by beautiful things. I love pretty things and I love that I can create pretty things for people. Life should be nice to look at.
Keep in mind this is my list. Yours will be completely different! We may overlap a value or two, but your list is yours and there’s no “right” list that’s better than yours.
So, you’ve made your list–now what? And now the toughest part of all. Living according to your values. Yes, I said that one way to discover your core values is to look how you currently spend your time and money. So you’re probably living your values already to some degree. (If you find you’re never ever ever making time for something, the truth is you probably don’t value it that much. There’s nothing wrong with that! Just means you need to do more work to figure out what you do value.) But even though your values are a reflection of how you currently live, you probably also want to live better by connecting with those values more often and more deeply.
It doesn’t have to be a big, overwhelming thing, though. In fact, it can be fun! Like when I’m choosing a gift for someone, I can ask “What will surprise them?” or “What can I create for them?” I get more out of the experience by connecting to my values, and I think it results in a better gift for them too. When I’m emailing customers, I sit down with the intention of “I’m going to connect with each person in my inbox today,” and all of the sudden a business task becomes fulfilling. As I build my business, I continually ask myself, “How can I connect? How can I create? How can I grow? How can I entertain? And how can I surprise?” The result is I’m building a business I enjoy working in and a brand that reflects who I truly am.
Your turn! What are your core values? Comment below!