Core Values: What’s Important to You?

My wife and I were recently challenged to work on our core values by creating updated definitions of ourselves, definitions that do not include our professional personas. Abra, my wife, is one of the smartest and most talented writers I know. She was able to parse her values, thoughts, and feelings relatively quickly and craft an essay that expressed her core values in the context of who she is and is becoming. I struggled.

I asked her how she was able to get to the core values. She said “ask yourself what’s important to you and why you make the choices you make/do the things you do.” I took a walk with my journal and thought about those questions. Here’s what I came up with and I’d love to hear how you answer the questions. I believe asking the questions that identify our core values is incredibly important for our law practices, family lives, and roles in community leadership.

What is Important to Me?

Another way to ask the question might be “what are my core values?”

  • Enjoyable life
  • Fulfilling life
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Love of family
  • Love of friends
  • Respect of and for others
  • Self respect
  • The sincere gratitude of others that comes from me being of real service
  • Creativity
  • Freedom/Independence
  • Community
  • Authenticity
  • Simplicity
  • Leadership
  • Growth, development, learning, improvement (especially in areas of spirituality)
  • Compassion

That list of values is not in any order. Some of the things stood out to me, such as the seemingly opposing value of Freedom/Independence and Community.  When I thought about these two values together it became apparent that if I had to choose, I would choose Community. That realization feels very significant to me today. It explains why I enjoy Twitter and Facebook so much, but the fact that I’m a solo-practice attorney shows that I’ve made choices that reinforce my value of Freedom/Independence at least as often.

The other item that stood out was that I only enjoy the gratitude of others when I’ve earned it. Consciously making this list sheds some light on my decision-making process.

Why Do I Make the Choices I Make & Do the Things I Do?

My process for making decisions in my life is distinctively NOT “thinking like a lawyer.” It’s NOT objective. It’s NOT logical. It’s NOT always about being “right” or “correct.” It’s emotional, sometimes erratic, often misguided—but rarely boring and usually an adventure.

I make the choices I make in order to:

  • Enjoy my life;
  • Help others enjoy their lives by giving others the things and feelings I value such as a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment;
  • Align and connect authentically and lovingly with the people in my life;
  • Pass on some of what I’ve learned and receive in return a bit of what others offer; and
  • get money.

Looking at this list showed me I can authentically connect only with those who share my core values. This is why I tend NOT to connect with some people, because they have different core values. It’s important for me to suspend my judgment of other people’s values—everyone deserves the freedom to live by their own set of values and I should strive to love them anyway—but that doesn’t mean I need to spend a lot of time with them, work for them, or allow them to be clients.

I also recognized that what I’m trying to sell/share with others is what I desire from them: connection, friendship, advice, respect, love, care, and support.

Finally, at least for this post, it was significant to me that “money” didn’t show up on my list of what’s important to me, but there are a lot of things I decide to do for money. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m trying to suspend judgment. Maybe if money was on my list or high on my list I might have more of it. I don’t know. I’m honestly skeptical that putting money on the list alone—in and of itself—would be a good idea. I’d rather money be a measure of gratitude I receive from others for the service I provide. It makes sense to me that the less I do just for the money, the happier I’ll be. So, I’m going to try to reduce the number of tasks I do just for the money and try to attract more work allowing me to work within the more holistic motivations and allow the money to simply be the measure of gratitude.

I’ll continue reflecting on these two questions.  I hope you take a few minutes to reflect on them as well, and then share your thoughts.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42931449@N07/5217748702/)

  • http://www.martinlegalservices.com Graham Martin

    When I was trying to figure myself out with regard to values, I found a couple of resources very helpful. The first was Strengths Finder 2.0 (http://www.strengthsfinder.com). The book really isn’t necessary for anything other than getting a code to use their online strengths finding tool. It provides your top 5 strengths, and it had me totally pegged, but I didn’t realize those things until after I read the analysis.
    The other resource is a free online moral compass evaluator (http://www.moralcompass.com/personal-mci.php). My father-in-law (Fred Kiel) is one of the developers, so I have gotten more than just the 40-question overview on the website. But the online version is a good start to help identifying your values as well.
    With these two tools you will have an outline of your values and strengths, and that goes a long way toward focusing a person, much as Kevin outlined in this great post.