Define Your Core Values and Change Your Life — for real

May 25, 2020

When it comes to knowing what’s best for me, I have a handful of principles to share: define your own fun, develop a gratitude practice, define core values, and realize that no one can make your best decision.
I am including this post as part of the mini-series, although it was one of the first that I wrote, and I fully believe it is the foundation of all personal and professional success and fulfillment. Not to oversell it. 🙂

If you were to ask me how I make any decision, most likely, I will say that it’s in alignment with my values. There is SO much to say here because it’s honestly a way of life, but defining my values and how living unapologetically true to my values looks in my life (personal, finance, time, job, relationship) has given me the blueprint to a life that fits me beautifully.

Defining my core values has been the most fundamental and life-changing exercise I’ve done (and I’ve done a lot of “who are you?” exercises). The result was a simple list of often-abstract words that kind of rule my world: Self Efficacy, Growth, Family, Legacy & Community, and Health. These are my self-selected guiding principles and represent who I am. They are also my very favorite tool for evaluating basically everything in my life.

Allow me to explain:

Personal development is personal.

Personal finance is personal.

The right relationships, careers, hobbies, and more are all personal.

Specifically tailored to the person. So how do we define what is important to us? That’s right, Core Values. 

The How-To

The exercise entails looking at a big, long list of possible values (often ~100 words), and picking out the ones that resonate with you. Then you take that list and pare it down to 10 words that resonate most, and then to 5, which are then stack ranked in order of importance and priority to you. 

Download the worksheet here to follow along with these how-to steps!

I also recommend writing out a quick definition of the words — according to you — starting at the list of 10. This is an exercise in clarity, so this step will help you explicitly outline what each of these words means to you, and that matters much more than any Websters definition. For example, my values: 

  1. Self-Efficacy — the belief that what I do matters and makes a difference; the call on my heart to serve others and have impact in the lives of others and to make the world a better place
  2. Growth — personal growth is reaching for more for myself and honoring the ever-present desire to learn; this is coupled with self knowledge and self love, which are prerequisites to growing in a healthy and effective way
  3. Family — spending time, energy, resources with my family of origin and chosen family members to honor the relationship
  4. Legacy & Community — creating and serving others in my communities (local city, social groups, entire world) in a way that will have impacts that live on long past when I am no longer living
  5. Health — honoring my body and fueling it well so I am able to pursue the life I dream of with energy and mobility

Maybe when you read my list earlier, you had a different idea of what each of these would represent to me, and that’s exactly what I would hope! These are my values that have significance to me, and I hope the same for you. It might take a few passes through to get the right fit of some of these; I did this exercise for the first time 5 years ago, and my values and their definitions and their applications have evolved with me. 

Build your Roadmap: Applying Core Values

“Their applications?” You might ask. 

Why, yes, their application is where this gets really good. 

I use this list of Core Values as my lens, my framework, for how I know what to say “yes” and “no” to. Here’s what that looks like.

In addition to a personal definition of each of these values, I have assessed what it looks like to live out my values in these ways: my finances, my time, my career, my relationship. 

With finances, I choose to spend money in ways that further my growth, and I always say yes to the opportunity to travel to see my family, who are spread across many miles and states. I donate to my local community, and I chose to spend more for sustainable products that are better for the environment. 

With my time, I want to engage in activities that have a clear impact on the world around me and help my community. I spend time with my family. I seek out opportunities for growth and learning, and will spend my otherwise leisure time on them.

For my relationships, romantic and friendships, it is critical to me to feel seen and heard. I want to help others and make their lives better in tangible ways. I need people around me who encourage, support, and partner with me on my journey for growth. These people will have similar stances on supporting the community, on small and large scales. 

When it comes to my career, the concept of one’s “life’s work” is very compelling to me because it aligns with my value of legacy. I want to have my life count toward something meaningful (self-efficacy) that makes the world a better place (community) and that lives on after me (legacy). I also want the economic freedom to see my family when I want and to financially support them pursuing joy in their lives. I want my career to be a path where I am constantly learning, pivoting, adapting, and ultimately, growing. 

You do you

With each of these exercises, it’s important to remember that what matters to others might not matter as much to you, and there is no shame in that. Conversely, there might be line items in your financial budget that make others roll their eyes, but if it brings you joy and a life of alignment, fulfillment, and contentment, you’re on the right track. 

I dedicate a portion of my time and money to learning and growing; I am often buying new books or watching webinars or listening to podcasts. I invested significant amounts of time and money into my Yoga Teacher Training, because I found it interesting and engaging. I had an experience where these choices were met with derision by someone whose opinion mattered greatly to me. Instead of viewing it as intentional growth opportunities, I was always “moving from one thing to another” and “couldn’t stay focused” and “wasted my time.” 

At first, these comments provoked shame. Maybe I was wasting my time and energy. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t find one hobby and stick with it? Should I be spending my money somewhere else? 

But then I reflected on my values. I knew what was important to me and what brought me joy. I was not being irresponsible with my money; I regularly saved and budgeted for these purchases with the intent to spend that money on books and courses. (P.S. Read this for more on my what has worked well for my personal finance journey!)

Quiet the “Should” Shame Storm

I learned two lessons: the first is that I am able to quiet the “should” shame by knowing myself and my core values and acting in accordance with them. The second is that other people will not always agree with my values and how they are manifested in my life. And that is perfectly okay. 

I have harnessed the language “it is important to me that…” to communicate where I stand and what my priorities are.

By knowing myself and explicitly defining how it looks to act in accordance with what is important to me, I am empowered to pursue my true alignment.

Read more in the mini-series:

Part 1: Define Your Own Fun »

Part 2: Develop a Gratitude Practice »

Part 4: No Can Make Your Best Decision — Except You »

Get your Core Values Worksheet!

Explore more categories:  Free Resource, Personal Development

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  1. […] out these exercises to discover your Core Values and create a Behavioral Interview […]

  2. Lon says:

    Oh wow- this is perfect for what I need right now…. Thank goodness you valued putting this out there for me to read!!!

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