values work.

Do you have a personal mission statement?  Yeah, me neither.

But some people do, as I learned a couple of weeks ago at this leadership program in which I’m fortunate enough to participate.  As in, some people have taken the time to write an honest-to-goodness mission statement about themselves.

It all started innocently enough: Our group leader asked if anyone in my class has ever done any “values work.”  Some people nodded, some looked confused, and one guy raised his hand and said, “Yeah.  In fact, I have a personal mission statement.”

The group leader nodded, as if she hears this kind of stuff all of the time.

And then the dude stood up and recited it from memory.  I was equal parts surprised, repulsed, and impressed.

Naturally, this guy had no issue with the assignment that we were given: We were asked to list our top ten values, rank-order them, and then write a brief values statement for each one, all within 30 minutes.

I spent approximately 80% of that time just staring at my notebook, before I had an “oh, fuck” moment and started throwing words down on the page.  Here’s the garbage that I managed to come up with:


It was abundantly clear to me within 10 seconds that I had no idea what my values were.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t articulate them–I legitimately had no clue what they were to begin with.

I then had the lovely experience of debriefing the exercise with a small group.  Of course, the two women with whom I was paired were able to come up with their list of values, put them in order, and eloquently explain the role they play in their lives.  I, on the other hand, spent a good five minutes apologizing and making excuses for why I wasn’t able to ‘adequately’ complete the assignment.  When we reconvened for a larger group discussion, I was absolutely floored by my classmates’ insight and clarity regarding their values.  Someone mentioned how, by recognizing their values, it makes decision-making easy: “Is this aligned with my personal values?  If yes, then do it…if no, then don’t.”  One classmate said that she was able to distill all 10 of her values and guiding principles down to a single word.

I left feeling disgusted with myself and utterly ashamed by the fact that I was participating in this leadership group and had such little sense of self that I couldn’t accurately describe what guides my behavior.

Fast forward to now.  I’ve spent the last four weeks in deep reflection and putting a ton of energy (and a few tears) into identifying my values.  And I can confidently say that I know who I am and the principles that guide me my behavior.

I started by looking up a list of values and writing down all of the words that resonated with me, even just a little bit.  I ended up with a list of 143 values.  Eek, right?  I then started clustering those words into thematic groups–I wound up with 19 of those.  After that, I came up with a single word that I felt captured each of those groups.  I only ended up doing this for 14 of the 19 clusters–it became very clear through this process that 5 of those 19 clusters really didn’t resonate with me all that much.  As I worked to come up with these “key words,” I realized how some of them overlapped and how the different clusters interacted with one another.  Ultimately, I was able to distill these “key words” down to 10 unique, distinct values.  I did it!

To come up with my “value statements,” I started by assigning a verb to each value to make it action-oriented.  Basically, how do I enact these values in my day-to-day life?  After that, it was relatively easy for me to come up with the full value statements.  And once that was complete, it was unbelievably easy for me to rank-order them.  I was honestly shocked at how clear everything became once I had nailed down my 10 true values.

So, for your reading pleasure, here they are:

  1. Authenticity:  I embody authenticity to be open and sincere with myself and others, and I accept that doing so requires the courage to be vulnerable.
  2. Integrity:  I maintain personal and professional integrity to promote honesty, to respect the dignity of others, and to honor my ethical and moral principles.
  3. Partnership: I foster partnership by practicing empathy and love, so those in my life feel seen, understood, and a sense of belonging.
  4. Grace:  I strive for grace by offering compassion, demonstrating goodwill, and assuming that everyone is doing the best that he or she can.
  5. Curiosity:  I embrace curiosity to engage in learning, exploration, and discovery on a daily basis.
  6. Purpose:  I have purpose so that my behaviors have intention and are guided by meaning.
  7. Impact:  I achieve impact through insightful analysis, the use of reason, and the pursuit of accuracy in order to contribute to my community and our broader body of knowledge.
  8. Presence:  I am fully present in each moment to be ever-mindful of those around me, aware of context, and accepting of the task at hand.
  9. Novelty:  I passionately pursue novelty in order to challenge myself and to grow as an individual.
  10. Playfulness:  I manifest playfulness to provide levity and spread joy.

…whew.  But I must say, having devoted serious effort to this exercise, I feel so much more confident in who I am.  It’s kind of amazing (and admittedly cliched), but I feel more at home in my own skin.


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