I have several post-it notes pinned above the desk I’m currently sitting at. At the top of one is scrawled ‘RESILIENCE’ (a bullet-pointed summary of a New Yorker article that really struck a chord with me, about the secret formula for resilience); another is titled “Getting Creative Things done”, and essentially functions as a reminder to put my phone on airplane mode once in a while; yet another is simply titled ‘VALUES’ – the contents of which you’ll find recreated slightly more neatly atop this article.
At the risk of sounding like the stereotypical cliché of a millennial worker, I’m a fully paid-up subscriber to the school of thought that values are key to creating a career that you’re happy with. If you’ve ever worked in an environment that doesn’t align with your values, regardless of whether it’s a ‘good’ job on paper, you’ll know exactly how demotivating, uninspiring, and downright depressing that experience can be (and if you’ve never had that experience... count yourself lucky!).
But what exactly do I mean by values? Well in the context of professional work, I don’t just mean the more commonly held definition of values as moral virtues (although it’s good to have plenty of those too). To borrow a definition from The Dream CV Planner I created…
“Your values are the principles you hold to be important about the way you live and work…. think about what makes you feel satisfied on a day-to-day basis, and gives you a sense of purpose – both in and out of the office. What makes you feel like the work you’re doing is worthwhile?”
Of course, it goes without saying that you won’t always have the luxury of choosing who you work with or how you work based on an alignment of values (and FYI that applies to freelancers as well as 9-5ers). But having a clear idea of the values that are important to you can drastically improve the quality of your work-related decisions…Been offered a job at a trendy new startup, but heard some not-so-great things about their company culture and values? Take that into account.
Similarly, being clear on what your values are can also set you apart in the workplace – figuring out what motivates and excites you (or what annoys and bores you), and being able to convey that to others, whether you’re at a job interview or pitching to potential clients, will generally make you more than just another face in the crowd.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
So now that I’ve (hopefully) made the case for the importance of values, why not spend this week thinking about the workplace values that matter to you?
Mull them over – I’d recommend writing them down.
Cross some out (the ones you’ve written down because you think you’re supposed to include them).
Add some more. Repeat ad infinitum until you’ve come up with around 8 – 10 values that feel truly reflective of your mindset and career goals.
If you’re struggling to identify what those might be, think about the work situations that you’ve found most challenging/ satisfying/ tedious/rewarding in recent months and years. These don’t necessarily have to be formal ‘work’ scenarios – they could be side projects you’ve worked on for fun, or extracurricular activities you’ve undertaken whilst studying. You might find it helpful to think about following three categories of values:
- Environment – what are the working conditions that allow you to do your best work?
- Content – what sorts of activities do you feel most engaged doing at work?
- Relationships – What characteristics define your ideal working relationship with those around you?
Which of these values are ‘nice to have’, and which are the ones that would you never choose to compromise?
Finally, evaluate where you are now: does your current situation align with at least some of these values? If not, what small changes can you make to begin steering your career path into a situation that does?
See you next week.
How To Find Fulfilling Work – Roman Krznaric
How To Find A Job That Aligns With Your Values
Refinery29 co-founder Piera Gelardi on creating the conditions for creativity
If you found this article useful, there’s plenty more where that came from in The Dream CV Planner, a resource I’ve developed to help you identify what a successful and fulfilling career looks like for you.