The Value of Knowing Our Values - By Katie Ford

March is the perfect time to do a self check-in, and revisiting your value system is a great way to do that. In this post, I want to guide you through the importance of doing this, both from a personal perspective and from one of a coach that works with hundreds of professionals.

A caveat, please do this without self-judgement. When assessing our values, we often notice that we've headed a little off track or that what we currently value is not what we aspire to value. Notice any self criticism, and meet it with kindness, adopting a curious rather than critical mindset throughout.

What are values?

Our values are the things that we believe are important in life. They help us to make decisions, measure outcomes and steer moving forward. The reality is that often our lives can end up out of touch with our values, or we end up living to a set of values that we believe are expected of us, rather than what we’d choose. If things feel a little unaligned, it could be worth spending some time on this.

Values might include ways of living, concepts or constructions. E.g. Freedom, Family, Honesty, Fairness, Authenticity, Kindness, Openness, Love. Your values are individual to you.

You might have 4-6 categories of values, with sub values in there that relate to work or home. E.g. Kindness (Compassion, Honesty), Fun (Adventure, Variety), Connectedness (Family, Friends, Teamwork).

Why are values important?

As human beings, we want a fulfilling life. To do that, we need to embrace the fact that we are all individuals and will have different definitions of success and fulfilment. To muddy the waters slightly, we came into a world that sought to tell us from the start what is important, what we should pay attention to, and painted the painful fallacy of perfection - which doesn’t exist. We might have gone through school believing that achievement and accolades are the most important things in our lives, but further down the line when we really ask ourselves, family and freedom might be what we value the most. This is your unique life.

Our values have a bearing on all aspects of our lives. Knowing what is important to us at our core allows us to consciously make decisions about work, our personal lives, our relationships and more. For example, if you discover that you really value freedom - this might mean you decide to locum or look for a clinic that allows clinical freedom. Conversely, someone else might find they value security and certainty, and hence know that full time employment is important to them.

Furthermore, job satisfaction can be heightened from being at a workplace that aligns with our personal values - this doesn’t mean there has to be an exact match, but at least an overlap. If fear-free handling of patients is very important to you (maybe under a core-value of kindness), then being at practice that is fear-free, and following this up with day to day behaviours, would likely be a good match.

Identifying our values also means we can consciously integrate aspects of them into our day to day lives as priorities, even if just an essence of those things.

How do I identify my values?

First and foremost we need to give ourselves the space to reflect, without judgement. There are a variety of free online exercises to find your values, where you can be guided through lists and options. I’d suggest trying a few different versions, and revisit over a few days. Give yourself permission for your values to have changed over the years. Turn off the TV, reduce distractions and let your pen flow.

Most values exercises will have a list of suggested values, and you are asked to circle what immediately comes to mind. You will start to highlight your current values, and then be aware of ‘aspirational’ values that you’d like to feature more. It can be helpful to group similar ones together in a way that suits you. Do what feels right for you, and try to gently let go of societal expectations. If you’re unsure, using prompts can be helpful to lean more deeply into this topic, or enlisting a coach to help guide you through the process.

Some questions that can be valuable to ask yourself to highlight what is in your value system includes:

● When do you feel at your best? What values could be involved here?

● What makes you want to speak up?

● What can you speak passionately about?

● What would make up your dream day?

● What makes you feel fulfilled at work?

● Think of three people that you love and admire, what is it about them?

● What situations make you frustrated or angry? What values could have been crossed here?

● What would you like to make life about?

● Beyond your basic human needs, what must you have in your life to experience fulfillment?

At the end of these exercises, you would aim to have 4-6 core values that are important to you, with each one having sub-values and clarity on what each means. Remember that words and concepts will mean different things to everyone, so spend time getting clear on what it means to you. E.g. Security might mean family and home to some people, but others may associate it with finances.

What now?

Now that you have clarity over your values, gently reflect on how integrated these concepts are in your day to day life. Are there any changes that you can make? Is there anyone that can help you? Never underestimate the effects of small changes. E.g. If adventure is one of your core values, booking a holiday absolutely integrates this, but on a day to day basis it might involve getting outdoors or trying something new, a ‘microadventure’ as it were.

Secondly, consider how you can remind yourself of these values at times of making decisions and on a day to day basis. This might be having them printed out and on display, on your phone screen saver or written in the front cover of a notebook.

Give yourself permission to check back in with your values, and let them be uniquely yours.

Interested in knowing more?

I run a 12-week group coaching programme for vet and animal-related professionals, alongside Claire Grigson, called Vet Empowered. We have a variety of workshops and ongoing support on these topics.