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Want Fulfilment in Work (and Life)? Identify Your Values First
Identifying your values correctly can help you pick what to work on and how to live
There are times in life when a money-making opportunity is knocking at your doorstep and while your mind is going gaga at the prospect of it, your heart tells you not to take it.
I had such a moment in 2017.
I was running a tech content company, which comprised of a tech blog and 2 youtube channels.
Our Youtube venture was fairly new but we were able to amass a good audience number, and we were proud of the quality of the content we were making.
Naturally, brands came calling.
We had a big phone brand come to us for sponsorship and I was elated. It was a big deal.
But it didn’t take long before the euphoria came crashing. The brand would only go ahead if we didn’t disclose the sponsorship.
Believe it or not, this is still fairly common. Content creators and influencers happily do paid content without disclosures.
That doesn’t make it any less unethical though.
We needed the money and it was time to make a decision. Should I compromise on this one aspect and do the deal?
Or should I say no and forego several other money-making opportunities in the future since most brands would ask for the same?
I decided that I can’t go ahead. We scrapped the deal.
Values in Your Work
In his book Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker talks about the “mirror test.”
The mirror test is asking yourself what kind of person do you want to see in the mirror in the morning.
To work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to nonperformance.
Understanding your values is crucial if you intend to have a sense of fulfillment in your work and life.
I made that decision because I felt uneasy doing a paid video with zero mention of the “paid” part.
I understood that this uneasiness was because I valued integrity and ethics more than money.
And this came as a bit of surprise to me because I have always highly valued money and have always wanted to make more of it. I still do.
But that moment made me realise that making more money wasn’t, as Corey Wilks would call it, my core value.
Identifying Your Values
How do you identify what are your core values or starting principles as Julian Shapiro would call it?
There are several ways to go about it. Both Corey and Julian have shared their methods in their respective linked articles above.
Here’s what I think is a simple way to arrive at them.
Think of the situations in your life when you were at a conundrum. When you had to make a key decision and the logical answer was quite clear.
And yet, something about that situation was stopping you from making that logical decision.
You had that nagging feeling in your heart that this isn’t right.
Now, go deeper and figure out why you had that feeling,.
What particular aspect of that situation wasn’t making you feel good about it?
And, most importantly, how difficult or easy was the compromise (if you eventually had to do it)?
Sticking to your values takes courage and is, sometimes, also a matter of privilege.
I was able to make the decision of saying no to a big brand because we were profitable and I didn’t need the money desperately.
If the situation demanded that I compromise for the sake of my company and my employees then I might have, but it would have been a very difficult decision and I’d have felt quite bad about it.
That’s how I understood that I valued integrity and ethics more than ambition and money.
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic
It’s important to differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic factors when it comes to understanding your values.
For e.g. money and fame are extrinsic factors. They are the result of your actions.
Values dictate your actions and, more importantly, how you feel about them.
That means values are intrinsic and they form the guiding principle for your life.
They should be the first mental models you refer to when it comes to both creating a long-term vision of your life and managing yourself on a day-to-day basis.
It took me quite a bit of time to write down my core values. Needless to say, it required a lot of deep thinking.
Here they are:
Freedom and flexibility
Creating high-quality, timeless products
I use these as a mental model for everything – starting a new venture, striking a new relationship, navigating tricky situations, family life, parenting, etc.
Right or Wrong?
It’s important to understand that a value by itself isn’t right or wrong.
It’s how you use it and the actions you take that matter. And whether those fulfill you.
For e.g. you might value making money more than anything else. You may have no qualms about making small compromises to reach your earning goals.
Or maybe you value ambition more than everything else and you want to build a big company or want to dedicate your life to research to win that Nobel. And you’re going to do whatever it takes to reach that goal.
It’s (probably) fine.
The main thing is to have a clear understanding of what you value the most.
If you don’t have that, you’re likely to be stuck in jobs and relationships that don’t fulfill you.
And what doesn’t fulfill you is unlikely to pan out in the long term for you or for folks involved with you.
Getting a clear sense of your value system is thus essential for making the right decisions and leading a fulfilled life.