Finding Your True Values: The Key to a Career That is Right For You

career coach, career coaching, executive coaching, group coaching, leadership coaching, meditation exercises, personal branding

Every day is a struggle. You’re working for the weekend or the next holiday. There’s nothing major you can pin-point that is wrong with your career, but you know that something isn’t right about it.

This is the number one reason we see people coming to us for career coaching.

They have no idea where to go from here, but they have the feeling they need to do something about it. 

It’s so tragically common that I’d bet almost everybody has been in this position. Some just keep struggling through, keeping their eye on the rewards of their income. Some allow the frustrations to seep into daily life.

Some take action. The best action to take is to fully understand whether you’re in the right career or not. Only then can you take the next step.

It may seem an impossible task to achieve a career that you love, but if you never try, you’ll never know.

It all starts by understanding your values.

What Do You Believe Your Values Are?

We’re going to do a quick exercise before going into how to find out if you are in the right career or not.

The first step is to come up with a list of 5 values that you think are important to you right now. To help you with this exercise, here is a list of values to choose from.

Don’t worry about choosing from a list for this part, it’s not vital to be spot on at this point. We’ll find your true values later.

  1. Pick any values that stand out to you from the list, no need to restrict it to 5 just yet.
  2. Depending on how many values you picked out, narrow it down by half, then half again, etc. until you’ve got less than 10.
  3. Rank these values in order of importance to you and cut it down to the top 5.

Keep hold of this list for later.

How Do You Find Out If You’re In The Right Career?

First, it helps to understand what you think your values are now, that’s the exercise you’ve already done. Then we can go into what your true values are. There is almost always a difference.

After that, it is about assessing how your current career fits those true values and, if not, what would fit them.

What Are Your True Values?

Now we’re going to get to your true values.

If you want to get the maximum out of this exercise, I would recommend reading each question, then sitting back and recording your answers into the voice recorder on your phone. Afterwards, listen back to them and make notes. This takes away the need to be keeping up with your own thoughts while writing.

Step 1 – Identifying What Is Important

I want you to look back at your life and come up with a few moments for each of these categories. There are prompts to draw out the things that were important to you in those moments, note these down:

  1. When you were happiest, when things were great, you were so excited, you felt completely alive! – What made you so happy? What did you really care about at that moment? What was so important to you to make you feel that way? What was your obsession?
  2. When you were most satisfied or fulfilled, everything seemed right with the world, you had no worries! – What made you so relaxed? What did you really care about at that moment? What was so important to you to make you feel that way? What were your relaxation triggers?
  3. When you were most proud, you felt on top of the world, you felt you had made a difference! – What made you so confident? What were you doing to make a difference at that moment? What was so important to you to make you feel that way? What was your reason for being?

Let’s switch things up a little bit. I want you to look back at the moments that were negative in your life. Sorry to do this to you, but strong emotions, whether positive or negative, indicate things that are really important to us.

Once again, consider each category in turn and note down what was important to you.

  1. When you felt the angriest, you were wronged, you couldn’t believe this moment had happened! – What made you so angry? What did you really care about at that moment? What was so important to you to make you feel that way? What boundary had been crossed?
  2. When you felt utterly helpless, you felt frustrated, you felt weak! – What made you so frustrated? What did you really care about at that moment? What was so important to you to make you feel that way? What was your urge to change?
  3. When you felt scared, you weren’t in control of a situation, you felt you had found yourself or others safety at risk! – What made you so scared? What did you really care about at that moment? What was so important to you to make you feel that way? What was your obsession?

OK, you’ve got lots of things there that are really important to you, but are they values?

Step 2 – Disentangling Your Values

Let’s untangle all your values from the notes you have made.

  1. Go through the notes and group together all the important things that are similar.
  2. Look at each one in turn and ask yourself; “Is this a value, or is there something underpinning it?”. Dig down until you find something that you are sure is a value. Values are fundamental beliefs that drive your thoughts and behaviours. Have a quick read of this article on what values actually are.
  3. If you need to, use the list from the first exercise to help you identify values and groupings. Don’t feel like you have to fit your values into this list though. They are still your values!

Step 3 – Prioritise Your values

With your list of values in front of you, start to prioritise them.

  1. Look through the list and remove those that stand out as a lower priority, try to get to around 10 values.
  2. Then, start at the top of the list and compare the top two values. If you could only choose one of these to live by, which would it be? 
  3. Think of scenarios that pit the values against each other. For example, for freedom and stability, consider a situation where you have a chance to start your own business that you can develop on your own terms, but you are also offered a full-time job doing the same thing you would be doing in your business.
  4. Do this process, swapping positions of values, until you can look at your list and the most important ones have risen to the top. How do those values feel to you? Are you proud of them? Would you want to stand by these values no matter what?
  5. Remove the bottom 5.

These top 5 values are your core values. These are the values that most influence your thoughts, feelings and actions.

Step 4 – Assess Your Career Against Your Values

Now look at your current career and rate it out of 10 for each of the values. Ideally, you should be at 7 or above in each of your core values. Perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect all of them to be that high, but you should embody a majority of your values with the work you do.

Bring back the values you came up with right at the start, the values you thought you held before going through the full exercise.

How do they match up to your true values? How does your current career rate against the original values?

Your values are there whether you know about them or not. If you are in the wrong career, they will be subconsciously trying to tell you that you’re not upholding your values. This can translate into a nagging feeling that you’re not in the right career.

Why Are You In A Career That Isn’t Right?

There are many causes for finding yourself in a career that isn’t right. There are a few that pop up more frequently than others and we’ll have a look at these here.

Conditioning from an Early Age

Society largely dictates that we choose our career path as early as 16 years old. When we start to choose the subjects to concentrate on at school, college and university we are essentially narrowing our options for our career down the line.

Okay, Okay, you do have the option to change things as you go. In reality, you can do whatever the hell you want, but do you?

Parents, teachers and your peers can have a huge influence on your beliefs around what a career should look like. We grow up seeing what our parents do for a living. They have their own beliefs about what you should do, whether they think it or not. It’s not always about control, sometimes they can simply believe they have to guide you down a path because they think you need that help. 

Schools are there to guide you through a learning journey, but they are not set up to guide you through a career journey. They do not have the resources, nor the need to do that. Most of the time they simply want you to get the best grades possible and this is both for your future and for their reputation.

What Success Means To You

Again, there is some conditioning here, but most people would link success to the salary they earn or the job title they achieve.

Success in life is different for everybody, but we’re encouraged to think that success means money. If you have money, then everything else is possible and you can be happy.

That sounds simple, but life doesn’t work very well in that way. You’re essentially saying that you have to suppress your happiness until you’re earning enough money. But then you earn enough money and you’re still not happy. What the hell??

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

Albert Einstein

You Don’t Get the Chance to do What Lights You Up

Humans are creative people as a default, there is no creative person versus uncreative person distinction. The problem is, we don’t get the chance to pursue the things that really light us up once we have to learn the formal subjects at school.

Once we start learning Maths, Science, Languages, etc. we are on a treadmill towards achieving the best grades possible in order to take them into the career we are conditioned to follow. Academic subjects are seen as the route to a successful career, but as we’ve seen, ‘successful’ is often loaded towards money.

What did you love doing when you were young? What happened to that?

What do you love doing now? Why is that considered a hobby rather than a career?

What Can You Do Now?

It can be frustrating looking back and seeing why you’ve ended up where you are, especially when it has been holding you back for a long time.

It’s not too late to make a change though. It’s never too late.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Chinese Proverb

It starts with your values, what’s really important to you. Then you can use these to assess career or job opportunities to make sure they are a good fit for you.

Believe it or not, we have done a ‘lite’ version of finding your values here. Hopefully, you went through it thoroughly and if so then you will have arrived at a solid set of values to take forwards. But this whole process can be done at a far greater, guided depth with a career coach. 

What we would do next is an exploration of what you actually want to do with your life. With your values in hand, this is a lot easier to do than you might think.

We’d love to hear, in the comments below, what values you discovered by carrying out this exercise.