How My Values Give Me Direction in Life

A list of my 12 core values and why you should write down your own.

Niklas Göke
Mar 29, 2020 · 5 min read

Who are you?

As we grow up, we’re taught different ways to answer this question. When we’re kids, we’re told to introduce ourselves with our full name. “I’m John Doe,” you might say.

On the first day of high school, our teacher might suggest we tack a hobby on top. “I’m Daisy, and I like dancing.”

After we graduate and go to work and college, we drop the hobbies and replace them with achievements. “I got a BA from Stanford, where I ran the debate club, and I now work at Google.”

None of these are good answers. They all focus on a tiny part of your life, usually some externality, and then enlarge it to the point where it looks like your name, your job, or your accomplishments are all you are. That’s not true.

No matter how impressive you can get your introduction to sound over the course of your life, at the end of the day, you are not defined by your résumé. You are defined by your character. What shapes that character isn’t your work history or even any set of traits in particular — it’s your values.

If you don’t make an effort to define your values, no one else will do it for you. You’ll just passively adhere to a blend of the values of those around you. Worse, without values, your life has no direction. You’re moving, but where? Nobody knows — not even you.

Last year, I reflected and wrote about my values. Here they are, briefly summarized and explained.

Image by author

Calmness

If you’re not calm, you can’t do anything the right way, let alone do the right thing. First and foremost, breathe, pause, think, and start from a position of poise in all things.

Rationality

Base your decisions in logic, ethics, and common sense. As a result, they might not always look sensible to the outside world, but that world mostly wants you to not change. Change is the only constant there is. Embrace it, try to see the world clearly, and then make sound choices with your sound mind.

Commitment

Whether it’s in your career or relationships, once you find what you believe in, commit to it with all your heart. The only thing that makes us miserable is committing to nothing at all. Use dedication to cut through fears, doubts, and criticism like a laser, and let it empower you to drop all distractions.

Restraint

Doing the right thing won’t always be easy, but choosing to do the right thing can be if you value restraint. Restraint sounds like a bad thing, but if it’s attached to a commitment you believe in, it’ll not just come easy, it’ll actually feel liberating. Give in to fewer temptations, and you’ll gain space and peace of mind.

Humility

Don’t pretend to control more than you do, which is very little and always less than you’d like. Be humble. Show up every day, do your best, and patiently wait for the results, even if it takes longer and you feel like nothing is working.

Vulnerability

Being yourself is scary, but in a big world that doesn’t care, you might as well show us the truest version of yourself. Don’t be afraid to expose the parts you’re scared we’ll judge you for. Those are the moments we really connect with others because we finally realize: they’re not so different than us.

Patience

Whether you get hurt or not, surviving provides the best form of reassurance: You’re still here, and you’ll live to fight another day. No matter how bad reality gets, turn the fact that you’re still around today into more fuel for tomorrow.

Empathy

Everyone is struggling with something. Most of the time, you have no idea what it is. But you can imagine it. You can mentally place yourself in their shoes, and no matter what you find, it’ll help you understand them. You’ll be less likely to judge people, communicate better, and remember we’re equal.

Compassion

Be kind and forgiving. Don’t hate people. Lend a hand where you can. Empathy and compassion are related. When you understand people, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. Life is short. See it as a big journey we’re all in together.

Acceptance

You’re human. You’ll make mistakes, some of which you’ll never be able to fix. So will other people around you, sometimes to your detriment. All of this is survivable, as long as you accept it. Accept yourself too. Your good sides. Your bad sides. And extend that same courtesy to others.

Hope

When times are bad, imagine different times. Have faith. Remember that you’re not alone, and trust that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You might not be able to see it right now, but whatever you’re going through will make sense down the line.

Love

Combine all the above values, and you get love — a catch-all for our best traits. It’s also a verb. Don’t just say that you love people, show them. Your family, your partner, your friends, the little gestures you use to show you appreciate them are what makes life worth living. Cherishing these little moments is how you create the memories that’ll stay with you till the very end of your life.

Whenever I struggle, feel lost, or am disappointed myself, I think through my list of values. Which one do I need right now? What am I lacking? Every time, I find an ideal I can aspire to that’ll help me get back on track.

Your list may be shorter, longer, or completely different, but I’m confident it’ll allow you to do the same. Not all days are great, but even on the worst ones, you’ll never feel directionless. Plus, you’ll finally have a good answer to that all-important question: Who are you?

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