Starting With Simple Personal Values
Almost 10 years ago, I quit my job and moved from my home town Chicago to California because I wanted to live more true to my values. I resigned from my last two jobs because of a misalignment between personal and company values. I think about the idea of living and working by a shared set of values constantly. It’s a daily challenge to keep an evolving value system and the dynamics of work and life in balance and aligned.
For me, defining my values and putting them into action was a profound exercise. Life started to get more focused and purposeful, big and small life transformations ignited. I created my own path and I started setting up guardrails to keep me on it and boundaries to protect it. The challenge was to keep my values aligned with my lifestyle, social circles, relationships, family, and career. It was not without tough deliberation and challenging compromises at times.
When I moved from Chicago to California, it was a profound lifestyle change that was long overdue. Most transplants that move west share the same story and experience. They arrive and evolve their values as a result. For me it was opposite, reconciling my actions and values was the catalyst. Upon my arrival, I was finally aligned, liberated from an environment for which I was not suited. When I align my values and actions, an authenticity surfaces within me and it allows me to be my very best in all contexts of my life.
The origins of a company’s value system usually come from the founders, part of the history and heritage of some brands, handed down over the years. Ideally, it’s the driver for company culture and embedded into every element of the brand including purpose, promise, positioning, identity, products, and services.
The conventional wisdom is that these values, if established at the onset, won’t change with time. Values establish a company’s view of the world and determine how it treats others including employees, customers, and partners. Values can serve as an indicator for investors, a foundation on which tough company decisions are made. Values are completely controlled by the company and should be unaffected by competitors or market conditions. Successful brands integrate values into all touch points and strategies of the customer experience, marketing, communication, and advertising.
The reality is while this sounds strategic and logical, very few companies follow this approach. It’s been a tough decade, customer satisfaction is at an all-time low and folks do not trust companies like they did in the past (insert laundry list of “Enron-like” examples and reasons why). Even in this climate, there are start-ups who don’t build a solid foundation and emphasis on “values” and end up hiring the wrong people. This spirals into eroding the culture and failed business. Established brands grow, evolve organically, and lose sight of rigor necessary to keep a constant values lens on the company.
On the flip side, there is a new empowered, educated, and values-driven community of people that is very mindful of who they are buying from, who they are working for, who they are investing in, and who they associate with. They are setting a new bar. This values-driven tribe are gravitating to companies with leaders/founders whose personal value systems are manifested and woven into the brand. Companies that have a deeper authentic purpose and want to inspire to transform people and their lives, not just create profits. Companies that demonstrate their values, provide transparency, and see things like environmental consciousness as a social responsibility but also a more efficient smart way of doing business. At the inception of some of the most successful brands is a unique individual personal value system.
How are personal value systems derived?
If you poll someone they will tell you they have a personal value system, but some would be hard pressed to provide a list and articulate them. That is because these days the origins can be very fragmented resulting in a variety of influences such as culture, nationality, family history, tradition, social networks, morals, worldview, and religion. Sometimes this results in multiple value systems based on context or cohort - sometimes overlapping and other times conflicting. You may have been taught a set of family values when you were growing up, but as you got older, there were additions, appendix, and tweaks. Maybe you refined your personal values to integrate with other new relationships like friendship, marriage, or partnership. Your values may have been woven together with ideals from religion and overtime your beliefs have changed. For me, a system was never explicitly framed or defined. My values were fluid until I got older and accrued enough life experience to catalog, reflect, capture, and then live by them.
Why do we need values?
Below isn’t an exhaustive list but it provides some examples of how values can be used in different scenarios:
· Introspective exercise to understand yourself better, your personal brand
· Articulate who you are, what you want to be, and what motivates you
· Alignment with your aspirational self against society’s values and trends
· Sense of purpose and defines the reason for your existence
· Guard rails for making daily decisions to stay on track with your goals
· Tangible criteria for contrasting your behavior
· Alternative or supplemental system to other organizations (i.e. religion)
· Power of intentions and positive thinking
· Define the best social networks and tribes to affiliate with
· Helps with job interviews, dating, and business relationships
· Combined unified expression of purpose and meaning
· Platform for dialogue and communication
· Explicit governing principles, expectations, and assumptions
· Guard rails for making daily decisions to stay on track with goals
· Tangible criteria for contrasting behavior or prioritization
· Defines what is important, boundaries, and how to treat each other
· Communicating it makes you commit and live it
· Understand triggers for motivation and inspiration
· Helps approach resolving differences
I define values as important principles or standards for my behavior. I am always re-playing events, interactions, and outcomes that seem to have impacted my life, attempting to make sense of them to find my place in the world. Being an introspective person, these thoughts are always being reconciled and they cluster into lessons and learnings that have informed the creation of my value system. I do consider myself “values-driven” because my values are intrinsic drivers, things that motivate me, inform my decisions, and shape my actions. However, it is my personal narrative that matters most, not the mere facts of my life or list of my values.
That being said, here is an outline of my personal values:
Life is an on-going experiment, with different hypothesis, observations, reflection, and ultimately a mix of subjective failure and success. The world can shape you if you let it. To have a sense of yourself as you live, we must make conscious choices. My approach is to engross myself in the “experience of being alive” as a means of listening, participating, learning and deriving my own tailored philosophies on life. I derive my own value system, catalog the list of things that brings me joy, and have built a system of self-regulation. For things that derail me, I have triggers and flags to keep me on track. I focus on the things I can control and am empowered to create my own reality, not living a life, but building a life. Ultimately, it starts and ends with me. I am empowered and accountable for the choices I make and responsible for my own state of mind, happiness, and ultimately personal growth and development.
Wellness is about more than just “healthy living”, vitality or longevity. It’s a personalized component of my lifestyle that is derived from understanding what makes me happy, what drives me to be more productive, and what helps me find balance and peace. It’s also a vital counter to what derails me, an antidote to suffering, alleviates poor life decisions, and reduces misalignment of my values and actions. It’s a holistic awareness of my well being (physical and mental) as well as constant assessment of my proximity to things that are toxic. I monitor my wellness so that I can nurture my personal growth. It keeps me focused and present and aware. It cultivates conscious and unconscious levels of clarity, introspection, and reflection that weave together my ideas, thoughts, observations, interactions, and day-dreams. This commitment to wellness allows me acclimate quickly into the right environment, conditions, and mindset. It is the most vital ingredient to the personal growth necessary to attain more aspirational goals about myself.
Everything I do is measured and considered for its alignment and support of my values, philosophy for happiness, quality of life, and ultimately personal growth. It’s a deeper self-awareness, developing my potential, honing strengths, improving quality of life, ability to help others, healthy reciprocal relationships, and a better grip on the things that derail me. Consciously and subconsciously, I constantly test myself through real-world experiences and reframe my life stories to understand who I am at the core. Being authentic is always more effective and fulfilling. I have also strived to minimize the fragmenting of different personas commonly created between dynamics like work, family, and friends. It’s my daily goal to bring continuity to the level of my engagement, positivity, and purpose regardless of situation. I’ll input the same energy and enthusiasm and I expect the same output of satisfaction regardless if it’s cooking breakfast, running, hanging with friends, or collaborating with co-workers.
This is a dedication to continuous improvement, disciplined introspection, daily reflection, cultivation of habits, a devotion to engagement and the analysis of the lessons learned from all types of success and failure. While I enjoy pondering big questions, “evolving” for me is not an obsession with finding the “meaning of life”, following a prescribed path, or a mystery to be solved that will somehow make me whole and content. I embrace the journey, rarely dwell too deeply into the past, embrace and learn from failure without regret, and steer clear of anything too extreme. I gauge progression by engagement, learning, sharing, and my continuous action plan for personal growth and development.
The future isn’t a place I’m going, it’s a place I am inspired to create. It’s important that I am authoring worthwhile life goals. They can be a collection of small daily tasks or big grand adventures. They can also change and evolve but regardless of the size and scope they must invoke noticeable change, result in personal growth, and inspire, challenge, and fulfill me. It’s this circular feedback loop (inspiration > action > impact > change > inspiration) that is the engine that gives me purpose. Knowing I can create my reality, define my future, and build my life, this inspires daily purpose.
Simplicity is my cornerstone in achieving happiness and supporting personal growth and development. Life presents many unnecessary complexities - drama, distractions, guilt, and obligations that can be considerable investments of time, emotion, energy, and resources. Keeping things simple, adhering to a light “life backpack”, minimizes the baggage that weighs me down and eliminate unnecessary obstacles in my way. This philosophy has many dimensions and can be applied to all facets of life, but revolves around a fairly simple set of guidelines such as maintaining low life maintenance, minimal viable lifestyle, and emphasis on prioritization. Material things and technology are only sought out and valued if they enhance my lifestyle and contribute to my goals. Relationships must be healthy and reciprocal, investment is focused on a core small circle of intimate friends. We are entering into a future of warp speed and exponential growth and change. The idea is to stay nimble, flexible, and focused on what is important, see through the noise. Simplicity is my single most powerful guardrail - the key to adapting quickly, and keeping me laser focused and aligned with what makes me happy and at a safe distance from what derails me.
When life is humming for me it has a unique rhythm, pulse, and vibration. I embrace the inevitable changes and contribute and plan for the constant transitions. I subscribe and encourage this flow and movement with a willingness to seek, explore, and collide with other people, places, perspectives, and ideas. Sure “active” taken literally is about wellness but it’s more than hiking or running. It’s an attitude of curiosity knowing that new experiences and knowledge are the drivers for refinements in my life philosophies and driver for personal growth. I try to keep my feet moving, eyes open, heart pumping, and the gears in my mind turning.
Life has never been framed for me through single overarching source like historical family values, community, or organized religion. There have been many influences but only in bursts and much of my convictions and values are born from experience. This means evidence through observation, experimentation, failing, and learning from pleasure and pain. I moved through a broad set of social circles, professional relationships, and different tribes of friends for most of my life. Authority figures, wisdom, points of view, and role models were very diverse, influential, but always temporary. It was that diversity that exposed me to different, sometimes conflicting, points of views and life philosophies. It forced me to acquire the skills to reflect and reconcile, essentially grooming the ability for critical independent thinking. It also fostered empathy for the complexity in the human condition, helped me read and understand people, bridge different tribes, and most importantly cultivate a strong self-awareness and self-regulation. It was a cumbersome but common sense approach, dissecting life experiences and deriving conclusions from a habitual examination of all the underlying dynamics (intent, assumptions, agendas, motives, etc.).
I subscribe and acknowledge that my thoughts, opinions, life stories, and even my creativity are re-mixed, mashed up, and have built upon a foundation that already existed. There is nothing too terminally unique about myself. I take more comfort in the concept of a shared human experience, the idea that we all share similar experiences. We are all connected and bi-products of our collisions with each other through our interactions, building upon a vast history of experiences with common patterns. I may not subscribe to some of the life philosophies of the masses and always see things from a more secular vantage point, but my intent is not to be viewed as some outsider. I just prefer to remain open-minded, analyze and glean as I see fit or useful for my life.