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How Important Are Your Values? 

By Philip Humbert

A central theme of many personal development and goal-setting programs is the importance of building your life around your core values. Every really effective goal-setting program I've seen begins with the question, "What's important to you?".

But having said that and given due respect to the importance of knowing my major values in life, I confess that I've never been very clear about it for myself. It seems clear and obvious and wonderful to start with the Big Picture. What are the key values and major results you want in life? What are the things you believe, the things you (literally) stake your life on?

Get clear about these Big Pieces, then break them down into goals and tasks that can be implemented. Then, of course, you have to actually do the daily work, but we all work hard anyway and it certainly makes more sense to work on things that are important (and lead to important results) rather than doing meaningless work to earn a paycheck. This is all fairly obvious, right?!

The logic is clear to me. But here's the thing - my brain prefers a more concrete way of looking at things, rather than the "philosophical" method of value-clarification. I'm brilliant about practical solutions to specific problems. For myself and in coaching others, strategies, tactics and solutions to challenges like avoiding debt, building a business, getting closer as a family or retiring early, all seem clear and straight-forward to me. I can do that. It makes sense. It's fun and (most important) it gets results.

But, ask my WHY these things are important and too often I fall back on the solipsism from Amelia Earhart, "I want to do it because I want to do it."

And, in a sense, that may be all the answer we really need. After all, why is freedom vital to one person, while success is a key value for another? Why is integrity a primary value for some, while generosity, peace of mind or health are more important for others? These are deeply personal things.

If clarifying your values, purpose or vision seems vitally important to you, then invest whatever time, energy and work is required to clarify them! Working hard on a project when you have reservations about its importance is really tough! Why would anyone work hard on something they doubt will have significance beyond Friday's paycheck? Don't spend your life that way! Decide what's of first importance, and do that!

Ask yourself, What are my top values? What's important to me? What do I believe? What has meaning and significance for me, and are these things reflected in my goals and my daily work?

Many people have discovered that once they answer these vital questions about their core values, everything else falls into place. Suddenly goal-setting and daily priorities are easy! They have more energy, more enthusiasm and power because their work has meaning and purpose. If this is you, then I encourage you to do whatever it takes‚ read, journal, attend seminars or retreats, meditate, pray or get coaching, whatever it takes to find the answers.

But some of us seem to be wired differently. There's something confusing or vague, idealistic or other-worldly about this focus on values. We just want to get the job done. We won't violate the law, our ethics or morals, but defining our core values distracts us and delays getting the job done. We want a task with clearly defined results that seems important or interesting or challenging to us ("I want to do it because I want to do it") and we'll get on with it.

Whichever way you are "put together" is fine! Accept, honor, and be yourself! If a clear statement of your core values is important to you, take time to do that work! Define your values and do it first, no matter what it takes! But if you are what I call an "engineer," accept that. Define the goal, make sure you are motivated, and get to work. Define the tasks, set your course, and go for it.

As Joseph Campbell famously said, the key is to "follow your bliss." Organize your life and your work in the way that makes sense, that works for you and gets the results you want. As long as you do it fairly, ethically and legally, to me that looks a lot like success! Go for it!

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