How to Determine Your Core Values

Upon graduating college, I thought, like many others, that the best path for me was to get a steady, full-time job for a company where I could practice everything I just spent $100,000 learning. Makes sense, right?

I started off at a pet industry sales firm, owned by my father, which I interned at for about six months before graduating college. I spent every day writing blog articles, designing lead nurturing funnels, and working with e-commerce account managers to promote our products.

After a while, I decided it was time for something new and transitioned into a role as Marketing Coordinator at a local real estate firm. Two weeks in, I knew this wasn't the place for me - but, I couldn't figure out why.

Once I put in a few months, I began to form a better understanding of the missed connection between me and the job. There were many challenges, but most of them I could get around.

I worked day after day feeling as though something was missing. I was doing the work I enjoyed, but something was off.

One of many days I came home exhausted and exasperated, I came to the conclusion that one reason why it wasn't the right fit simply came down to the fact that our values and morals didn't align.

I realized then I had no idea what my core values actually were. I knew I loved writing, creating things, working with creative people, and marketing in general, but I had no idea why I did any of that or to what end I was willing to sacrifice my time and sanity to help businesses grow.

That was when I decided to sit down and think through what my own core values are and what they mean to me.

The Importance of Core Values

Your values make up who you are and what you're working to achieve while you're on this planet. They guide you through your decisions and act as a sort of barrier to make sure the work you do makes the kind of impact you want to see in the world.

Related Article: Creating a Brand Personality Your Customers Resonate With

If they aren't well-defined, it's impossible to find clarity in the decisions you make. You may find yourself working with the wrong clients, selling the wrong products, or simply making wrong decisions as a whole.

One of my personal values is "community". I believe it’s the people around you who will provide the opportunities, connections, and collaboration to be successful. A thriving community will not only build you up but also support you when you fall.

That's why I believe so heavily in the power of storytelling; it brings people with common threads together and forms deep interpersonal connections between individuals and even brands who use it correctly. 

Because it's one of my core values, I know to say no to any opportunity that goes against that. This not only provides clarity and direction in my business but also protects me from working on projects I'm not the right fit for.

Discovering Your Values

Figuring out what your core values are isn't quite as simple as sitting down and writing a bunch of words on a piece of paper. Instead, there's a good amount of thought and contemplation that goes into this process.

Related Article: Discovering Your "Why" as a Creative Entrepreneur

This is one of those things that should not be rushed. Set aside an hour, maybe even two, to sit down and reflect. If it helps, download my free brand story worksheet which includes a list of potential values to help inspire you.

I replicated a process from the Being Boss book by Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon and altered it based on my own personal experience.

  1. Take two minutes and read through the list of values. As you read, circle any words that resonate with you. Don't think too hard. If you second-guess yourself, skip it
  2. Once you're finished, write the circled words on a piece of paper. Make a note next to any that are similar
  3. The size of this list will vary. Review the words that are similar to each other and cross out whichever is the weaker version (i.e. I wrote down both "creativity" and "inspiration" which I considered to be similar - I crossed out "inspiration" as it didn't fit as well with me as "creativity" did)
  4. Re-read this smaller list of words and take a moment to meditate on each of them. What does each word mean to you? Do you have a strong connection to one over the other?
  5. Now it's time to narrow down this list even further. Choose 4-6 words that you believe are equal to the core of who you are.
  6. Write down these words and explain in 1-2 sentences what they mean to you and how you can incorporate them into your daily life.

Living True to These Values

Once you have your 4-6 values narrowed down, keep them in plain sight and refer to them every time you make a decision. Ask yourself, "does this decision fall within my set of values?" If not, you have your answer.

Living by your values may prove to be difficult at times. Perhaps a high-paying client comes by and is willing to offer you double your fee to work on a project. But, upon doing research, you find that they inherently violate one of your core values.

Related Article: Using the Power of Story to Stand Out

What should you do?

This decision, of course, is ultimately yours to make. It's incredibly tempting to say yes to something like that - especially as the bills are piling up - but, are you willing to sacrifice your values for it?

If you're ever facing a decision like this, remember you don't have to say yes to every opportunity and there will be more coming along. What happens if you say yes to this project and suddenly you're not free for one, two weeks later, that aligns perfectly with both your values and your financial goals?

Whatever you do, make your sanity, your values, and your happiness a priority. This is the best way to ensure you continue to enjoy what you do and find a reason to wake up and do it all over again day after day.

Determining your values is one of many steps to discovering your brand story. Download the free brand story worksheet which walks you through the process of building the base layer of your story and includes an exercise designed to help you find yours.