Values: the Roots of Your Transition

Every tree needs healthy roots to survive. Every family needs a sense of its history and cultural roots. And in a big transition, you are grounded in the roots of what you value most. Think back to some transition that found you traveling through dark places, uncertain of where to go or what choice to make. You were not sure about your final destination. You were pulled every which way. At some point, you felt or heard your values keeping your grounded, telling you, “This is the right action. Trust it.”

It’s almost cliché to say that your values are important. But they can save your heart, mind, and soul when you are at a crossroad. In my coaching, when clients struggle with a big change (for example, a career move, a new relationship, moving to a new town), all things being equal, your choice comes down to personal values. The more you know about your strengths and values, the more prepared you are for the choices ahead.

Values are defined as what is important to you, your priorities, the guiding principles you live by. Sydney Simon believes that values have these qualities: you choose them freely, you prize them (even in difficult circumstances), and you act upon them repeatedly (they are habits). When you are not living in sync with your values—either in work or life—you experience great conflict and a toxic environment. Your core values are your most prized values—the ones that you simply cannot give up.

Imagine that you are doing very well in your career and have been offered a leadership role in your company. You are not crazy about your work, but you do it well. However, you know that the leadership role requires extensive travel and many long weekends of work. You have a family that you love, including young children. You see a deep conflict between work with its perks and being a spouse and parent. As you delve into your values, you know that you want to enjoy your family life to the fullest. You turn down the new position. Actually, I have coached executives facing just this kind of dilemma, and I have yet to hear from a former client that he/she regrets putting family over work.

You probably have a good grasp of your values: things like love, creativity, success, beauty, competence, financial security, etc. You recognize that others may have very different values. You also see that over the years, some values may shift. Perhaps in your 20s, competence or achievement is a high value, and later in life, being authentic or serving others may come to the top of your list.

You have many ways to assess your values. First, think about what brings you the greatest joy in life. Think about how you want to spend your time and personal resources. Consider the most satisfying accomplishments in your life and the values that they represent. You will also find many “checklists” of values to get you started and assessments like the free Values in Action Inventory of Character Strengths. When moving through a transition, keep asking yourself “What matters most to me?”

Stay rooted in your values. They can nourish you like a cool drink in the desert.