Core Values Part I

Values are the most important concepts in your world. They form the basis for what you believe is good and bad, right and wrong. If your values are violated, you will have a strong emotional reaction.

For instance, if you value freedom and it is threatened or denied at your work, you will not enjoy your job – you may even respond with anger. “… it sucks work’n for the Man”.


You will seek to have your values satisfied. When your values are satisfied you will feel awesome. For instance, if you value productivity, you will feel good when you complete a useful task. So… It’s not surprising that productivity is highly valued by business people.

In business, as in life, clearly defined values are essential. A fulfilled life will have a set of optimized values that are consistently validated. Strangely, most people do not even know what their top values are and fulfillment is more accidental than purposeful. Values optimization cannot be achieved if you do not know what your values are.

Values are words. They are used to describe what is most important to you in life. Since they are profoundly important to you they are usually described simply with one word and never more than three words.

Examples of key core values are:

Integrity, family, freedom, independence, growth, health, contribution, honesty, authenticity, faith, goodness, love, respect, hope, humour, peace, honour, creativity, usefulness, courage, hope, etc.

The list of possible values is quite long and reflects the diverse cultural circumstances each of us experiences during our life journeys. A sample list of words to help spawn the optimization of your values are attached here.

Core values should be clearly defined and written down for occasional review. They should be tested against criteria to determine their relevance. Once a set of core values are firmly integrated into your identity, life gets easier. Easier, even in the face of adversity.

Core confidence radiates from a set of well-formed values. No matter how tough a situation is, you can always chunk up to your highest values and know you are still on your path towards purposeful fulfillment.

Here are some exaggerated cases to illustrate how core values can affect a person’s life. I’m presenting them knowing they are generalizations and are obviously not meant to be offensive.

Case #1.  A company professes “loyalty”, “commitment”, “dedication” and “sacrifice” at the workplace. One day it abruptly terminates a long term employee to save on costs. The employee was originally hired because they too valued loyalty, commitment, dedication and sacrifice. They did a good job while employed with the company. How would this employee react? How would the other employees react? Would the employees adopt new values? Would the employee live in denial of the betrayal?

Case #2.  An employee values “contribution”, “productivity”, “usefulness” at his core. He voluntarily retires at a normal age but without a transitional retirement plan. He has not set up retirement activities that will be fulfilling. How might he feel once the retirement parties are over? Will he need to find something meaningful to occupy his time? Should he change his values?

Case #3. On a cultural level, how might the witnessing of a mass genocide affect a community that previously had no exposure to violence or military atrocities? Previously, the community was described as “generous”, “loving” and “peaceful”. Might they adopt new values? Or react in defiance?

Values are constantly tested and may change occasionally through out our life.

Since your environment affects the development of your values, it is important to check on them to ensure they are still relevant.

Case #4.  Young people (infant to teenager), normally live a life reliant on the good guidance of their family and community. They adopt the values of the most influential people in their life, usually their parents.

Having survived their youth, they begin to experience the world as a young adult and may start to question their childhood values. Are they still relevant? This can be a difficult time for a teenager/young adult. And no less difficult for the care-givers and other adults who have to work with them. Teenagers may abandon childhood values such as fitness, health, proper diet and regular sleep patterns to test their relevance. They may reconnect with these values as they confirm their relevance.

Case #5.  A person is born in Europe just prior to the outbreak of World War One. They live through the Great Depression and WWII. This person is the founder of a business that is struggling today. How might this business founders values differ from a person born in the 1980’s? As the Twenty Something new grad enters the workforce with no exposure to war, famine or oppression, would they have a different set of values? Of course, but how would they relate to the founding values of the company?

We’re all different and that’s ok.

For this reason, we must be careful not to be too judgmental of another person’s values. However, where it is of concern is when a person is suffering from a conflict in their values.

Case #6. What of a person who does not like competition yet works as a sales person in a highly competitive environment. This person could easily have more stress than colleagues who embrace competition.

If a set of values are not well organized, inner conflicts may arise.

Case #7. A person highly ranks freedom, family, and independence as top values. Freedom and independence conflict with her other core value which is family commitment. She finds it difficult to reconnoiter a commitment to her boyfriends. By placing the values in close proximity, she is in constant conflict when it comes to commitment in relationships. A reorganization may be required. The elimination of the value is not required.

The good news: There are options.

A person can change their goals and behaviors to match their values. They can also re-order their values or change their values completely. See the related blog post on Values Elicitation.

Take the non-competitive sales person in Case #5. They can find a different line of work. Why struggle unnecessarily. Changes may involve a whole new set of goals or a different strategy. Rather than acquiring wealth by becoming a top sales person, they may become a top investor or builder or designer. Competition may be less important in these roles. Instead, a person who values collaboration and team work would thrive working in a different role.

If your goal involves acquiring wealth and prosperity but your core values do not support some monetary exchange, you may find this to be a real struggle. So simply choose to change your goals or change your values.

Values – Beliefs – opinions – Rules

These are all important and yet very different.

Values are the building blocks that represent the important things in your life. One to three words are used to describe values.

Beliefs are an expansion of values and are described in short phrases. For example a belief is:

We are all part of a cosmic whole.

A corresponding value could be: connection.

An opinion is more descriptive than a belief. It is based on beliefs and values. An opinion can be expressed as a paragraph or essay.

An example of an opinion is: Business is a good way to exchange valuable, necessary products in an efficient manner.

Some opinions are expressed as a statement. Like a mission statement or affirmation.

A rule is a condition that tests a behavior for relevance in terms of values. “What has to happen in order for you to feel good (or bad) about an experience” Anthony Robbins.

An example of a rule is: I need to work long hours in order to feel useful. The belief is effort causes self worth. The value is pain.

The classic rule which is somewhat dangerous in this conversation is:

“No Pain, No Gain”

It implies that, for there to be personal progress, pain must be experienced. It can be a problem if the goal involves huge gains and the price is huge pain. The person may choose not to achieve the goal because of this rule.

The discussion on Values is fascinating. We all have values whether we can articulate them or not. Optimizing our values is the important work that we should all undertake at some point. In my next blog post, I will describe my approach to Values Elicitation.