For too long, you’ve been hiding behind the shield of your business, unwilling to let yourself be seen as a human being.
You’ve looked to others for advice on what decisions to make.
You’ve realized that in trying to comply with other people’s expectations, you may have created just another job for yourself. That the passion that pulled you into doing this in the first place has disappeared, and you’re left with a dry shell of your big, vibrant dream.
What went wrong?
First of all, nothing is really “wrong”. This is a part of the path, and it would be a miracle if you never experienced this. Trying things out, not being too happy about the results and course-correcting are all normal.
I went through the same ordeal in my own life and business more than a few times, and those experiences are what helped me identify the 5 key conditions for doing fulfilling, creative work:
I definitely recommend looking into all of them eventually, but it can be overwhelming to do it all at once – so today I want to talk about one of them.
Your core values
If you’re not aware of your personal core values, it’s easy to wander off the path that leads to your personal and professional fulfillment. If we don’t know what we want in life, there’s little chance we’ll get it.
Your core values are a compass that guides you throughout your life, and they’ve been lurking in the background of all the decisions you’ve been making, no matter how big or small. When you’re not paying attention to your inner compass, you get lost and end up in the situation I described at the very beginning.
Confused. Resentful. Burnt out. Afraid.
This is one of those things that nobody else can teach you, because your personal core values are unique to you. Each of us values different things, and this is the main reason why we have different definitions of success, different desires, and make different choices. Because of this, our world is such a diverse, interesting place. If we all valued the same things, we wouldn’t have nearly as much variety.
Others can help you uncover your values (and I’ll try to do that in this post), but what you do with this information is totally up to you. I’d recommend that you use this, because values are way more important than most books and courses give them credit for.
Your core values are at the foundation of everything you do – including your business
Each of us has a number of values, and as we grow and change we identify new things to value, and let go of other things we stop valuing because they lose meaning for us. But at your core are values that are pretty much permanent, and as much a part of your identity as your fingerprint – your core values.
Your core values are high level concepts – like love, community, freedom, creativity, joy – that affect everything about you: how you see the world, how you interact with other people, your interests and quirks, your dreams and aspirations, down to the very mundane things: the way you talk, walk, dress yourself, the kinds of foods you enjoy eating...
I know, this sounds hard to believe. How can a few words influence everything that you are? How can your personality be distilled down to a few concepts?
I know it’s a stretch of the imagination, but we don’t have to go very far out to see examples of how “simple” building blocks build the most complex organisms on Earth. The DNA is built from 4 different elements or “nucleobases”. Physically speaking, each of us, from a human to a fruit fly, can be boiled down to lines of code that describe our genome.
I’m not saying the process of turning DNA into a grown human is simple – what I’m saying is, that at the core, we’re made from the same “stuff”, whether it’s physical and can be viewed under a microscope, or more etheric and can only be identified through self-observance.
There are many people who share your core values. They’re not your clones, but when you meet them you “click” immediately and form the kind of friendship that only comes from knowing the other person deeply – because in a way, you do. In fact, people who share your values are the ideal candidates to be your clients and team members.
Then there are people who don’t share any of your core values, and you quickly realize that when you talk to them, you’d really prefer if you didn’t have to talk to them ever again.
When you start thinking about core values consciously, you can’t miss them. They’re everywhere.
You can’t change your core values – they are what they are.
Owning your values is challenging, especially if other people consider them irrelevant, and that’s part of this difficult work that we do – being ourselves in the world that may not always appreciate our uniqueness.
It’s not easy to live according to your values, but that’s the only way you’ll ever be truly happy.
It’s not easy to do business according to your values, but that’s the only way you’ll ever achieve true success.
The very desire to form your business stems from your core values. Your inability to live according to your values while being an employee is what pushed you to gather the courage and go out on your own. Your values are what was nagging you during the years when you were still thinking about whether or not to make the jump.
Your business is the brainchild of your core values. Or at least, it’s supposed to be.
If you haven’t been paying attention to your values, you may have made some decisions that were influenced by other people. Because of decisions like this, your business evolved into a tangle of conflicting values – your own, and those belonging to everyone else who had a say in your decisions, whether that’s your clients, your coach, online gurus, friends or family.
If your business is built on conflicting values, you may be doing the type of work you don’t enjoy, or you’re following a marketing strategy that’s exhausting and feels sleazy. (Want to know what my core value of freedom has to do with not having pop-ups on my website? Read here.)
Maybe you have a hard time deciding what you should focus on building next. Conflicting values pull us in different directions, and because of that, we can barely move.
The first step to fixing that is to identify which of those values are actually yours, and which ones you picked up from others, and are ready to let go of.
How to find your core values
The easiest way to identify your values is to examine your interests, motivations, past decisions, passions and pains, and find out what all of them have in common.
I recommend getting a journal or a piece of paper to answer the questions below. There’s a lot of questions, and some of them may speak to you more than others. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, just write whatever comes to mind.
- What do you most enjoy doing? (Both in your business and personal life.)
- What inspires you to do those things? What are you getting out of them? In other words, why are you doing it?
- What made you start your business or creative project in the first place? Think of this like a superhero origin story – what have you come to realize, or what happened in your life that made you take a new turn?
- What do you stand for? What is most important to you?
- What do you geek out about? (It can be related to your field of work, or completely random.)
- What annoys you in your professional world?
- If you had all the money you needed, how would you transform your business? Would you do the same things you do now, would you quit and do something else, or would you change some aspects of your business?
- What do you want to achieve through your business – for yourself and for your clients?
- Go back through your previous answers and see which words and phrases you keep repeating, and which values may be at the core of your answers. Write down what stands out for you.
- Distill the above answer down to 3-5 values that are the most important for you. Try out different synonyms for each one until you find a word that just vibrates with life and meaning for you.
To help you with verbalizing your values, you can use this free printable list of core values PDF (just right-click and choose “Save as...”).
Look over your answers, and underline the words on the list that stand out for you. If you underline too many, eliminate those that feel “weaker” and focus on those you feel strongly about.
For an example of my own values, scroll down my About page where I listed my top core values, and how I demonstrate each value in my business. For example, for my top value I've written:
I craft original content with love and care that expresses my unique point of view, and I also encourage others to express themselves creatively. Our creations have intrinsic worth, regardless of whether people consider them “useful” or “needed”.
Craft an authentic brand based on your core values
My book The Human Centered Brand helps you identify your core values, discover the unique value you offer to your clients, find your brand voice, determine who your ideal clients are, and design a visual brand that clearly communicates your message. Learn more about the book, and download the free bonus resources so you can get started today.
Next step: gather the courage to live true to your values
I won’t claim that this is easy. Living true to your values is profoundly subversive. It’s not what normal people do.
People tend to accept the values of the majority because they want to fit in. They don’t like standing out and attracting attention. They just want to live their comfortable lives, and not cause too much trouble.
If you’re still reading this, it’s pretty clear you’re not that kind of person. (People in the previous paragraph don’t like the things I say, and call me an idealist and a dreamer like it’s a bad thing.)
You may not consider yourself an idealist or a dreamer, but here you are, doing your thing.
You’re dangerously close to living according to your values, or maybe you’re already doing it. Maybe you swing back and forth between living true to your values, and hiding behind other people’s values every time someone knocks you down.
You’re not better or worse than anyone else because of this. Living true to your values is a gray area, not a clear destination you can easily reach. It can take a lifetime to learn how to live in 100% truth and alignment with our core. It’s not a game you’re supposed to “win” – it’s a practice.
But you can still take the next step.
You can look at the answers you wrote and paint a picture of a future you want to have. You can write your values on post-its and put them on your mirror, so you can ask yourself every single morning when you get up, “How can I live according to my values today?”
You can start making small decisions. Like what to eat and where, which style and color of clothing to wear, which books to buy... And later, you’ll be ready for bigger decisions.
- Which services or products to offer?
- How to market your work?
- Which business consultant to hire?
- Which conferences and events to go to?
- Where to publish your work?
- Which colors and fonts to choose for your website?
All these, and many others, depend on your values.
Nobody expects you to make a 180° turn in one day, and it would be a stressful thing to do. But one small decision each day, and soon enough you’ll be back on the path.