If you’re reading my blog, you probably value freedom pretty damn highly. Freedom from the prison of a 9-5 job, freedom to travel for more than two weeks a year, and freedom to design the life of your dreams.
But sometimes when we finally get the freedom we seek, we’re confronted with a surprising reality: we have no idea what the hell to fill all that freedom with. Freedom can leave you feeling lost, with no defined purpose or direction. And that can be a slippery slope to an existential crisis.
That’s where defining your core values comes in.
When I feel like my life is off-course and I don’t know which direction to swim, I take a step back and define my core values.
What are core values?
When I first heard the term “core values,” I thought it was bullshit corporate world talk. Don’t we all have the same values anyway: love your family, don’t lie, don’t steal, be nice to each other?
But after doing “values work,” this has become my favorite way to determine if my actions are in line with my goals.
Your core values are your top priorities based on your current goals. When you define your core values, they act as a compass to guide your behaviors. When you’re confronted with new ideas and opportunities but you’re unsure which one to pursue, just look at your values and see which idea/opportunity fits best.
Practically speaking, this saves you a ton of time and mental energy. Values streamline your decision-making, leaving you with more mental energy to execute on your ideas.
Values are action-driven. If “family” is a top value for you, then actively spend more time connecting with the people you love. If equality is a top value, find a way to join a group and advocate for that. Values represent the way you want to show up in the world based on your current goals.
Unhappiness is when your core values and your current actions conflict.
Defining your core values helps you understand why you feel unhappy or unsatisfied. When your values and actions don’t align, this causes cognitive dissonance. A common example of this is when you value “health” but you eat a ton of junk food. You know where you want to be, but you’re not acting like it.
Recognizing where your values and actions conflict is a clear pathway to changing those actions. Working with a therapist on this process can be really helpful because they’ll guide you through this without letting you plunge into self-criticism. I’ve partnered with BetterHelp, a remote therapy app that’s changed my life. Give it a try and get 10% off.
Step-by-step guide to defining your core values.
In this exercise, you’ll choose 3-5 top core values that you want to embody.
I’ve created a downloadable worksheet with an extensive list of core values and an exercise to determine your top core values. Enter your email to subscribe to my newsletter and receive a link for the free worksheet!
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Step 1: Circle the words that resonate with you the most.
Step 2: Group those words into categories.
Step 3: Select your favorite word from each category
Step 4: Use each word in a sentence: How will you act on this value?
Step 5: Test them out! Pick a decision you’ve been torn about doing/not doing and analyze it through your values landscape.
Core values in action.
Let’s put this in action with an example from my own vanlife. When I started solo vanlife, I knew I wanted to share my experience but I wasn’t sure how much to share. Sharing your vanlife is a very intimate endeavor– strangers constantly ask you personal questions like where you go to the bathroom, how you date, and if you’re scared or lonely.
I felt unsure about how much to share on social media and so I defined my core values: vulnerability, authenticity, entertainment, and adventure.
I used these values to help me decide what to share on social media. When I wanted to post something but was worried it was too embarrassing or weird, I’d run it through my values. If it hit the core values, I went for it. This helped me decide to share publicly about my vanlife breakup, a decision that inspired other single women to face their fears of solo vanlife.
Our values change over time.
After two years living on the road, I’ve come up with totally new values. My current core values are: discomfort, connection, production, and movement.
Discomfort— Growth comes from discomfort. I can do hard things and doing hard things helps me grow.
Connection— I prioritize connection even when it’s uncomfortable and easier to be alone.
Production— I will produce more content in a shorter period of time, instead of letting small projects stretch for months.
Movement– I value moving my body as much as possible. Physical movement makes me healthy and happy.
What are your core values? Let me know in the comments!