Oooooooh! I love values.

Let’s catch up real quick and talk about what values are not: They are not cars, phones, wallets, or anything else you’d put in a hotel safe. Those are valuables. And while valuables tend to have high financial worth, the beautiful truth about values are that they are simultaneously free of charge and worth the whole world.

Think about your worst memory to date. This is probably a story you’ve angrily told someone, recounting every small detail about why this experience was so scarring for you. In passion, you can identify all the things that made you angry–but have you thought about why it made you angry?

Pause for a sec. Now think about your best memory to date. This, too, is probably a story you’ve happily told someone, recounting every small detail about why this experience made your life so much better. In passion, you can identify all the things that made you happy–but have you thought about why it made you happy?

Merge these two stories into one. More likely than not, the reasons you were sad in story one are the same reasons you were happy in story two. The common thread between these experiences is values. In your worst memory, your values were violated or you lived incongruently with them. In your best memory, your values were a beautiful orchestra, lived out in concert with one another to create bliss.

For example, my bliss is at my grandma’s house in western Pennsylvania. My grandma popped out fourteen kids, many of whom had kids of their own, and some of my happiest memories in this lifetime involve sitting on my grandma’s porch in a swarm of family members, all of us drinking soda cans (but you better believe it’s pop up there), cackling about something that happened or telling stories that make us keel over in laughing pain.

On the other end, my living hell sitting in a stuffy hotel conference room with people wearing black suits, pouring ice water into glasses with the hotel’s logo etched into them, as someone standing at a podium in the front of the room reads a Powerpoint slide to us, and we clap politely. I would seriously take an enema over that.

But why? The humor and authenticity among the people guzzling soda is nowhere to be found in the manufactured environment of suits and ties. The community of people intrinsically motivated to be with one another will always trump a stale group of strangers who are there “because they’re supposed to be.” The freedom to be outside, move around happily, and be myself at my grandma’s exists nowhere in a room with social expectations and stifling professionalism. My family’s stories echo truth; insincere golf claps echo phoniness. (Hint: the italicized words are my core values.)

We feel icky when we knowingly abandon our values, especially when we make choices that are incongruent with what we know and believe to be important to us. When I’m really struggling on a decision, I run through my list of core values, and usually the answer presents itself. After focusing intently on these values, it’s fascinating to see how easily we live them without thinking about them. Similarly, if someone is living congruently with their values, we can usually identify what other people are about based on action alone.

Want to get started on identifying values? Visit http://www.values.com/teaching-values and scroll through your list. Pick 4-5 that resonate with you the most and see if they match up with the storytelling exercise I modeled earlier. You’ll be surprised at this unlocking of truth!

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