The personal value of personal values

This is a companion post to Belinda’s insights around personal goals, but in writing it I unfortunately have to out myself.  I’ve never been as courageous as I should have been.  Which is a slightly more palatable way of saying “I’ve been a bit of a coward” but I guess it means the same thing.

There have been some crucial stages in my life where if I had found a bit more courage, I would have made decisions with less hurtful consequences for many people, including me.

But at least I know that now. Among the many downsides of treating my life for so long as a continual self-improvement process has been the upside of finding, and articulating, my personal values.

The personal values thing started out as a sideline to a corporate initiative we were taking to re-construct a foundering business as a “values-based organisation”, a place with people at its core.  Part of the process was an exercise to identify your own values – if they didn’t align with the corporate values then maybe you should be self-selecting out of the company.

The personal values thing came at a time when I was feeling a bit rock-bottom about work.  It helped me get a new focus, and some necessary self-awareness.

The values that the exercise uncovered for me were: honesty, courage and kindness.  They were attitudes with which I didn’t always respond to life’s big, and little, moments.  It was more in the failure than the success that those values stood out.

The way personal values panned out for me, consequently, is that they were probably more aspirational than descriptive.  They stand as something for me to test what I am about to do or say, to see if it lines up with the aspiration.  I can’t say that I always meet the standard, but I can feel like I have a choice, at least, to respond in a positive way rather than a self-destructive or self-sabotaging way.

Over the next few years after this discovery of values, I found that the most jaw-dropping question I could ask a candidate in a job interview was, “so, what would you say are your personal values?”  The 4 or 5 times I deployed that question, I never got a coherent answer, and always got back a look formed around an O-shaped mouth.

Maybe it was an unfair question.  But you’d think someone seeking a senior legal job would at least be able to fluff out something like “integrity”, though it never came unprompted.

I suppose the concept of personal values just hasn’t been a visible part of our recent culture.  But I reckon when there is so little credible guidance from anyone in authority on moral standards, and when governments and churches and even charities often seem compromised by their behaviour in the models they set us, the ability to know what you personally stand for has got to be an advantage.

david white

  1. What a great post. Thank you.

  1. August 25th, 2013
    Trackback from : Me and Hulk Hogan | Being 60

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