Understanding my core values has helped me live a more intentional, mindful, and fulfilling life. It has also made it tremendously easier for the people around me to know how to best love and support me. I believe that everyone here on Earth is on their own journey towards personal growth and development, but what that looks like is extremely different for each individual. My core values have helped me differentiate what makes me unique and simultaneously connected me to individuals and opportunities that are in alignment with my most authentic self.
What are personal values?
Core values are fundamental principles that express the priorities and motivations of people and organizations. They’re a self-selected list of words that communicate who we are and what we stand for in life. For example, I define my core values as being love, integrity, growth, and empathy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of potential values we can hold.
Our self-identified list of values may change over the course of our life as we learn more about ourselves and what we want our life mission to be. We may find ourselves reaching for different words depending on where we’re at in life or the specific experiences we’re facing.
Gaining clarity on personal values helps you create goals that feel personally meaningful. We can be good at anything, but not everything all at once. Values help give your life a sense of direction. These values become a roadmap for present and future actions. Your values are your own, they’re part of what makes you unique, and no one else can determine them for you.
Relationships & values
Interpersonal relationships (the relationships you have with other people) serve as a mirror to reflects the relationship you have with yourself. Although your values are uniquely your own, the relationships you have with others can help you identify what your values are and how they show up (or aren’t showing up) in your current life.
Many psychologists believe that everything you see in someone else is a reflection of a quality that you possess, too. We simply cannot see qualities in others that we do not hold ourselves. Otherwise, these attributes would go unnoticed. Think of it this way: you cannot imagine a color in your head that you haven’t seen before. The way we respond to certain situations is often a better reflection of previous experiences rather than a direct reflection of what is happening in the present moment.
Miranda Gonzales (Randa), co-host of the podcast Let’s Chat About It, shares her insights on faith, relationships, and living a confident and intentional life. Randa identifies her core values as being “kindness, empathy, and truth,” But learning about her core values has been “a long and hard process.” While kindness is something that has always come naturally to Randa, she shares that empathy and truthfulness were qualities she had to spend more time cultivating. “My husband has helped me a lot,” she says. “He has pushed me to be a better person and challenged me in ways no one else has.”
Communicating our personal values to romantic partners is especially important, as they often know us to a depth and intensity that no one else does. Healthy relationships have a combination of both individually held and mutually shared values between partners. Similar to how we can be good at anything, but not everything, we are not meant for everyone and not everyone is meant for us.
The right relationships will bring synergy or mutually benefit both parties in some way. Someone can be a great individual whom we love and respect, but still not the right person for us to be in a relationship with due to conflicts in personal values.
Randa strives to keep her values as the “center of everything” in life. From the content she shares on social media to the relationship she has with her husband, it’s evident that Randa has dedicated a tremendous amount of energy to personal development and the growth of everyone around her.
Your values & you
Unfortunately, many young people catch themselves comparing themselves to others, leading to unhealthy levels of competition and even resentment. When you have a solid understanding of what your core values are, and thus what makes you unique, you mitigate these problems. Given our innate worthiness as human beings, our true identity lies in how we choose to show up in this world. No one else can do that for you, and no one else has the authority to dictate what that should look like.
When we choose to live a values-based lifestyle, our goals stem from who we are as unique individuals and the women we choose to become. Every day is another chance to more authentically live out our values — not the values of the person next to us.
Knowing our personal values helps in all avenues of life, from selecting romantic partners to fostering supportive friendships, to creating aligned financial budgets, and making meaningful career choices.
Where your values will take you
I have an ongoing personal mission statement that I revise every few months. This mission statement helps me process my life and reflect on the direction I’m going. It helps me set goals that are in alignment with who I know I am and the woman I am choosing to become.
Every morning, I start my day by writing three intentions for the day (or as I call them, my “three ways to make today 1 percent better).” My intentions are often a direct reflection of my core values, and more specifically the one(s) I feel less aligned to my present actions. When I catch myself feeling guilty or ashamed, it is often an indication that my thoughts, actions, and/or behaviors aren’t in alignment with my values. It has nothing to do with me being a “bad person.”
It’s much easier to practice self-compassion when we know that there is nothing inherently wrong with us, but rather that our “yucky” feelings stem from specific behaviors that we are completely capable of changing. From there, we can change our behaviors and again begin to show up more authentically in the world.
The process of identifying your core values
There are multiple ways to go about determining your core values. Chances are, it will take time to refine and define which words best resonate with you. I’ve been practicing a values-based lifestyle for several years now, and I still learn more about myself and my values on a daily basis.
I have a set of index cards with different values listed on each one. Once every three months, I sit down with these cards and sort them into three piles: things that matter most, things that matter somewhat, and things that matter the least. I then go back to the pile of things that matter most to me, and from there, select my top three to five. I write about what those specific words mean to me at that time and how I can apply them to my current life and future goals.
I keep my list of core values on the front page of my planner and my journal. Occasionally, I put sticky notes with these words around my apartment to remind me of them as I go about my daily life.
If this is your first time selecting core values, you’ll probably want to say everything matters a lot. After all, who doesn’t value health, friendship, and kindness? You might even feel guilty for not selecting some of them. For example, I remember feeling horrible for not selecting “family” as one of my top values the first time I did this.
The important thing to remember is that there are no “right” or “wrong” values. There is only what sounds true and authentic to you. No value you choose will make you a “good” person and no value you neglect to choose will never make you “bad,” either.
Hint: there are often ways to incorporate many values into one single word. For example, one of my core values is integrity. I see this word as being an intersection of many other words including responsibility, commitment, and authenticity.
How knowing your values helps you
Marissa Paige is a photographer, blogger, and digital marketer based in Sarasota, Florida who documents her personal growth over her website and Instagram. “Knowing personal values is an important foundation in knowing yourself and raising self-awareness,” Marissa says. “Understanding my values has helped me make lifestyle changes that are helping me become the highest version of myself.” Marissa identifies her core values as being learning, health, integrity, and mindfulness.
After years of struggling with severe anxiety, Marissa found mindfulness to support her in living a healthier life. “Every day I wake up with the intention to have a meaningful day,” she says. “I try to see every day as an opportunity to challenge and push myself.”
“We all have lots to be grateful for, but we often get caught up in all the things that are wrong with our lives,” Paige says. “By shifting my focus towards gratitude, listening to the messages my body is sending me, and by setting and managing my personal goals (both big & small), I’m paving a path to serve both myself and the rest of the world.”
Not only does understanding and living out our values give our lives meaning, but doing so also allows us to create an impact on the external world. It’s extremely fulfilling when our identity, career, relationships, and all avenues of life are in alignment with what matters most to us. Not only does it become easier to more fully show up in the world, but it inspires those around us to more fully show up as themselves, as well.
“This lifestyle is most importantly about creating meaning in life, Marissa says. “Many people will try to convince you that there is a ‘right’ way to do life. I believe that the right to do life is to give your life its own meaning … No matter what, meaning starts from within.”
I am extremely grateful to have been introduced to the concept of values-based living at an early age. Knowing my personal values has helped me be more confident in owning my individual identity and given me guidance for the decisions I make in my everyday life. Ultimately, I am in charge of creating a life worth living, and no one else has the power to take that away from me.