Justin Selig

Discovering Core Values

An exercise in self-reflection.

Your Core Values:

I recently talked about defining your core values as a technique for practicing one of the Seven Types of Interviews. This was a practice I went through in my undergraduate engineering program while taking several leadership courses, and it’s helped me ever since in various sectors of my life. As such, I credit the inspiration for this material to my professors who initially guided me through this exercise.

While I justify the discovery of your core values under the backdrop of interviewing, this practice really serves a much greater purpose. Understanding your core values is a major step towards understanding yourself. The more you understand yourself, the more authentic you can be with the people around you.

First, two definitions:

Core Values: Guiding principles held which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. A list of such values can be found here.
Your Best-Self: The person you want to be. This necessarily assumes contextually positive traits that have a beneficial impact on both yourself and others.

The Reflected Best-Self Exercise:

After writing this post, I came across a youtube video which calls upon the viewer to identify if they want a job, a career, or a calling. Upon reflection, the ideas presented in this video seem to reflect the intent of this post with a greater focus on career development. I’d encourage you to watch this video if you’re interested in career-specific advice.

Step one: self-reflection

To begin the Reflected Best Self exercise, think about situations, scenarios, and memories that, when looking back, you think of being your ideal self. The person you were at that point is the person you wish you could always be. Since the goal of this exercise is to understand your impact on others, it is beneficial to think of times where you were interacting with other people.

It is important to think about the state of mind you were in and the emotions you felt in these situations. Come up with five of these memories and jot them down. Then, using these memories, write down your best-self statement. This is a description of the person you believe to be your golden model. This might be rephrased as a personal definition of happiness at work if you believe happiness at work to be an important factor in reaching your best self. You might begin such a statement with the phrase “I feel at my best when…” As an example, my statement with a career focus is the following:

“I feel at my best when I am being pushed outside my comfort zone. When I am pushing others to do great work. I am explaining complex ideas and using my creativity to help others reach their potential. I am inspiring others with a vision and am working with them to achieve that vision.”

Step two: reaching out

While you might have identified scenarios where you thought you were at your best, this may differ from the perception of others. One of your goals in completing this exercise should be to find the intersection between your best-self narrative and the reality of how you expose your best self. Your goal should be to understand the intersection of your internal and external perceptions. This is a common principle in leadership development. Having an impact on others means knowing how your words and actions are received. One of my favorite venn diagrams illustrates this concept. It summarizes the idea that you should find a career path which is not only personally desirable, but it valuable to the rest of the world. It is the sweet-spot at the intersection of your strengths/values, your skills, and the needs of your community:

career venn diagram

It follows that in this step, we should look for external perceptions by eliciting feedback from others. To do this, email a set of around 10 friends, colleagues, or family members that you spent time around asking for feedback. Here’s a template you can use:

As part of my personal development, I am following a program which requires me to construct a profile of the ways that I add value and make a contribution. I have been asked to contact ten people who know me well. I am to request that each person provides me with three stories of when I was at my best. I would like to invite you to help me with this exercise.

I appreciate your taking the time to do this for me. This will require you to think about your interactions with me and to identify those incidents/behaviors when I was at my very best in your eyes. In writing, please be sure to provide examples so I can understand the situation and the characteristics you are describing. I have included an example of what these stories could look like. Please use this only as a guide.

Your feedback to me:
Please provide me with three examples of how I add value by completing the following statements:
One of the ways that you add value and make important contributions is:

For example, I think of the time that:

Step three: gathering feedback

A good feedback statement received might look like the following:

“One of the ways that you add value and make important contributions is:
The capacity to persist in the face of adversity.
For example, I think of the time that:
We were past our deadline on a major report. Frank quit and we were left short-handed. Instead of getting discouraged, you became more focused than I have ever seen anyone get. I think you were 48 hours without sleep. I was amazed that you could produce such a quality project under those circumstances.”

Once you gather a sufficient amount of feedback, it’s time to boil down and synthesize these statements into a comparable set of values. Feedback may reinforce your existing beliefs or challenge assumptions you had made in the previous steps. This feedback may not be what you want to hear, but in either case, you cannot ignore it.

Step four: Select your Values

Browse the following list of common values for value words that resonate with your personal reflection and feedback. You might find that you care about many of these values. However, at most five of these should really make sense if you completed the following sections appropriately.

Congratulations, you now have five core-values!


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