It seems straightforward enough, but when you sit down to try and identify your values, you are really mapping your soul. You are listening to your deep yearnings, and defining the things that are important to you. You are addressing the mystery of who you are. And that’s crucial both for your life satisfaction and for finding your purpose.
Even fifty years ago, this would have seemed like a luxury. But as developed societies get richer, we have more time to think about things other than just finding food, and clothing ourselves, and surviving from day to day. A shared moral purpose is evolving, around intensely worthwhile things like a desire for justice and fairness. Or a desire to save the planet from environmental collapse and extinction.
But with affluence and freedom comes complexity. We have too many choices. We don’t know which avenue to follow, or which cause to espouse. Which is where values come in. Understanding and knowing your values is a significant first step, taking you onto the path you want to tread.
There are five simple steps to mapping your values:
Be honest with yourself. The question is not “does this appeal to me” or “would this make me feel good about myself” or “shouldn’t I be doing something about this?” The question is: “does this matter so deeply to me that I am already living by it, or prepared to live by it?”
Don’t worry about dropping values from your list, if they are really only ideals. If you think that Physical Exercise is important, but you don’t actually exercise or want to exercise, then that’s an ideal, not a value. It shouldn’t be on your list. And that’s fine. There are no right or wrong values. You are prioritising what is genuinely, deep down, important to you.
Either print out the list and circle the values that resonate with you, or jot down the values you select from the list on screen.
Next, score each value out of 100, according to BOTH how important the value is to you AND how you feel how well your living that value. For example, if one of your values is Honesty, but you are keeping secrets from a loved one, or working in a dishonest industry, you should reduce the overall score. What you are looking for in each case is a value that is of gut importance – one that will direct your life. If you find you the value is of such importance to you that your current failure to live it (as in the case of Honesty above) is eating away at your soul, increase the score. But clearly understand that that value will RE-direct your life.
Now that you’ve chosen and scored your list of values, write down a sentence or two about each one, to describe what it means to you. (Freedom, for example, means very different things to different people. This will help you to build up a much clearer picture of who you are, and what you stand for.
This may well take time. It is not a quick process to explore and evaluate feelings and values that have either lain dormant or been suppressed over a period of possibly years.
The last step in this part of building your Values Map is to decide on the short list of the ten values that will shape your life. And then to rank them in order of importance to you, according to the scores you have arrived at for them.
No more than ten. There may be values beyond that number that are significant but for the sake of clarity you need to edit the list down to ten at the most.
You can now start to create your Values Map. For some reason it seems to work best with coloured pens and paper, rather than using your computer – though you are welcome to try using computer graphics. Just as many authors begin the creative process of composition using pen and paper, before moving onto a wordprocessor once the concept or framework has been cracked, so the Values Map seems to benefit from using traditional tools of creativity.
Get a piece of A4 paper (you can later transfer it to a smaller A5 card, which is easier to pin up or carry around with you) and place it in a portrait, rather than a landscape, position in front of you.
You are about to create a graphic depiction of your values in order of importance to you. It is vital that the most important should be at the top of the page (see the illustration), and that the top two or three values should be slightly separated from the rest, so your life priorities are clear.
You can be as imaginative as you like with the picture you create – the more colourful, engaging and personal the better – but do try to ensure that the design has a sense of upward momentum, and your most important values are leading it.
Your Values Map will become a working document, which you will refer to regularly. So make it as attractive and welcoming as you can. It’s good, if you have important values you have had to leave off because your current situation means you are some way from living them, to have some space to include them to build for later. Put them in a bright colour, and aim to be able to increase their size each time you revisit the Map.
Your Values Map can become a key document in your life. It reminds you of both who you are now, and who you are committed to being in the future.
But it isn’t the whole story. You still need to go through the stages of writing the Obituaries and the Letter to get closer to finding your purpose – your true North in life. There is more on these in the book, but all these elements combine together to help you live an on-purpose life and to find the satisfaction and fulfilment of knowing you are making a difference.
Here is an outline of these two key steps in nailing your purpose:
WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY
Apologies for the rather gloomy suggestion. But imagine that you pass away later today. Your task is to write three obituaries about yourself:
1. The first is from the perspective of a colleague, or someone you see on a regular basis.
2. The second is from the perspective of a spouse, partner, or close friend
3. The third is from the perspective of a child who knows you (real or imagined)
These are obituaries, so they will be complimentary. They”ll cover the positive aspects of your life: achievements, interests, good stories and so on.
But they’ll also the fact that you passed away before your time, before your talents were fully realised. That is deliberate.
The point of the exercise is give you a jolt, a stimulus to re-assess your priorities. It will help you answer questions like:
Has your life so far been “on purpose”?
What sort of legacy do you leave? Can you see clear meaning in your life so far?
It does take some application to sit down and write the obituaries, but you’ll be surprised what it reveals – especially the new dimension of writing it from the perspective of someone else.
WRITE A LETTER FROM THE FUTURE
This is a much more cheerful exercise.
Imagine that you are 75 (or, if you’re there or thereabouts, imagine yourself in ten years’ time).
And imagine that a young relative, who shares your values but lacks your experience, asks you for your advice. Write a letter, being honest about your achievements, and say what you feel about them.
Explain why you did what you did, and why it was important to you.
Put in both what’s happened so far, and what you imagine will happen to you by age 75.
What has made you feel most fulfilled?
What advice do you have to pass on?
Again, it takes a little effort, but you’ll find filling in the next few years in your life really focuses you mind on what you intend to achieve. Just as important, it makes you sort out what your priorities should be to make sure you have a good chance of living a meaningful life.
Check the book for examples of the obituaries and the letter from the future lived through the characters Lee and Helen.