On values

Ever wonder why you make the choices you do? What drives your decisions and actions? Human decision-making is a complex process, but personal values play a crucial role. These guiding principles shape every aspect of our lives, but they often go unnoticed and unexplored.

In my view, our formal education system bears much of the blame. Schools focus almost entirely on academic and technical skills, leaving little room for reflection, introspection, and self-discovery. Kids are forced to choose careers before knowing what truly matters to them—a recipe for existential crises later in life. It’s not that contemplating values in early life prevents problems altogether, but learning the art of reflection would surely benefit everyone more. It would bring clarity and purpose to life and provide tools for action when one feels lost or stuck.

Personal values also influence our relationships and interactions with others. They help us communicate our needs and expectations while understanding the values of those around us. And when our lives are more aligned with our values, they serve as a source of motivation, fulfillment, and meaning.

In a society where formal education rarely emphasizes understanding values and organized religion's influence seems to be diminishing*, it's up to us as individuals to discover our personal values and separate them from societal norms and expectations. Here are a few things that have helped me gain a better understanding of my values.

  • Values clarification exercises: I’ve tried a few explicit values-finding techniques that have all been helpful. The most useful ones were Brene Brown’s values exercise and the values card sort, which I learned about in Casey Rosengren’s Mindful Values course.
  • Reflecting on past experiences: Journaling about and identifying key moments in your life can provide valuable insights into your values and priorities. Consider the choices you've made and how they've impacted your life.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment, helping you connect with your inner self and understand your values.
  • Talking with people: Open and honest conversations with friends and mentors can offer new perspectives and insights, helping you learn from their experiences and values. Working with a coach or therapist can also be illuminating.

Here are three values that are currently guiding my life decisions:

  • Adventure: embracing the unknown, seeking new experiences, and stepping out of my comfort zone
  • Authenticity: acting in a way that aligns with who I am
  • Wisdom: learning how to understand, who to be, and how to live

The common theme connecting these values is a desire for self-knowledge, personal growth, and deeper connections with the people I care about. This has led me to take a sabbatical and live nomadically—experiences that have been exciting yet nerve-wracking at the same time.

It's normal for your values to evolve over time as your circumstances and priorities change. That's totally okay. Realizing your life doesn't align with what you value can also be frustrating and challenging. Change is hard. But in my experience, purposeful change is worth it. And it’s always better than living life without intention.


*In my view, this is for the better. It’s a topic for another time but here’s the short version: I believe, with my very limited perspective, that we can replace one-size-fits-all religions with more personalized secular practices.