At the end of July last year, as my fixed-term contract drew to a close, I made a bold decision to leap off the hamster wheel of working life and take some time out to reassess the direction that my career was heading in. I wanted to see if I could finally find some answers to those tricky questions that many of us grapple with:
- What job is most suitable for me?
- What role/s would be most fulfilling?
- Why is work important to me (beyond providing financial stability)? What kind of purpose do I want to serve?
Early in my career I had gone from job to job not really giving these questions much thought (just being grateful for a monthly wage that paid the bills!) However, I found that I did keep gravitating back to them. Trawling through copious amounts of paperwork and exercises that I had kept from various career development workshops I wondered why I had I walked away from these sessions and not really accomplished the level of clarity that I had set out to achieve? I concluded that I probably did not have any tangible goals for attending the workshops in the first place and did not create any firm plan for taking what I had learned about myself forward. I promised myself that this time I would do the ground work again and then form an action plan that would enable me to achieve my career goals.
Since most of the careers workshops that I had attended began with determining what your values are I decided that this was probably a good place to start! Put simply, values are the aspects of life that are most important to you (such as creativity, intellectual stimulation, autonomy, altruism etc.) If a situation has made you feel uncomfortable or angry then you can bet that, after getting to the root of the problem, it is because it has clashed with one of your values. Equally, happy moments and situations are so because they are usually in keeping with your values. So, knowing your values (and reviewing them from time to time) will enable you to identify the roles and working environments that are likely to make you feel more fulfilled and ultimately will enable you to make choices in life that are right for you.
I felt that now was the time to find a role that aligned with my core values, that reflected who I really was and what I aspired to be. Some of the exercises that I found helpful are described in the sections below. These activities can aid your decision making and allow you to spot opportunities that will bring you fulfilment (or closer to it).
You can also download this worksheet which outlines just 4 steps that you can take to discover your own values.
There are many ‘tick box’ exercises that contain lists of values available on the internet that ask you to sort the values listed according to whether they are important to you or not (just search for ‘list of values’ and you will see that there are loads to choose from). As the words/phrases used on these lists are very open to interpretation, the main issue I had was trying to fathom what the author’s intended meaning was (but you can always think about what the terms mean to you and go from there!) Nevertheless, the lists did help me to gain a general idea of what my values were and, as I have completed several over the years, I could compare all the lists I had made to see which values came up the most. For me these were:
Work/life Balance │ Commitment │ Expertise │ Helping others │ Independence │ Loyalty │ Personal development │ Respect │ Variety
The difficult part was deciding which values were of most importance to me. Some exercises for prioritising values that I had completed in workshops involved comparing values and considering which of them you would rather have in your life (if you only had a choice between one or two) or to imagine that you had a certain budget to spend on your values and to think about how much money you would assign to each value.
Identifying the values at play in different situations
I wanted to dig a little deeper and consider whether the values I had listed were evident in the more positive and enjoyable experiences I have had during my life. To do this I thought about specific times when I was at my happiest (both inside and outside of work) and then reflected on why these times were so poignant for me. I picked out the different aspects of the situation that contributed to my happiness and was then able to clearly identify the values that were inherent in each of the situations.
I first came across the concept of ‘valued directions’ in a self-help book called Overcoming Health Anxiety (2009, p.61-68) by Rob Willson and David Veale. This exercise is about stating your values and how you want to live your life. Taking each of the areas listed in the book (namely relationships, career, education, leisure time, mental/physical health), I answered the following types of questions for each area:
- What is important to me in this area of my life?
- What do I want to be doing? How do I want to behave?
- How do I want others to perceive me?
I was then able to come up with a short paragraph detailing my valued directions. For example, this is what I had written down for my career:
I want to be autonomous, trusted, respected and rewarded appropriately for the work and effort I put into my job. I will be a conscientious, committed, highly regarded, and loyal employee. I want a job that I am passionate about, that has purpose and serves the greater good. I want to reach my full potential.
Once you know what values you want to live by and, broadly speaking, how you want to behave in each area of you life you can then start narrowing down to the specifics and take the necessary actions to begin living according to your values.
Keeping on Track
It’s very easy to put such exercises to one side and forget about them so I decided to set myself some reminders to look at my valued directions and reflect on how I am living according to them. I’ve written them in my journal, put them in the notes section on my phone and scheduled in time in my calendar to review them. Simply reading through them from time to time has proved to be a great motivator, prompting me to think about what is important to me and why I am pursuing the goals I had set myself.
From the above exercises I got a clearer picture of what I stand for and what makes me happy. Importantly, I could also see the things that were not a priority for me and that I would not be looking for in my career as well as the type of roles or work environments that would not be suitable for me.
I used the information to create a mind map of my ideal job which I will share in a separate post as it was helpful to refer back to when I was setting up job searches and checking if any of the advertised roles were really suitable for me (recruitment is a two way process after all!)
Of course, there may be obstacles that you need to find a way to overcome and other priorities or responsibilities that you have to consider first when you are job searching or reassessing your career. If your particular situation means that you are not yet in a position to change jobs then see if your values can be met elsewhere (if they are not already present in your current role) through hobbies, voluntary activities or engaging in opportunities within your company that are outside of your usual remit.