Recently as part of a coaching program I have been focusing my clients on values. After taking a quick values assessment, clients consider how those values that are most important to them have shaped their lives, their choices, and their beliefs. As part of the process they write a brief “Who Am I” story that illustrates a time in their lives when a key value was illuminated, taught to them, stepped on, or not fully honored. We all have many of these “Who Am I” stories to tell – many moments, be they big or small, work-related or personal, funny or touching, where our values come front and center to remind us of who we are and what is important to us.

In writing a few of my “Who Am I” stories, I remembered the Thanksgiving more than 20 years ago when I defied the wishes of my mother and spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I was traveling by car to New Hampshire with my boyfriend and a sudden snowstorm reduced our drive to a slow crawl. Even as slow as we were driving, we still managed to slide into the car ahead causing a fender bender and giving me whiplash and a splitting headache. When we finally arrived to our destination, I learned that we were having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, shattering my visions of the bustling, relaxed, and warm family gathering to which I was accustomed. To make matters worse, it was the first time that my boyfriend’s family was meeting the family of his sister-in-law and, let’s just say, they did not hit it off. You could hear the ice melting in the water glasses around that quiet table.

That holiday, which I now refer to as my Murphy’s Law Thanksgiving, taught me that Family and Tradition are two values that I need and want to put first in my life. But it took that defining moment to help me to see that something I had come to take for granted was essential for me to be happy and whole.

In addition to the Thanksgiving story, I also remembered the horrible boss who raised Autonomy up the value ranks for me because of her repressive micro-managing, the dear friend who helped me to recognize the importance of Loyalty and Fellowship in my life, and the childhood friend whose shoplifting at the age of 11 taught me the importance of Honesty.

Many organizations spend considerable time and money exploring, defining, and communicating their organizational values as part of strategic planning. They survey employees, clients, and other stakeholders to identify those elements of the organization that are most important and dear to its success. And then they weave those values into the way they work and hold leadership and staff accountable for upholding them. The most successful organizations do that brilliantly. Many others expend all that effort, and yet have values that are little more than words on posters.

The same can be said of each of us individually. Many of us don’t even think about our values, some of us define their values but never take the step to build their work and their lives around what is truly important to them, and a few of us brilliantly define what is most important to us and then weave those values into everything we do and every way we engage with others. I think knowing and aligning with our values is an opportunity to enrich our lives in many ways.

How connected are you to your personal values? How have they defined you and guided you through your life and career? I invite you to access our Values assessment here in order to reflect on the things that are most important to you. And when you have completed it, we would love to hear your comments on what you learned about yourself. Enjoy!

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