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Are Other People Trying to Force Their Values on You?

We’ve all met authentic people who were living their values. Most of them weren’t celebrities. They were ordinary people, like the car valet who loves cars and treats yours as if it were his own; the waitress who is genuinely friendly, loves serving good food, and does everything she can to help you enjoy a peak dining experience; and the teacher who extends her working day without pay and covers the cost of field trips for kids whose families can’t afford them.

What do they all have in common? They are experiencing the joy of thriving by living their values, and they inspire us to do likewise.

Hypocrisy, on the other hand, is saying one thing while doing the other. We may think of the CEO who boasts how his company values team work, while everyone knows that when it comes to him it’s more like “my way or the highway.” Or the politician who espouses certain values during the campaign then, once elected, proceeds to support initiatives that are the exact opposite.

It’s easy to see such discontinuities in others, but this can happen to us too. One reason these conflicts occur is because we may have adopted someone else’s values. We refer to these as “borrowed values” and they never stand the test of time.

To determine if you’ve fallen into the trap of trying to live with “borrowed values” there’s a simple assessment you can make. We describe this in detail in our book but, briefly, you can do this with a simple journaling practice involving a single sheet of paper.

Take a fresh sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center. On the left side, list five to ten primary activities you regularly engage in a typical week and record an estimate of the number of hours you spend on each of them during that time frame. On the right side of the line, list five to ten values that are most important to you—the ones you are living or those you aspire to and the jot down the hours you spend in activities that allow you to model those values.

Now, compare the two lists.

This exercise can be a real eye opener. You may discover that even though you espouse certain values, your choice of activities reveals a disconnect. If this occurs, don’t panic . . . there are several reasons why this might be happening.

First, you may have unknowingly adopted someone else’s values. Try as you might, they just can’t compete with activities that call to you more deeply.

On the other hand, genuine values—the ones we described at the beginning of this article—are sustainable because they light us up; they’re sourced from our own authentic passions. Think about it for a moment . . . what qualities, experiences, and characteristics invigorate you, inspire you and call to you to be your best self?

Hopefully you’ve already identified these as your foundational values—the qualities and characteristics that guide your behavior—the ones that you draw upon when making important decisions. If not, this may be a time for you to get clear about them.

Another source of inner conflict can occur, however, when you have genuine values that are at odds with each other. For example, let’s say personal freedom and professional growth are both meaningful values you’re passionate about. But now you find that an opportunity to deepen your professional growth is going to compromise your personal freedom for a year and a half. What now?

This is where prioritizing our values comes into play. Which of these two values is more important to you at this stage of your life? If you choose to pass up the opportunity for personal growth and look for another situation that doesn’t compromise your personal freedom as much, you have your answer—personal freedom is more important for now. And we’re not here to tell which is the right choice. That’s your call and, as we suggested, the prioritization of your values may change over time—that’s natural.

Some people go through their list of values and do a simple exercise by comparing their values two at a time. If I had to choose between this value and that value, which would I prefer. This helps them have more clarity when their own genuine values seem to be at conflict.

The main thing we’d like to convey in this article is to make sure your values are actually yours! Otherwise you’ll find yourself experiencing the type of cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy that occurs when you try to live your life the way someone else thinks you should (remember, it’s never good to let people “should” on you).

There’s another secret to living a rich, passionate, values-driven life that we’ll share in our next article. . . it’s one that some of our busiest clients say helps them the most. So, stay tuned . . .

Meanwhile, as always, we like to conclude these posts with a Thriving tip drawn from our book Thriving in Business and Life:

“When we realize there is a difference between our professed values and our lived values we can adjust our lives in order to thrive through authenticity.”

Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson

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