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Personal Values- What Is Important To You?
By Rich Meiss • Friday, February 8, 2008

The People Puzzle Series Vl: Puzzle Piece #4
One of the most important puzzle pieces to put into place in our lives is that of our personal values. Our values influence everything we do.  They influence what we buy, where we live, and the kinds of friends we have. They influence what religious organization we belong to and whom we marry (or if we belong and if we marry). And our values influence what we do with our life.
What is a value? It is a belief, principle, or standard that influences our life choices. A value is a guidepost that directs and shapes our world. And these individual values combine to form a values system – an organized way of thinking shaped by our standards. These standards and principles make up the range of each person’s beliefs from which he or she acts.
For a moment, think about things that:
        Feel important to you
         Define your fundamental character
         Supply meaning to your work and life
         Influence the decisions you make
         Compel you to take a stand
        Provide an atmosphere in which you are most productive.
Your answers help define what you value. Each human being has a “system of values” that began developing from the time we were born. Behaviorists call it “values programming”. Where we lived, the parents we had, our education, religion, and friends – all of these contributed to our “values programming”. Even where we grew up, geographically, influenced us.
I was born and raised on a farm in western Minnesota in the 1950’s and 1960’s. My parents were hard working, family dedicated, religious people who strongly influenced the values I hold today.   Getting up early and working hard, and being devoted to my family and my faith would be high in my list of priority values. But there are some values that my parents held that I no longer hold. For example, they voted for one political party their entire life, while I have been known to cross party lines on occasion to vote for “the better person”. They valued security – living in only two places their entire married life – while I have lived in many homes and made my living traveling around the country speaking and training.
Actual Values vs. Ideal Values
There is no tragedy in challenging the values of our youth, or even in changing some of those values. The tragedy is that many of us do not know why we do the things we do, or even what we actually think or believe. We are living out someone else’s “ideal values” rather than our own “actual values”. We can change this by surveying a list of values and getting clear on our own personal values. 
By identifying the values programmed into us, and taking an open-minded look at our personal experiences in our present life, we can begin to make a conscious effort in knowing what we believe, why we believe it, and how those beliefs influence our life decisions.
Evaluating our values gives us a personal road map for life. As we learn how to read the map we will have more control of our life and make better choices. We will also be less negative, confused and bored and more positive, consistent and purposeful. Values evaluation involves choosing, honoring and acting consciously upon our values. It sensitizes us to values issues. It gives us experience in thinking critically about why we do the things we do.
Values Clarity Leads to Good Decisions
One of the values high on my list is that of “integrity” – doing the right thing. In my business of leading training programs and speaking to groups, it is common to have several organizations competing for my time. For example, I was recently contracted to lead a two-day training program in New York in January, when I received a call from a company requesting me for four days in Phoenix. Because the days overlapped, I could not take both engagements. From most perspectives, I wanted to spend four days in Phoenix rather than two days in New York. The temperature was about 40 degrees different. I would be paid for four days of work rather than two. And I have a brother in Phoenix that I would have liked to visit. But because of my previous commitment and my value of integrity, I chose to honor the New York engagement.
Our values are the basis for our responses in life. Literally, everything is sifted through the value system operating in us. Everything we do is automatically filtered – on a gut-level – through our values system. We therefore owe it to ourselves, and our families and our society, to consciously know what we value. At the same time, it is important to remember that we carry with us a package of complex values.
How Values Change
Dramatic changes in our values usually only occur when we go through events that turn our world upside down. Author Morris Massey, in his excellent work on values, calls these events SEE’s – significant emotional events. A death in the family, a divorce, being fired from a job, a serious illness – and even positive events like the birth of a child or a job promotion – can turn our world upside down and cause us to change our values. Yes, SEE’s can radically alter our values.
Significant Emotional Events come in many forms, but they need to have two critical requirements to work in our favor: personal impact and clarity. Personal impact occurs when we internalize and think about the “consequences” of our choices, both internal and external. And clarity becomes present when we make the connection between what is happening and our personal values – and the choices we have to change.
In my own personal experience, the values of loyalty and security were programmed into me at an early age. Like my parents, I thought I would get a job and keep it for life. In that way I would be loyal to my employer and also provide security for my family. In my first real job I was leading training programs for a company in Minneapolis. I had recently married, and things were going along quite well in my life. But then I got a job promotion. In addition to more pay, which I liked, I was also given more responsibility, including quite a bit of travel, which I didn’t like. And my new bride liked it even less. So suddenly I was having marital difficulties because of a seemingly positive significant emotional event, a promotion. Eventually I quit my job to save my marriage and started my own business. Through that process over several years, my values of loyalty and security changed to independence and entrepreneurism.
Personal Responsibility for Our Values
Even though we are largely what we are because of where we came from, we cannot escape the responsibility for our values behavior now or in the future. Unlike the cardinal who is “programmed” to defend his territory and therefore will continue to fly into the garage window, you and I have been given the power to choose our thoughts, which eventually become our attitudes and values. It is easier to blame someone else for our place in life, such as our parents, teachers and other role models. Successful people, however, know that they must make the choice to change if they don’t like what is happening in their lives. We CAN decide how we want to be. And by making some changes, we take control of the steering wheel of our journey.
The flip side of not having a good understanding of our values is often the loss of trust and the breakdown of relationships. Two examples shared by a colleague illustrate this point. In one instance, a group of executives were gathered with my consultant friend to do some business planning for the next year. They had spent the morning working on their corporate values, one of which they articulated as being “people are our most important asset”! They then got into a long argument about a funding issue on next years budget, thereby leaving a group of subordinates who were to make a business presentation to the group nervously waiting in the hallway outside. Once the executive group had finished their important financial discussion, they enjoyed their lunch while “allowing” the subordinates to make their presentations. My colleague pointed out that this group would be far better off honestly telling their employees that “numbers are our most important factor” than stating that people are important and then treating them disrespectfully.
A similar example that impacted personal relationships was the man who in doing the values survey work rated “Family Happiness” as one of his top seven values. He was absolutely flabbergasted later when his wife was extremely upset over his late arrival for dinner. She had planned a dinner party and had ten guests waiting at home when he walked in. He had even promised her that he would be on time for the party, but “something came up at work”. His ideal value of “family happiness” was in fact a real value of advancement or wealth.
Social psychologists tell us there are actually three categories of values: Universal Values, Cultural Values, and Individual Values. Universal values are those common links we share with all humanity, including brotherhood, peace, unity, service and love. Cultural values are the manners, laws, customs and practices of the society in which we live and the organization in which we work. These would vary from one culture to another, and from one organization to another, and even from one geographical location to another.
While each of these values categories is important, it is our individual or “personal” values over which we have complete control. Our personal values are reflected in our individual goals, roles, relationships and decisions.
Your personal values are the inner rules (standards, principles) you use to make choices and run your life. Some are more important to you than others.   By identifying your most important values, you will make better life decisions and develop more effective relationships.   
The Personal Values Survey ($12.00) will help you discover your most important personal values.  Free shipping if you mention this article when placing your order for the survey.
© Copyright 2008. Meiss Education Institute. All rights reserved.
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