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Personal values: Discover your guiding principles for work and life

15 min read

discovering guiding principles

Have you ever wondered what drives the world’s most successful people, even the individuals we find unconventional?

Think about Adolf Hitler. His questionable ideology aside, there’s no denying his dedication and adherence to his own twisted set of principles. His actions demonstrate the power of having a strong sense of personal values, even if those values deviate from the expected norms. 

Personal values are fundamental beliefs and principles that act as your internal compass. They guide your decisions, shape your behaviors, and define who you are. They are the things you hold dear – be it adventure, honesty, or creativity. You can also think of personal values as decision-making filters. When faced with a choice, big or small, your values come into play, whether consciously or unconsciously. Is this opportunity aligned with my desire for growth and learning? Does this action go against my core belief in equality? By understanding your values, you can navigate your life with greater clarity and purpose.  

Again, think about Adolf Hitler and compare him with Martin Luther King Jr. Both dedicated their lives to their core values. But there’s a key difference: King’s values – justice, equality, and non-violence – uplifted humanity. However, Hitler’s principles, built on hate and domination, tore it apart. 

Are there bad personal values? 

It depends on why you value it. Here, the key is to understand the “why” behind our values. For example, let’s consider the value of ambition. A strong work ethic and striving for excellence are admirable qualities, but if the same ambition is fueled by a desire to harm others or at the expense of someone’s health, it takes a negative turn.   

Sometimes, the context also matters. For instance, competitiveness is an asset in a sales environment but could be detrimental in a collaborative setting. While there’s no list of bad personal values, the context and underlying motivations have an influence on your life. 

The key lies in control. 

Healthy values motivate you to strive for something you believe in, while remaining grounded in principles that contribute to the greater good. Unhealthy values, on the other hand, can become obsessions and lead you down destructive paths. 

Now, how do you find your own personal values? Keep reading! 

Discovering personal values: Stages to find your why 

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a tricky situation, not sure of the “right” or “wrong” answer? That’s where personal values come in. Many people have a basic sense of their values, as a gut feeling that something “feels right” or “feels wrong.”  

Articulating and defining your personal values equips you to prioritize effectively and take decisions that align with your core beliefs. They also give you a sense of authenticity and purpose, helping you make significant changes to your habits, career path, or even relationships.  

Here are 5 stages to find your personal values: 

1. Reflect  

This stage is all about reflection, the foundation for understanding what truly matters to you. In this stage, you will identify the core principles that make you, well, you! 

Here are some prompts to begin your introspection: 

  • Limiting beliefs: Identify any beliefs or assumptions that limit your actions. 
  • Purposeful moments: Cast your mind back to a time when you felt truly aligned with your purpose. What were you doing? Why did it feel so meaningful? Reconnecting with these moments can shed light on the values that truly resonate with you. 
  • Childhood: Reflect on impactful childhood moments from your younger years. 
  • Non-negotiables: What are the unshakeable values you would never compromise on, regardless of the situation?  
  • Role models and admiration: Who inspires you? What qualities do you admire in these individuals? Chances are, you admire their values in action. This helps provide insights into your own value system. 

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, only valuable insights to be discovered. In the next stage, we’ll take these reflections to further define your core values. 

2. List 

In the first stage, we explored various prompts to find your values. You might have identified themes like career, relationships, freedom, and so on.  

Now comes the exciting part – filtering your reflections into a core values list. Here’s how: 

  • Look for recurring patterns and themes. Do certain qualities or concepts consistently resonate? These are potential core values. 
  • Be brutally honest and cross off any values influenced by societal pressure. This list is for you, not for others’ expectations. 
  • Make sure each value is a single word or a short phrase that captures its essence. 

 3. Pick  

Aim for a concise list of 5-7 core values. Try grouping some values together to make a shorter list. Use the personal values wheel below to pick what you value most: 

wheel of personal values

4. Rank 

Now, in stage 4, we move on to prioritizing these values. Rank your values in order of importance. For instance, consider which value would lead, guiding your decisions in moments of conflict. This is likely your most important value. This doesn’t have to be a rigid hierarchy, but a general order reflecting their influence on your life. As you rank, trust your gut instinct and revise as needed. Keep an eye out for values that emerge or become important to you over time. 

Prioritizing your values isn’t about creating a rigid set of rules. It’s about understanding which principles hold the most weight in your life so that you can make choices that align with what truly matters to you. 

5. Define 

This is the final stage. Let’s define your core values in a way that resonates with you. Take each core value on your list and create a one-sentence definition that captures its essence for you. These definitions should be personal and memorable. The same value can have different meanings for different people. 

For example, for the core value ‘self-respect,’ a personal definition could be “Making choices that honor my worth and never compromising my dignity.” 

The same personal value, for another individual, could mean “Knowing my boundaries and never allowing myself to be belittled or manipulated.” 

Values in action: How to build a life aligned with your core principles 

Here’s the thing: living in alignment with your core values can feel difficult. Society throws a lot at us and it’s easy to get pulled off course, prioritizing external validation over our own beliefs. Sometimes, we make choices based on insecurity or a desire to please others, sacrificing our own values in the process. Stepping outside our comfort zone and living authentically takes time. 

You can bring your values into action even when you don’t have much time. Here’s what you can do: 

1. Be fully aware of the moment 

In the heat of the moment, we might blurt something out or take a decision that contradicts with our core principles. Being present and aware in the moment allows you to pause, reflect, and make choices that resonate with your core beliefs. Avoid the urge to respond with frustration or gesturing angrily. If possible, postpone the decision until you’ve regained your composure.  

2. Look for your intention 

Think of the “why” behind your actions. Intentions are the specific actions that move you in a specific direction. Are you doing this because it aligns with your value of helping others? Or are you driven by external pressure?  

3. Pay attention to intuition 

We all have that intuitive nudge in certain situations. Your gut feeling often stems from a deeper alignment with your core principles. Discomfort with a particular direction might be your intuition telling you it clashes with your value of fairness or honesty. Learning to listen to these cues is key.  

4.  Recall values 

While your gut feeling points you in the right direction, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. This is where your core values come in – they provide the “why” behind your intuition.  

5. Engage in self-reflection on your experience 

Once you’ve assessed a situation using your intuition and values, take a moment to reflect on the experience. Did acting on your intuition and values result in a positive experience? Or did it highlight areas for further exploration? This reflection is a powerful tool for refining your core values.  

The next challenge is to align yourself with a workplace that reflects your values. Many of us spend a significant part of our lives in the workplace. Aligning your personal values with your professional environment is all about finding a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment.  

Invest in your culture: Understanding how values shape your work experience 

Workplace values define not just how the work gets done, but also the overall culture and work environment. They’re the unspoken rules that govern behavior, decision-making, and employee satisfaction. Some examples of workplace values are: 

  • Innovation 
  • Collaboration  
  • DEI  

Workplace values help find candidates who resonate with the company on a deeper level. Such candidates are more likely to thrive in the existing culture and contribute meaningfully. 

Should you align your personal values with the company’s values? 

Absolutely! Think of yourself and the company as having both inner and outer worlds. Your inner world is shaped by your core values, while your outer world reflects your behaviors and actions. Similarly, a company’s inner world is defined by its values, and its outer world is reflected in its culture, goals, and employee interactions. 

aligning company and personal values

When there’s a good match between these inner and outer worlds, both you and the company benefit. If the values crash, it can lead to frustration and unhappiness. For example, an employee who prioritizes work-life balance might struggle in a company that operates on overtime. Similarly, someone who values creativity and innovation might feel stuck in a rigid, process-driven environment.  

Values that have a major impact on this dynamic are referred to as “eulogy virtues”. They are the values we hope to be remembered for, and in a company setting, translate to how employees treat each other and customers.

Aligning your values with the company’s 

Here are some tips to align your personal values with a company’s values: 

  • Self-reflection: Identify the core values and principles which are most important to you in a work environment. 
  • Company research: Conduct research on the company’s values and mission statement. Do their stated values resonate with yours? 
  • Open communication: During the interview process, ask questions that reveal the company’s culture and how they translate their values into daily operations.

Finding the right fit 

Personal values are not something we adopt, but rather the foundation of who we are. It’s important to ensure that your personal values resonate with your work environment. Remember, it’s not about changing you, it’s about finding your place. 

However, finding the right fit goes both ways. Companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of values-based hiring. Some methods they might use include pre-employment assessments, behavioral interview questions, or using a hiring software, like Keka, to help companies streamline their hiring processes. Keka’s hiring software comes equipped with all the tools and features that not only help organizations by focusing on value alignment, but also in making recruitment processes simpler and more streamlined. Signup for a free trial. 

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    Meet the author

    Nikitha Joyce

    Content Writer

    Nikitha Joyce is a content writer at Keka Technologies. She loves exploring HR topics and turning them into thrilling tales. Nikitha is a dark fiction enthusiast who is a fan of anime, books, and horror tales.


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