Your Values as Your Guideposts – Ignore Them at Your Peril

A new client appears, on the cusp of change.  Oftentimes, the change is in the client’s professional role.  For example, the client seeks my support and guidance in the transition from private practice to public service.  Some seek judicial appointments while others want to leave the bench and enter private practice.  Others want to teach law or to go into business.

Oftentimes, these clients are optimistic, not grumpy.  Typically, they’ve been treated well, are well paid and are well respected.  If they have spoken to a partner or a friend about their get-away plan, they’ve been asked to explain why they want to leave.  In such a conversation, they are often reminded that they’ve been treated well, paid well and enjoyed success.  They are asked: “Why leave a good gig?”  In response, the client often is unable to explain.  Sometimes, the client seeks reassurance that the get-away plan is sensible.  After all, much appears to hang in the balance, including identity and financial security.

In such a circumstance, I explain that in my role as a coach I am a deep resource, a trusted guide.  Sometimes I say that I ride shotgun on the journey the client is about to take, spotting opportunity and avoiding ambush along the way.  I am not an oracle, nor do I tell the client what to do.  As the client grapples with the transition at hand, what are some of the guideposts along the way?

There are the usual considerations, including money, job security, status, job description, and working conditions.  As important as any of these (or perhaps more important than any one of these) is an often overlooked consideration, that is, what are the client’s values?  Values are not static; they change over the years of our adult lives.  It is important for the client to know what values motivate and inspire her to leave the familiar and set out in a new direction. What we value at age 20 is seldom what we value at age 40.  And, at 60 or 70 our values are likely to change again.

Dr. Frederic Hudson played a major role in the field of adult development.  He studied the biographies of hundreds of successful adults.  He found six different core values (or passions) in the lives that he studied.   These values (or passions) are our internal energy source, the fire or determination we feel.  Adults have the capacity to tap all six, in various combinations, at various times in the lifecycle, to sustain vitality and purpose.  These values compete for our loyalty and serve as guideposts along the way. [1]

The Six Core Values:

  • Personal Power – Claiming Yourself

Self-esteem, confidence, identity, inner motivation,  a positive sense of self,  clear ego boundaries, self-love, courage.

  • Achievement – Proving Yourself

Making partner, winning cases, reaching goals, conducting projects, working, winning, playing in organized sports, having ambition, getting results, recognition and money, being purposeful and doing a lot.

  • Intimacy – Sharing Yourself

Loving, bonding, caring, being intimate, making relationships work, touching, feeling close, nesting, coupling, parenting, being a friend.

  • Play and Creativity – Expressing Yourself

Being imaginative, intuitive, playful, spontaneous, original, expressive, humorous, artistic, celebrative, re-creative, funny, curious, childlike and non-purposive.

  • Search for Meaning – Integrating Yourself

Finding wholeness, unity, integrity, peace, an inner connection to all things, spirituality, trust in the flow of life, inner wisdom, a sense of transcendence.

  • Compassion and Contribution – Leave a Legacy

Improving, helping, feeding, reforming, leaving the world a better place, bequeathing, being generative, serving, social action and environmental caring, institution building, volunteerism.

To illustrate how values change over a lifetime, I ask the client to rank order these six core values from 1 to 6, with 1 being the most important and 6 being the least important.  The first rank ordering is for the values that inspired and motivated the client during the law school years or at the start of her career.  The second rank ordering is of her values today.  Comparing the rank ordering, what does the client notice?  Often, the client understands why the anticipated transition is compelling, for it simply better aligns with the values that inspire and motivate her these days of her life.  The client comes to understand that today’s values are vital guideposts on her journey.

In addition to the metaphor of values as guideposts, there are other metaphors describing how values can guide us.  One of my favorite metaphors is that of sailing and how each of us sets our sails and finds our way.   The poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, put it this way:

One ship drives east and another drives west

With the self-same winds that blow.

’Tis the set of the sails

And not the gales

That tells them the way to go.

[1] See “Life Launch – A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life”, Frederic M. Hudson and Pamela D. McLean.  See also “The Adult Years”, by Frederic M. Hudson, a classic best-selling guide for personal renewal.