Super Self-Improvement Sunday: Values Edition

This post originally appeared on my Medium page.

Last Sunday, I cleaned out my closet. This Sunday, I cleaned out my HEART. Move over Oprah, I’ve got a Super Self-Improvement Sunday story to share.

For context, I’m a recent college graduate (Go Heels!) and a front end developer intern at Viget. As the mid-point of the summer approaches, I’m at a crossroads in my early career. My time as a Viget intern is temporary and it’s now time to start thinking about what comes next.

As I opened up LinkedIn and perused the job postings, I began to feel overwhelmed. Were these positions right for me? Would I get what I wanted out of my career? Do I even know what it is that I want? How many licks DOES it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Obviously these are big questions for a 22 year old to be asking, but I’m just about due for a quarter-life crisis.

With a deep breath, I closed LinkedIn. I would return, but first I needed to take a step back and get in touch with myself. For starters, what matters to me?

And thus, dear reader, I landed on the topic of today’s post: my values.

I started searching around for suggestions on how to dive into one’s values and came across a pretty solid piece from MindTools. The post suggests sifting through a list of roughly 150 values to find what matters to you. I took my second deep breath of the day and dove in.

For starters, I made a spreadsheet and pasted the entire list into the first column. I then went down the list and for any value that resonated with me in the slightest, copied it over into the second column. I called these values “standouts.”

From the standouts, which were roughly 25 in number, I began a card sorting exercise. I took the values and grouped them into categories. There was a category centered around groups of people: community, belonging, altruism, family-orientedness. Another was about what I wanted to get out of life: enjoyment, fun, happiness, fulfillment. Another yet focused on the greater good: contribution, making a difference and helping society.

All standout values categorized.

From these groups, I boiled each down to its proverbial essence. I wound up with a list of 10 values, not in any particular order. Generosity, balance, community, enjoyment, positivity, gratitude, leadership, making a difference, commitment and creativity.

Here I highlighted the value that best embodies each category.

I could have stopped here, but I decided to continue iterating on the list. This time I used MindTools’ paired comparative analysis worksheet to rank the values. Using the tool, I compared each value against each other value and decided which one would win out between the two. It was a Battle Royale of sorts — every value for itself.

Paired comparison analysis of my values.

From this exercise I landed on this order: enjoyment, community, commitment, making a difference, balance, gratitude, generosity, leadership, positivity and creativity.

At this point, I decided to hop off the computer, pull out the sticky notes and continue diving into these core values.

I went down the line and explained out loud what I meant by each one. I hit my first snag when I came to leadership. Can leadership really be something I value? Or do my values inform what kind of leader I’ll be? Ultimately, I decided to scrap leadership — not because I don’t aspire to be a leader in my life, but because I believe the remaining values will describe my leadership style.

My second snag came with positivity. Is it really good to be positive all the time? Sometimes a healthy dose of reality and a kick in the pants is what a project or relationship needs to succeed.

I was reminded of a 360 peer review I underwent a while back. On a list of strengths, a peer of mine wrote, “great attitude.” Another wrote, “Peyton always has a smile on his face.”

On the contrary, one peer listed among my weaknesses,

“Agreeable. Peyton is always so positive and enthusiastic; he might benefit from being more critical at times and adding more constructive feedback to discussions.”

They were right. I had allowed positivity to get in the way of being a strong contributor. I started making a more concerted effort to add constructive feedback. I’m an encourager, but not a yes-man.

As I analyzed positivity as a core value, I decided to rephrase it as *optimism*. A sense of security in the fact that all will be well in the end. I strive for my brand of optimism to be empowering, but not naïve or childish. Optimism is keeping an eye on the possibilities while being ready to roll up my sleeves and work hard to see them realized.

And there you have it folks, my core values.

Diving Deep

Here’s a brief dissection of these values and what they mean to me.

  1. Optimism — An eye on the fact that all will be well in the end. In some ways this is informed by experience and in others by faith.

  2. Community — I’m an extrovert through and through. I’m energized by the people around me and thrive best when I feel a sense of belonging. My community includes my family, friends, co-workers and fellow queer people.

  3. Commitment — In all honesty, I struggled with commitment in college. My problem, as with many other Type A folks, was overcommitment. I made things work, but often found myself running (physically running) from meeting to rehearsal to work session. Little by little, I’ve learned to narrow my focus and commit to the projects and people that matter most.

  4. Making a Difference — This may be the most Disney of them all…but I truly believe I’m here on Earth to do more than accept the status quo. The difference I make doesn’t have to be world-shattering. Sometimes it’s just a well-timed smile or a ride given to a friend in need. Other times it’s saving the world from alien invasion…depends on the day.

  5. Enjoyment —Call me a naïve, but I’d like to have a good time. I don’t want to look back on my life (through the computer I’ll upload my consciousness to in 2078) and see a miserable old grump wasting time being unhappy. I don’t need to love every second of every day, but I do need to know that overall I’m enjoying my work and my relationships.

  6. Balance — I want to come home and feel guilt free about leaving work at work and propping my feet up with a good book. My friends and family should know that they are as important to me as my career…if they don’t, then I’ve lost the path.

  7. Generosity — Offering time. Offering grace. Offering forgiveness. Offering car rides to Cookout when you just need to get away.

  8. Gratitude — I read somewhere once that the true key to happiness is expressing thanks. I try to show my gratitude whenever I get the chance because it matters.

  9. Creativity — With all the time I’ll spend at work and with my family, I want to lead a life full of new ways of thinking, new approaches to problems and a healthy dash of spontaneity.

In Closing

I encourage you to take stock of what matters to you. This exercise forced me to reflect on my past, present and future. Plus, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a Sunday afternoon. This is just the first step in reconnecting with myself as I begin a new job search. I’m digging deep and sharing what I find among the cobwebs.

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