Identifying Your Values

Getting out of law completely poses a new level of challenge - you have to figure out what you truly want to do with your life. Getting clear on your core values is one of the first steps to finding career and life success. These are the concepts, rules and things that define your being and are at the heart of who you truly are. Values are the wellsprings for action. A concern for the poor is fired by a sense of injustice. A passion for the piano emerges from a conviction of its aesthetic worth. That which is meaningful, motivates. That which has significance, sustains. What you value is what you love to do.

It might also be called having integrity. In Hamlet, Shakespeare says the famous words ‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.’ Here, then, would be a person with integrity – whole and undivided, embodying the moral weight of the admirable soul, because the person with integrity is someone who is above reproach. We may not agree with their actions. But if we know them to act honourably and with honesty, we accept them. They are people with values.

Taking actions which are not aligned with our values often evokes a strong (negative) emotional response. Clarifying and prioritising your values is an important step in designing goals that will bring happiness and success. It's not easy to do it, but a great exercise is to start prioritising your values in order of importance. Over time, you'll build confidence in yourself and the person you are just by knowing what your values are and where they fall.

Life Values

These are those things in your life that you regard as necessary, which you need in order to be happy, the ones you personally hold yourself accountable to. Try and apply the following steps to your own experience and reflect upon your answers.

  1. Take some time to center yourself and feel relaxed and creative.
  2. Identify ten values which describe who you are and what is central to your being (these could be concepts (honesty), actions (spending time with family, doing fulfilling work) or anything else that is important to you.
  3. Take time to review the values and ensure that they are complete – make any changes you would like to.
  4. Prioritise the values. Ask yourself which is more important 1 or 2. Compare the more important with 3. Use this process to identify your top 5 values.

Some questions to reflect upon after having completed this exercise are:

  • How easy did you find it to articulate your values?
  • How confident are you that you have had a sufficient range of experiences to reveal your values?
  • How often do you reflect on your experiences in order to recognise your values?
  • How confident are you that you could prioritise you values in order of importance?
  • How confident are you that you are asking the right questions about your future career options?

Life values sometimes overlap with, but differ significantly from, "work values" - those aspects of your professional life that you need in order to carry out meaningful and fulfilling work and that create the backbone to your career decisions.

Depending on how clear you are about your life values, you will find it easier or harder to identify your work values. However, once identified and annexed combined with your life values, they comprise your value map - a useful tool to achieve your goals and make career decisions. The latter are explored in more detail in the More Than Law course.

I cannot urge you enough to spend time on your values. When you get this clear in your mind, it will be the most settling influence on the person you are. In my opinion this is by far the most powerful stabiliser and guide.

Martin Underwood is Course Producer at Life Productions, helping lawyers and other professionals find a better career fit and take practical action through advice, courses and networking.

The importance of values and how to develop them is one of the extracts from the latest More Than Law course. If you want to find out more about how you can identify and prioritise your values in a practical course created by lawyers, for lawyers - click here.