Karen is a rising star who just got promoted into a vice-president position. She’s also a mom with two children at home. It seems like every week she feels intense guilt about some missed opportunity. At the office her peers work 80 hours a week while she works 50. Leaving early causes her to miss some late day meetings. Then when she does get home she’s often too tired or distracted to really enjoy time with her husband and children.
The inner critic in Karen’s head faults her no matter what she does. Sometimes the nagging voice in her head is telling her she needs to be a better employee or she’ll be fired; other times it’s saying she should be a better mother before she ruins relationships with her husband and children. Karen wants at least one of the voices to shut up. But neither will.
It’s impossible for Karen to attain a satisfactory work-life balance without a conscious awareness of the values that guide her decisions. Once she can state her values she’ll have the clarity she needs to say X and Y are both important, but X holds more value right now than Y.
In one of our first coaching sessions I asked Karen to identify a time she felt she was at her best at managing both her work and family obligations. Then I asked her to look through a list of values and choose 5 that had provided the foundation for her ability to achieve a successful outcome.
What Are Your Values?
This list is based on the Personal Values Card Sort (2001), developed by W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, and P.L. Wilbourne, of the University of New Mexico. You can use it to identify the 5 values that are most important to you. The next time you make a decision, ask yourself whether it is consistent with your top values.
ACCEPTANCE ACHIEVEMENT ADVENTURE ATTRACTIVENESS AUTHORITY AUTONOMY BEAUTY CARING CHALLENGE COMFORT
COMPASSION CONTRIBUTION COOPERATION CREATIVITY DEPENDABLITY DUTY ECOLOGY EXCITEMENT FAIRNESS FAITHFULNESS FAME FAMILY FITNESS
FLEXIBILITY FORGIVENESS FRIENDSHIP FUN GENEROSITY GENUINENESS GROWTH HEALTH HELPFULNESS HONESTY HOPE HUMILITY
HUMOR INDEPENDENCE INNER PEACE INTEGRITY INTIMACY JUSTICE KNOWLEDGE LOVE MASTERY MINDFULNESS MODERATION
MONOGAMY NURTURANCE OPENNESS
ORDER PASSION PERSERVERANCE POPULARITY POWER PURPOSE RATIONALITY
RESPONSIBILITY RISK ROMANCE SAFETY SECURITY SELF-ACCEPTANCE SELF-CONTROL SELF-ESTEEM SELF-KNOWLEDGE SERVICE
SEXUALITY SIMPLICITY SOLITUDE SPIRITUALITY STABILITY TOLERANCE TRADITION VIRTUE WEALTH
Karen selected Achievement, Commitment, Family, Love, and Perseverance as her top values. The next occasion when her boss called for a meeting at 5:30, but her son was playing in a soccer tournament at the same time – she took 10 slow, deep breaths and centered herself. When her mind stopped racing, she ask herself, “What would it look like if I achieved a positive outcome while honoring all of my commitments?”
It came to her that she had a young person on her staff who preferred to come in late and work into the evening. She asked him to attend the meeting and send her an email informing her about the agenda that had been addressed. Karen was able to read and respond to the issues that were raised once her kids had gone to bed.
When Karen considered her values, she realized how deeply committed she was to both her family and her work. She loved being with her children, but she also cared passionately about achieving positive outcomes at work. Unhooked from her distracting and discouraging feelings of guilt, she resolved to be guided by her values. She recognized how important it was to get home for time with her family every evening and to resist work interruptions during personal time. But she also committed to make a number of important business trips, some of which coincided with school events that she would have preferred to attend.
Confident that her values, not solely her emotions, were guiding her, Karen finally found peace and fulfillment. It’s impossible to block out difficult thoughts and emotions. People who are most effective in managing their lives are mindful of their inner experiences but not caught in them. They know how to calm themselves in order to free up their internal resources and commit to actions that align with their values.
Developing clear values is no quick fix—even those who regularly practice the steps outlined here will often find themselves conflicted at times. But with practice people can become increasingly adept at consciously conjuring up their values in order to make choices that enable them to thrive.