What No One Tells You About Values and Principles

Nov 28, 2019


Have you ever looked around you and seen people who seem to be living really happy and flourishing lives? They seem to have got their career, family, health, spiritual and financial life sorted and it shows. They’ve more energy, they’re focused, they’ve got real clarity on where they’re going in life and while they may not know exactly how they’re going to get there, they trust in their ability to figure it out. I think the world would be such a better place if there were a lot more of these people in it. 


Struggling To Figure Them Out

I remember many times during my life when I was struggling to figure things out. Have you ever felt like that in the past or perhaps you’re feeling like that now? I found it very difficult to gain clarity on what I wanted. I’m the type of person who always strives to live an honest and authentic life. But I really found it hard to achieve balance in my life. If my work was exciting, busy and challenging I found it would often impact negatively on my ability to be a nurturing and patient mum. If I was feeling overwhelmed I struggled to maintain a healthy lifestyle and made bad choices regarding my diet. If I was feeling overloaded and undervalued I would often spend money on buying stuff I didn’t need to make me feel good, and this had a very negative impact on my finances. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Have you experienced any of these challenges?


Time To Reflect

It wasn’t until I started to take stock of my own life a few years ago and take a really good look at how I was behaving that I finally saw clearly what was happening. If you’ve read any of my previous articles you’ll know I’m a strong advocate for taking time to ‘stop and think’. So I felt I should take some of my own medicine and do this in my own life. And what a revelation it was! When I gave myself the time to reflect on how I was living my life and what negative habits I had adopted I could see that I was often sabotaging myself. I needed to change.


Where To Start

But knowing where to start is often the biggest challenge. What do I change first and how can I sustain that change? It’s a huge challenge for each and every one of us. I realised that I needed to go deeper within myself to figure it out. And that’s when I realised the importance of my values and my principles. Once I knew what they were I could see how they influenced my thinking and my behaviours. When I went against them it often caused me a lot of anxiety and stress. But when I was living my life in alignment to them I was in a flow. I felt in charge and in control.

Values versus Principles 

Many people in the personal & professional development space will focus on values. You’ll often see company values confidently displayed in the reception area of many corporate organisations and institutions. I know many coaches, for example, who use the words values and principles in the same sentence and don’t distinguish one from the other. I take a different approach. For me, and the clients I work with, I believe that values and principles serve two distinct purposes in our life. For this reason, we should all try to figure out what they are and their meaning in our lives. This involves creating two separate lists: a values list and a principles list. Let me explain why.

If you look in the Oxford dictionary for definitions of both terms this is what you’ll find:

Definition of Principles: Principles or standards of behaviour; one's judgement of what is important in life

Definition of Values: A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning


You Need A Map & Compass

In simple terms, what does this mean? The way I explain it to my clients is to think of your principles as a compass and your values as a map. You’re on your journey called life. Before you get into that boat and set sail or decide to take a new direction, you’re going to need to bring some equipment with you, and two of the most important items in the boat are these items. Your compass will be your guiding star. It will keep you on course always. In life, and in particular when you look back in life, you’ll see common behaviours and beliefs that are a fundamental part of who you are. You always strive to maintain and achieve these in your personal and professional life, often unconsciously. If you haven’t taken the time to work out what they are, it’s very difficult to make the right decisions in life. And when you’re living a life where your head, heart and gut are in alignment then you experience happiness and more contentment.


I describe your values as your map in life. At different times in life we need a different map and we should assess our terrain i.e. our values every couple of years. Starting out in our career in our early twenties, for example, is a very different time in our life than when we are in a managerial position in our thirties. Living life as a single person contrasts sharply to being in a relationship or indeed becoming a parent. Your values are going to be different as you move through different stages in your life. When your life is changing or when you want to proactively change it, you need to know your values.

 Let Them Guide You

A few years ago I experienced a minor health scare and like many it hit me hard. The weeks leading up to my consultant’s appointment were filled with apprehension and worry. It was a time of deep reflection in my life. I was thinking about my family, my career and my friends. What did I really want for the next phase of my life? Was I making a positive impact on this world? What was my legacy going to be? I didn’t have any answers. I knew one thing for certain though. If the news was going to be bad my deepest regret would have been not spending more time around my children. So as I sat in the waiting room I decided there and then to quit my job and take the summer off regardless of the diagnosis. Luckily the outcome was positive but I had learnt a great lesson.


In Autumn the same year I was approached by a small number of executive search firms who knew I was available. But something just didn’t feel right. So I took out my pen and journal and my deck of values & principles cards. I lay them on the table in front of me and focused on what was important for me at that point in my life. I was quickly drawn to about five cards. As I read the cards together it all started to make sense. I was never going to find the values that were important to me working for somebody else, in fact I had no idea what organisation could offer me a role that would align to my values at that time. It was a scary prospect. That’s when I realised that the role didn’t exist and I would have to create it. After the initial shock I started to create a plan and six months later I set up my own firm. I am now blessed to be working in a way that is in complete alignment with my principles and my values.

 What About You ?

I share that story with you because I hope it will give you the motivation to take stock of your own life and career at this time. Don’t wait for the awful diagnosis or for something traffic to happen in your career or your personal life before you change. This is your life, here and now, today. One small but simple step is to take some time to figure out what your principles and values are. Then ask yourself the simple question “is your life and your career in alignment with those?” If not, what are you going to do to change it, and when?


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