TIB #20: How to find your top 5 personal values list to unlock your best self

Written by Arno Jansen

Or: How to feel good about being you.

Values are a matter of what guides you through every day, every task, every encounter with another human being.

Richard Bolles in “What color is your parachute”

Your personal values list is what guides your perception of the world around you in terms of good and bad. Being aware of your personal values helps to navigate everyday life more easily. Your personal values list essentially determines (in part) who you are, why you do what you do, what you need, how you deal with your environment, and actually how you view the world around you. 

It can be quite difficult to capture your values into words. This is understandable because they are deeply rooted ideas and feelings that we don’t often put into words. You often do know what feels good though, or what your intuition tells you. Those are your values at work.

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Why is it good to know your personal values list?

Spending time to discover your personal values, is important for your mental well-being. When you know your list of personal values, it becomes a lot easier to make decisions in line with those values. Your confidence grows as well as your resilience and self-respect. At the same time, it reduces a lot of mental friction if your actions align with your values.

Finding joy in work, feeling good about being you, developing happy relationships, and the ability to deal with failures, will all be helped tremendously by knowing your personal values list.

Too many people are looking for their one passion, their true calling, their dream job and never finding it. That is simply because there is no one thing out there, that you need to find. Instead, your values allow you to ‘measure’ jobs, hobbies, passions, calling, relationships, etc. against your values to see if there is (enough) common ground and shared values.

If that seems to be the case, then begins the hard work to develop that into your dream job, that amazing relationship, the thing you call your passion.

It all starts with knowing those values for yourself. Putting them into words is a great way to get to know yours.

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Your personal values shape your entrepreneurial journey

For creators, bootstrappers, and entrepreneurs, having your personal values list is essential to your entrepreneurial journey. It is an incredibly valuable tool to help you be successful in the long run.

Working independently means a lot of freedom to make your own choices. It also means unpredictable income month to month. Most solo independent workers require a healthy dose of creativity in order to create content. Self-development is also inevitable on your entrepreneurial journey. And if you are starting from scratch, there is that period where you put in immense effort for a very little immediate result.

Knowing what you value increases your chances for success because you are better equipped to deal with the inevitable ups and downs. You can also set a meaningful One Major Goal for yourself and find ways that best suit you to achieve your goal.

With your top 5 personal values list in hand, it becomes a lot easier to decide to drop that client or project that does not fulfil you. The opposite is also true: if you see that an idea you have, aligns perfectly with the values on your list, it is a lot easier to work on it long-term, because you know it is meaningful to you on a deep, personal level.

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Discover your personal values list

There are many different ways to help you discover what your personal values are. But truth be told, they all boil down to doing some serious self-reflection (of course).

Journalling regularly can work miracles to reflect on yourself and find out more details about who you are and what drives you. But while free-form journalling has great benefits, it does not provide explicit prompts to focus on your values.

To help you find your personal values list, you will find a few example values below as well as an exercise you can do. Since we are trying to give words to our innermost feelings of importance, there is no set list of values to choose from. So you are of course free (and encouraged!) to come up with your own. 

But with this list below I want to inspire you to check with yourself what does and does not suit you. 

Before you read through them, keep this in mind:

  • No value is right or wrong, they just suit you to a greater or lesser extent at the moment.
  • Values are not always a “black and white” choice, but a scale. For example, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is drive X to me?”
  • Be brutally honest with yourself: many of these values are considered desirable or even virtuous. So you may be tempted to assign them to your personal values list. But make sure you consider all sides of a value. Is it really who you feel you are?

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Examples of personal values

Financial security

The value everyone knows is money. How much importance do you attach to having financial security and making money?

This value may create a conflict within you. If so, dig a bit deeper to explore why this is.

Perhaps you associate money with “a lot of money” or “over-the-top luxury” and consider that to be bad. On the other hand: if you have built up a hefty student loan and are paying top dollar for rent every month, you look at money differently. 

How much value is there for you in financial security? As any entrepreneur will tell you: your income may vary wildly from month to month. So, if financial security is important to you, taking steps to improve your financial security is a smart thing to do for you.

Reduce your expenses, and save money to create a financial runway when you start a project that will not immediately start to bring in revenue.

Financial insecurity is an inherit part of any (starting) entrepreneur. If your value a high level of predictability in your income, consider building a financial runway or find a steady source of basic income while building your business
Building a money tree takes (a lot of) time. Financial insecurity is an integral part of the entrepreneurial journey.

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How much influence do you want on your environment? On the people around you, your work (place), etc. By influence, we do not mean that you are a dictator in life, or have to be a social media influencer, but that you know about yourself to what extent and in which situation you want to have influence. And what influence others can have on you.

The goal of content is to influence the consumers of that content. Whether you want to help your audience overcome obstacles, learn a new skill, or persuade people to buy something from you, you cannot do it without influencing other people.

If influence is not a core value of yours, all is not lost. It just means you need to be aware of it, and deliberately find ways to deal with it.

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To what extent do you devote yourself unselfishly to the well-being of others? You reduce or eliminate your personal gain to help that of another or a higher goal.

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Self development

Everything we experience influences who we are and therefore how we develop. If you have self-development as your motivation, you attach value to developing yourself purposefully. You strive for it. This can be in many different areas: developing a skill or hobby, a career, or your overall “being human”.

For many solopreneurs, creators and bootstrappers, self-development is an important driver to do the work they do. If it is not the reason they started their business, it definitely will have become an integral part of their being over time. Self-development may not be on your personal values list, but as a creator/entrepreneur it is inevitable.

Self development is an integral part of the entrepreneurial journey
Self development and improvement are an integral part of the entrepreneurial journey

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When you have autonomy as a value, it means that you strive for a lot of freedom of choice. In addition to money, this is also a frequently heard motivation. It also sounds great of course, autonomy = freedom.

Many entrepreneurs I coach have autonomy on their personal values list. Especially those who left their corporate job to go independent. For many, it is an immense relief to be able to finally follow their curiosity without needing permission to do so.

But autonomy as an entrepreneur also means you have to make all the decisions of course. The high level of autonomy combined with the unpredictable nature of independence as a creator can cause stress, fear, and self-doubt

Establishing routines and frameworks for decision-making and problem-solving helps to provide a level of predictability, and reduces stress significantly.

This is a regular recurring topic when in my coaching practise when working with entrepreneurs and independent workers. Working on these challenges with a good coach can have outsized results for you and your business.

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Creativity is the ability to create. Creativity can be found everywhere and is not limited to making art. It is more the degree to which you can find and implement (original) solutions to problems yourself, and let new ideas become reality. Create.

Cultivating and developing your creativity is important as a creator, whether you consider it one of your core values or not.

You may recognise it as a core value if you just have to create stuff. If you regularly encounter thoughts and ideas so strong that you have to act on them and express them.

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Certainty / Predictability

How much certainty or predictability do you want and need? And in what area? Do you enjoy a permanent position in your work? Perhaps certainty/uncertainty also plays a role in how you spend your free time. Do you want to go on holiday to an all-inclusive resort because you know what to expect? Or would you rather put on a backpack and see where you end up hitchhiking?

In our entrepreneurial journeys, very few good things are predictable. Especially in the early stages of the business. At the same time, very few people (entrepreneurial or not) are comfortable with very high levels of uncertainty.

This is typically one of those values that are not black and white. Do you see yourself as someone who needs a high level of certainty? Or maybe the acceptable level of predictability differs per area of your business or life: financially, time, relationships, etc.

If you find that you have a very strong preference for either certainty or uncertainty, consider adding it to your personal values list.

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Prestige / Recognition

This value says something about how you would like to be seen. You can gain or increase prestige in several ways:

  • By associating yourself with a brand, product, purpose, or ideology. This can be done, for example, by working on or contributing to it.
  • Money and appearance are also ways to gain a certain prestige or status.
  • Or by building a name through specialization. For example in a scientific field, a craft, profession, or sport.

Prestige and recognition are in fact always the result of how you present yourself. It does not mean it is your core value to be recognized for what you do. It can also be a consequence of the work you do. 

If your big goal is “to be the best <XYZ> on the internet”, prestige and recognition could deserve a spot on your personal values list.

It’s good to know for yourself if prestige and recognition are a personal value or something to accept as a result of what you do.

Again, remember none of this is good or bad. It is just part of you or it is not.

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How much variation do you need and what does that look like? At work, but also outside of work. If you (voluntarily) change your life with some regularity, you may need variation. Variation also means different things to different people. Just think of a postman:

  • Some think that a job with little variation: delivering the mail every working day. Very predictable, with little variety.
  • The other sees in a postman someone who experiences something different every day. Different people on the street, different talk, different weather, different routes.

How much variety do you want or need and what does variety look like for you?

Similar to autonomy, this is a common trait in many entrepreneurial people I encounter: A high desire for variety. Many do not know what that variety looks like though or how much variety is enough. If you see yourself as someone who optimizes for variety (or lack thereof), that is an indicator that this may be a core value of yours. Consider adding it to your personal values list.

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Who doesn’t want to have fun? Everyone of course! The question is therefore not so much whether you want to have fun, but how you have fun. Do you always find a way to have fun? Or does pleasure have a specific place and time for you?

Those creating a so-called ‘laptop-lifestyle-business’ often do so because they want their business to fit the rest of their life and provide the means to live their life as they see fit. It means they can work whenever and wherever they want (autonomy), while also spending as much time as possible doing the things they enjoy besides work (pleasure), such as travel.

How to leverage the Fresh Start Effect
If you are looking at your business as a way to make (enough) money so you can optimise for as much surfing as possible, you may want to consider giving ‘pleasure’ a spot on your personal values list.

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With the exception of a few hermits, everyone has a need to connect with others to a greater or lesser degree. How great is your desire to belong to something? To be part of a group or something bigger?

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Originality / Authenticity

Like many other values, this one also overlaps with other values. Someone with a strong need for originality and authenticity wants to be able to express that. Someone with this drive also feels more comfortable with (for example) autonomy and variation.

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Getting started [exercise]

As mentioned, this is not a list of all the values in existence. But it does give you concrete tools to think about it for yourself. Now go discover and identify the values that matter most to you and create your top 5 personal values list.

If you find it impossible to come up with only 5 values, iterate over your list several times until you narrow it down to the top 5 values you find most important.

Start using this personal values list when making everyday decisions in life and business and notice the effect on you as you start making choices in line with your personal values.

Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

Join my free Focus Finder email course to transform yourself from deeply distracted to fully focused.

    Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

    Join my free Focus Finder course and go from deeply distracted to fully focused.

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