How to figure out what you really value

core value exercise
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The other day I was leafing through some of my old workshop materials in preparation for my October seminar and I found a “Values” exercise. You might have done one of these before, where you look through a list of words like “Peace, Success, Wisdom, Integrity, Wealth, Time, Fame, Justice” etc etc. and you’re supposed to whittle them down to your top five values (here’s an example or this one). These top five values should then help give you direction in your big decisions. You’re supposed to remember them well enough to live your life intentionally aligned with them.

I look at it now and I think this exercise is flawed. It’s all well and good to think about what we value . . . but I think most of the time, we’ll end up choosing the words we simply like best (hey, these all sound good!). Of course most of these things we want to value. Maybe there’s no harm in that. Maybe it works as a list of values you aspire to.

To get a more accurate assessment of our top five values I think we need to be a little more realistic. My guess would be that if you briefly outlined where you spent your time every day for a week, you would see your top five values quite clearly. If not, maybe your spouse, roommate, sibling or parent could help you out.

I’m guessing this second list based on how we spend our time won’t be quite as noble-sounding as the first list but it will probably be a better starting place for understanding who we are.

For example, if you spend every evening watching shows and are always excited about finding a new series to watch, you value entertainment and relaxation. Which is great. I definitely value those things. I just think they wouldn’t necessarily show up if you asked me to pick my top five values out of a list. I don’t see myself as someone who sits in front of the TV every evening but the reality is that I do spend an hour most nights watching something.

Now, if you spend 80 hours a week at a job you hate, you might be thinking your time doesn’t really show what you value. Maybe not, but maybe it does. Maybe you simply value security or approval from your superiors more than you realize. Change is hard. Risk is well . . . very risky! Maybe you value loyalty so highly, it makes it hard for you to leave no matter how toxic the situation. If it’s paying you more than you could make in a job you would enjoy, maybe you’re staying because you value money or status more than you think.

So here’s an idea for a twist on this exercise: Do the first one where you pick them out of a list. Then spend a few days observing your daily schedule. Make the second list based on what your use of time says you value. Then compare them. Even better, compare them with someone who knows you well and can give you perspective.

  • Do they align?
  • Where are the discrepancies?
  • Are there steps you can take to move your second list into agreement with your first?
  • Is that even necessary?

Let me know what you discover! I’ll test it out myself over the next few days and let you know in the comments what I come up with.

Have you heard of the Gallup Q12?

Gallup Q12I ran across the Gallup Q12 the other day. The Gallup Q12 is an employee engagement survey (the Q12 stands for the twelve questions). Why is it considered important to measure employee engagement? Because companies with engaged employees, “exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.”

Gallup uses these questions to measure the American workplace on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately most companies either don’t know about the Gallup Q12, don’t know how to use the information the Gallup Q12 provides to improve their employee engagement, or don’t care enough about employee engagement to really make an effort.

How do we know this? Because the most recent figures show that only 30% of employees feel engaged at work. You can download the most recent report here.

I want that to change. It’s a big amount but imagine if we could reverse that percentage? What if 70% of people loved their work? I think the only way to start is with individuals. Why? Because we’ve had corporate consulting, coaching and counselling on the scene for years now and it still doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent. We can’t wait for a top-down approach anymore. I get excited about helping individuals reclaim work as a good word. One-by-one, maybe we’ll make a dent in that percentage, no matter how daunting it seems.

Get yourself started by figuring out your own answers to the twelve questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my organization make me feel like my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a close friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
  12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

Are you one of the 30% or do you fall into the other 70%? Which factors would you say contribute most to where you would rate yourself? Are there items on this list that you can address with your manager?

Two Tips for Getting Clarity on Tough Decisions

Decisions I just breezed through Decisive by Dan Heath and Chip Heath (I’m on a Heath kick – John and I just listened to Switch and I have Made to Stick waiting on the bookshelf). It was another fun read! These guys tell great stories and also pack a ridiculous amount of practical advice into their books. Decisive is all about helping you develop a good process for making decisions.

I just want to give you two of the great tips they suggest when you’re agonizing over a decision. Heath and Heath talk about how our short-term emotions often tempt us to make decisions that aren’t good long-term. Maybe we’re scared of being embarrassed by failure, insecure about our talents, anxious about money, angry at our boss, infatuated with the person we just met or obsessed with an exciting business idea. Whatever the emotion, it can blind us. Distance helps us gain clarity which hopefully leads to a wiser decision.

Tip one for getting distance: 10/10/10

The authors suggest asking yourself how you’ll feel about your decision 10 minutes after making it, 10 months after making it and 10 years after making it. They use a simple example that also illustrates how short-term emotions can blow the importance of the decision out of proportion: A guy can’t decide whether to call a girl he met. Maybe you can imagine the agony of trying to get up the courage, wondering if he’ll be rejected, worrying about what to say etc. If he decides to call her how will he feel about that decision in 10 minutes? Maybe he’ll still be nervous but he might have gained some confidence about the fact that he’s taking action. How will he feel in 10 months? If the call goes well, maybe he’ll be so grateful he did because they’re now dating. If the call goes poorly, will he even remember it in 10 months? Probably not. The same can be extrapolated out to 10 years. Potentially the happy couple looks back at that phone call as the thing that started it all. More likely the momentary panic about whether or not to call the girl will be long forgotten.

This kind of distance helps us put our decisions back into proportion and can show us the “worth it” factor in our decisions.

Tip two for getting distance: “What would I tell my best friend to do?”

Simply switching shoes mentally with a friend helps us create distance from the emotions of our decision, allowing us to be more objective, just like our friends usually are when we spring crazy ideas on them. Maybe you’re tearing yourself up trying to decide whether or not you should take a job offer. Ask yourself, “What would I tell my best friend to do?” If you automatically think “I would tell her to go for it!” then consider whether you have your answer. Ask yourself why you would give that advice to your friend and what’s keeping you from giving that same advice to yourself.

If you have some decisions to make that feel daunting, this book is chock full of great ideas to make sure you’ve thought everything through as best you can. If you don’t have time to read the book, you can go over to their website, and register to access the first chapter, a one page summary and workbook (all for free!).

Do you have a favourite method for making decisions that helps you? What do you normally do to seek clarity?


Recover Your Calling: Fall Class at Edmonds Community College

Recover Your Calling fall classRight after I posted about my goals on Monday, I received an email letting me know that my course proposal “Recover Your Calling” for Fall quarter at Edmonds Community College was accepted! I am stoked. This class will be open to the public as part of their “ArtsNow/uLearn” community education program. Tentatively it is scheduled for October 16-Nov 13, that’s five Wednesday nights from 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Recover Your Calling fall classThis five week course is designed to debunk the myths surrounding work, vocation and calling so that you can overcome the obstacles that keep you from living out a more meaningful life both at work and in your relationships. Class time will focus on brief instruction components, helpful self-awareness exercises and group debrief & discussion. The goal is to have you walk away with actionable information for recovering a sense of calling in your day-to-day life.

I’m so excited to take the massive amounts of material I’ve accumulated over the past few years, distill it down and be able to share what I’ve learned with my community. So, if you don’t see much of me the rest of the summer, you’ll know why. I’ll be trying to sort out curriculum and preparing to teach (pray for me – you might know I’m not a linear thinker so it takes me forever to get things all lined up!).

If you’re in the Seattle area, save the date! The class size will be limited to 20 people so watch this space and I’ll let you know as we get closer how you can register for the class. I would love to see some familiar faces!


Dependable Strengths or Motivated Abilities Exercise

I recently got to attend a great seminar on finding your “Dependable Strengths.” It was interesting to see that the core exercise was very similar to the Motivated Abilities Pattern that Arthur Miller suggests in his book The Power of Uniqueness. Today I thought I’d repost an exercise I blogged last year with a couple updates to the instructions from this seminar.

“The surest way I have found to unlock the essence of a person is to look at what he likes to do and do well.” – Arthur Miller


Jot down at least 10 experiences you can remember that satisfy the two criteria: things you enjoyed doing and things you did well.

Be specific about these experiences. List as many details as possible about what you were doing, how you did it, who else was involved and what you felt throughout the process. Here’s a handy acronym to help you:

  • S – Situation
  • T – Task(s)
  • A – Action(s)
  • R – Result(s)

These experiences don’t have to be from a job or school. If building sandcastles as a child was something you enjoyed doing and did well, then write about that! Cleaning your closet, dancing, leading meetings – it really doesn’t matter what realm of life your accomplishments come from or how tangible/abstract they are.

When you’ve written out these ten things that you enjoyed doing and did well, you want to look at the patterns. Even if the activities themselves are widely diverse, there will probably be things about each one that are the same.

Here are some questions to help you:

  1. Do your experiences all fall into one or two general categories of interest? If not, are there other things that each experience has in common?
  2. Did you see patterns to the situation, tasks, actions you took in each scenario?
  3. Look carefully at the results you wrote down. What do they tell you about your motivations?
  4. What did you enjoy most about each activity – your actions, the social factor, the environment you were in?
  5. If you had a hard time coming up with ten things you liked doing and did well, why do you think that was?
  6. Did anything surprise you?

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you uncovered about yourself!

Working Identity Book Review

Working Identity by Herminia IbarraI just sped through Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra because it’s due back at the library today and I can’t renew it. Ahh – the pressure of library due dates. I know technically I could just ignore them and hold onto books for another week without incurring any fees or punishment but out of respect to my librarian mother I just can’t bring myself to bend rules like that. So I live under the constant pressure of which book is due when. I really should start controlling myself when it comes to how many holds I place at a time. Inevitably I find 3-4 books all waiting for me at once, all non-renewable because another 50 people after me want them. Talk about the woes of a bookworm.

Anyway – this book had some gems and while it focuses on the process of midlife career transitions, there was a lot of connection and crossover between two other books I hope to be blogging about soon, The Gifts of Imperfection and Transforming Conversion. While its intention was to describe how people move from one “working identity” to the next, it seemed highly applicable to personal growth and the process of coming to faith.

Ibarra’s work focuses on people who realize they are no longer satisfied in their chosen careers:

When the question “Who am I?” reasserts itself long after we thought we’d figured it all out, it is usually motivated, at least in part, by some form of what academics call “disconfirmation” – a tangible sense that our earlier ways of understanding ourselves and the world have failed us or that fundamental assumptions about who we are are no longer as sturdy or satisfying (p. 35).

Ibarra argues that rather than spending a lot of time on introspection, assessments, theories and plans, we should begin a series of small experiments designed to test out the variety of directions we’re interested in, “Adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting” (p.2).

While we often want to have a clear path laid out for us before we begin the process of change, Ibarra concludes that, “Transformation, then, happens less by grand design or careful strategy than by the small wins that results from ongoing practices that enhance our capacity to change” (p. 87) and goes on to warn us that, “When we craft experiments, we increase the likelihood that things will never be the same again” (p. 106).

This advice resonated with me as I think we often get stuck in the thinking/planning process and forget to ever actually move forward towards our distant goals. The series of small experiments is exactly what I suggest for people who are trying to “find their calling” but have so many interests they’re not really sure which they’re most passionate about. The only way to find out where your calling lies is to start doing things and see what fits best. Connections happen in motion. Her warning is also important though because we sometimes don’t realize that once we’ve started down this road of exploration, we won’t easily settle back into the old patterns, jobs and lives we had before we started looking around. It can get messy.

Taking action and being aware of the likely consequences is essential. At the same time, we definitely need time and space to step back and reflect on our experiences and evaluate what they mean. Ibarra uses a French phrase “reculer pour mieux sauter” which literally means “stepping back to better leap forward” (p. 148). That step back helps us to ground ourselves, look around and make sure we are leaping in the right direction.

Here’s her summary of advice for making career transitions (and I would argue any major life changes!):

  1. Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You cannot discover yourself by introspection.
  2. Stop trying to find your one true self. Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about.
  3. Allow yourself a transition period in which it is okay to oscillate between holding on and letting go. Better to live the contradictions than to come to a premature resolution.
  4. Resist the temptation to start by making a big decision that will change everything in one fell swoop. Use a strategy of small wins, in which incremental gains lead you to more profound changes in the basic assumptions that define your work and life. Accept the crooked path.
  5. Identify projects that can help you get a feel for a new line of work or style of working. Try to do these as extracurricular activities or parallel paths so that you can experiment seriously without making a commitment.
  6. Don’t just focus on the work. Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition. But don’t expect to find them in your same old social circles.
  7. Don’t wait for a cataclysmic moment when the truth is revealed. Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through. Practice telling and retelling your story. Over time, it will clarify.
  8. Step back. But not for too long.
  9. Change happens in bursts and starts. There are time when you are open to big change and times when you are not. Seize opportunities.

These points sound simple and succinct but Ibarra notes that most major career transitions take between three to five years and the process is circuitous. She reminds us not to get too frustrated with the messiness of life in progress.

Have you struggled through a career transition experience or any time in your life that felt like you were living in limbo between who you were and who you were becoming? I’d love to hear your story. Did you use any of these strategies or wish you had?



I need a “Good Enough” challenge

I’m taking another quick break from my “What’s Wrong with Work Today” series (the next one is on management and it’s taking me awhile!) to share a problem I have: it’s called the “not-good-enough” syndrome, a.k.a. perfectionism (hmm, could also be why that other blog post is taking so long). Letting things be “good enough” doesn’t come naturally to me.

I was talking with my mom last night about home organization and as we were discussing cleaning, simplifying and organizing, I had a familiar sinking feeling. I get bogged down easily. As soon as I start noticing one thing that’s wrong, it seems to trigger my awareness of EVERYTHING in the house that is wrong. Then I get overwhelmed about how I’m NEVER going to get this house under control (I’m not known for overreaction at all).

I think this may be one of the few areas where I do consider reading dangerous (normally, I say, read away!). Reading blogs and books about how other people clean, eat, solve problems, make their own everything, go organic etc. can be very dangerous. So many facts I wasn’t aware of! So many changes to make! My family knows me too well and sometimes preface their remarks with comments like, “We probably shouldn’t tell Tash about this . . . ” or “I don’t think I should forward this article to you, but . . . ” and then they proceed to talk about some new study about the effects of this or that on our health.

And why is this so dangerous for me? Because, instead of just getting some inspiration, I tend to go overboard. Nothing we’re doing is good enough! Let’s change everything! Let me tell you, my husband does a lot of patient smiling and sympathizing while secretly terrified that I’ll never let him eat pancakes again.

But, as my mom reminded me last night, our house is fairly organized. It’s not chock-full of clutter. Sure, it’s often dirtier than I would like, but most evenings, I tidy up and relax in peaceful surroundings. Good enough, right? Sure, our office and garage are out of control, but that’s only two areas in our house. Good enough, right? Yes, I haven’t dusted in a month and all the bathrooms need cleaning but at least we’re wearing clean clothes and eating off clean dishes. Good enough, right?

Then there’s the whole health thing. Yes, we may eat pancakes far too often for breakfast, but at least we eat a large salad at lunch and dinner most days. Good enough, right? It’s so hard for me to think this way. Instead, I’m constantly thinking about how we can improve things. I rarely stop to see how far we have come (hello, we used to be way too lazy to even make a salad once a week).  We live well, for the most part. And I need to let go of the rest of it. I need a “good enough” challenge where every time I get frustrated about our lack of perfection in some area, I choose to see how much is already good enough in our lives.

Anybody else need this challenge?

Self-Discovery Exercise

It’s a cold and rainy curl-up-on-the-couch kind of day here in Seattle. You would never guess it’s June. I’ve lived here long enough now, that I actually get confused when people talk about “summer” in June. Summer here doesn’t really start until late July.

Anyway, I thought I’d give you a fun exercise to do sometime this weekend. These phrases come from Barbara J. Winter’s book Making a Living without a Job, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in working for yourself. Just complete the following statements and see what discoveries you make about yourself. Don’t spend too much time trying to think of something – try to go with whatever comes to mind first, no matter how silly it might seem! I feel like I’ve often had my gut reactions be more accurate than when I try to overthink or analyze my answers. If you have a light-bulb moment, I’d love it if you shared it in the comments!

I feel terrific when . . .
I feel terrific when I spend time with . . .
To me, the future looks . . .
The best thing I ever did was . . .
I wish I could lose my fear of . . .
I know I have the talent to . . .
I enjoy people who  . . .
I admire . . .
I feel most productive when . . .
I am motivated by . . .
I almost never . . .
I laugh at . . .
My idea of fun is . . .
Work is exciting when . . .
The best advice I ever got was . . .
The thing I value most is . . .
If money were no object, I would . . .
It’s easy for me to focus on . . .
My imagination is . . .
When I talk about myself, I . . .
My idea of a perfect life is . . .
My best days are . . .
My dream is . . .
I always wanted to . . .
I look forward to . . .
I spend too much time . . .
When I try to change something . . .
The thing my friends like about me is . . .
I would have more fun if . . .
In a group I like to . . .
If I ever win a prize it will be for . . .

Giftedness or Motivated Abilities Pattern Exercise

“The surest way I have found to unlock the essence of a person is to look at what he likes to do and do well.” – Arthur Miller, The Power of Uniqueness

I’ve mentioned this book several times and highlighted the different aspects of giftedness in another blog post and today I wanted to share an exercise with you that Miller uses to help people understand their MAP or Motivated Abilities Pattern. A few more quotes on Giftedness from Chapter 1 in the book:

“Giftedness is the way we are by nature. It’s what makes us us. It’s the way we were designed to function, and therefore the way we actually do function best and with the greatest delight. It includes what we do well and are motivated to accomplish.”

“Giftedness is not limited to school smarts, genius-level intelligence or precocious musical talent, it is not a personality type or trait and it is not some quality that can be acquired.”

“Because it is like breathing, every person has used their giftedness throughout their years, be those years long or short.”


Jot down at least 10 experiences you can remember that satisfy the two criteria: things you enjoyed doing and things you did well. I would try to be fairly quick with these and go with what comes to mind – don’t edit yourself too much or start analyzing deeply.

Be specific about the actions you took in each instance that led to this accomplishment. List as many details as possible what you were doing, how you did it, who else was involved and what you felt throughout the process. These experiences don’t have to be from a job or school. If building sandcastles as a child was something you enjoyed doing and did well, then write about that! Cleaning your closet, dancing, leading meetings – it really doesn’t matter what realm of life your accomplishments come from or how tangible/abstract they are.

When you’ve written out these ten things that you enjoyed doing and did well, you want to look at the patterns. Even if the activities themselves are widely diverse, there will probably be things about each one that are the same.

Here are some questions to help you:

1. What do these activities tell you about yourself?
2. Did you see patterns, similar events or actions in each scenario?
3. What motivated you to do each of these activities?
4. What did you enjoy most about each activity – your actions, the social factor, the environment you were in?
5. If you had a hard time coming up with ten things you liked doing and did well, why do you think that was?
6. Did anything surprise you?

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you uncovered about yourself!

The Life Map Exercise

Today, I wanted to share a practical exercise that can shed a lot of light on your calling. I was reminded of it because Don Miller posted something very similar on his blog, promoting his Storyline conference (which I’ve heard is worth attending) called The Power of Knowing Your Story. The two exercises are a bit different so I’ll give you the instructions I’ve always been given as well and then you can decide what makes the most sense to you.

The exercise I use was taught to me as the Life Map. I think I first heard about it in high school when my parents did theirs as part of a Bible study. Then in college, we used it in our student leadership positions. I’ve found it extremely eye-opening and useful for zooming out and seeing the big picture. It’s easy to forget about how we’ve learned, grown and changed in the past and reviewing that can sometimes bring greater hope or motivation in current situations.

To do this exercise, get a sheet of paper or cardboard and two different colors of post-it notes. Take 25 minutes (don’t try to dig too deeply – you want what comes to mind easily and quickly) and:

  1. On the the first color sticky notes write down pleasant experiences (e.g. growing up in a loving family). You might write down the name of a person or an activity, a specific memory of an encounter or even a place etc.
  2. On the second color sticky notes write down painful situations (e.g. broken relationship). It’s important with these to write them down as painful if that is how they felt at the time. Even if something good came out of it later, if it was painful at the time you went through it, it needs to go on this color, not the “pleasant experiences” color. Also, painful doesn’t have to be hugely traumatic. If piano lessons weren’t a good experience, you’re allowed to write that down. Nothing is too trivial.
  3. Arrange these on the sheet in columns that follow a chronological order (it can help to brainstorm things in sections like early childhood, high school, college, or in 5 or 10 year increments – depends on how old you are and how detailed you want to get).
  4. Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to take another 20 minutes or so to just sit and review what you’ve got on your life map. Are there more of one color than the other? A bunch of things in a certain time period and less in another? As you assess what you’ve written down, take a third color of sticky notes and write down the lessons that you learned through these defining moments (e.g. Trying new things makes me grow). Place these along the bottom of your time line.

After you’ve completed all that, one of the best things you can do with it is share it with someone else. Maybe your spouse, your best friend or a small group. Talking through your story with someone else may give you even more insight into the shape of your life story. I think this exercise ties into recovering your calling in life in two ways. First, you simply know yourself better. You have a better grasp on who you are, where you’ve come from and therefore where you might be headed next. Second, it can show you themes in your life you may not have recognized before. These patterns and themes that may be indicators of where your calling lies.

Hope you all have a great weekend!