Sorting through all the pieces of what goes into a life or career can seem rather daunting. You may feel that if you can put food on the table and keep a roof over your head, and maybe somehow find time to spend with your children, that’s about all you can reasonably do. Taking the time to think through your values – what you hold most dear in life – seems like a nice extra, but not at all critical. After all, don’t we all know what our values are anyway?
Not really. One of the most important causes of career stress among people between the ages of 38 and 45 is precisely this issue: What they are doing all day every day has little or no relationship to their most deeply held values. On the other hand, for people in this age group, one of the most important elements in overall satisfaction, meaning and productivity is having a good match between your values and your career.
How can you know what’s important to you? How can you know whether you are out of sync? Try this simple exercise:
1. Review this list of values:
- Monetary success
- Productivity and competence
- Creative and artistic work
- Spiritual fulfillment
- Authority and decision-making
- Physical Challenge
- Change and variety
2. Rank the values, with 1 being the most important to you, 2 being the next-most important and so on until you have numbered the entire list from the most important to the least important.
3. Now get your calendar for the past month. Reflect on how you have spent your time. Rank the list of values again, BUT this time based on how you have spent your time.
4. Compare the two lists – what you consider your priorities vs. where you actually spend your time.
5. Reflect on these questions: What choices am I making to keep my priorities consistent with how I spend my time? What choices will I need to make in order to bring the two lists into alignment?
6. Chose one action step you will take in the next week to reflect more consistency between your priorities and how you spend your time.
The stress associated with being out of sync with your values can lead to burnout and depression. The sooner you pay attention to your values and how to bring them in sync with your career, the more alive, productive and enthusiastic you will feel about your work.
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