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Understanding Personal Values

Throughout our lives, we build up a code for how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. These can stem from childhood experiences where our parents tell us to be nice to others or from our careers where perhaps a project did not work out as well as we thought it could have.

In my day to day, I try my best to live by a set of personal values which I have built as a result of personal experiences. They are my code of conduct and I will share these with you and elaborate on their meaning so I can show you why personal values can be important in all aspects of life to give you the information you need to set your own.

So what exactly is a personal value?

A value, as defined by the dictionary, is:

Value, noun

the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.

It is something that we hold dear and we believe is worth caring about. A value is how we see ourselves and how we wish others to see us, it can be our north star and should reflect what we believe in. They should be important enough to us that if we do not live by them, we are disappointed that we did not act in the way we expect ourselves to.

Personal values keep us true to what we fundamentally believe in as they are a reflection of ourselves given it is ourselves which set them. Whether that be job hunting, personal relationships, or performing better in our professional lives, we set our values in order to guide us to a better and happier version of ourselves.

Personal values must be few in number, short, and not too simplistic. For example, a value of “Be Nice” is noble but most people in the world strive to always be nice so having the value would not do much for your personal development. A better way to capture such a value would be to think about what particular aspect about being nice we want to remember. If we want to ensure that we treat everyone fairly and remember not to judge anyone before knowing their story then a good characterisation would be “We Are All Equals”. This, incidentally, is one of my own personal values.

My Own Values

✊🏻  We Are All Equals

This value is extremely important to me as it is an area which seems obvious but often goes unaddressed in every level of society. The inspiration for this came from my career as a software engineer where the stereotypical representation is a white male. Throughout my career, I have encountered such a diverse range of amazing talented people whom encounter more negative experiences in the industry than me all because of a trait which they cannot, and should not, change. This is especially true for all the rock-star women I have worked with.

Every day, female software engineers are subject to unfair levels of assessment and are often overlooked technically due to their gender. This should not be the case for women or for anyone else. Asking the question “How is it going?” can help understand what others are going through and if we can help. It was asking these questions which helped me understand the challenges which others face thus making me set the value above for myself. I was arrogant to the challenges which they faced and I learned a lot by simply asking.

This value reminds me to always treat everyone with respect no matter their background or who they are as everyone has valuable insights and are human beings with their own unique perspectives. It reminds me that others I encounter may sometimes face higher barriers than me through no fault of their own and I should do everything in my power to help where I can without being condescending or a “saviour”. In the end, we are all equals and we are all on the same team.

If you would like to read more about the challenges women in tech face, I highly recommend this blog post from Curve.

🏋🏻‍♂️   Take The Path Of Least Resistance

Time is something that we do not have enough of. Whether it is not having enough time to exercise every day, finding enough time to cook dinner, or simply not having enough time to finish up that task we wanted to before the weekend. Time is a wonderfully finite resource which there are ample tools attempting to save more of it for us.

If we zoom out and objectively look at how we spend our time, are we spending it efficiently? Oftentimes, especially within software engineering, we look at tools to solve our problems through rose-tinted glasses as a certain technology happens to be the most talked about topic. As an example, should you really invest the time into managing your own infrastructure when there are numerous providers offering this to do you in a cost-effective manner? In our day to day lives, the same principle applies. We could wash all our clothes by hand but we have washing machines which achieves the same goal at far greater efficiency. We could walk to every single destination we want to but we have invented cars, trains, and planes to speed up those journeys so we utilise them instead.

Taking the easier route does not mean we are doing it incorrectly nor does it mean we are cutting corners. Taking the path of least resistance enables us to maximise our time so that we can focus on the hard problems where we need to do our best, to be the best.

📖  Don’t Become History

History is littered with projects, businesses, and ideas which have not stood the test of time. History is what happens to anything which does not stay relevant and fails to adapt to change.

Change is the one constant in all of our lives and this value reminds me to be comfortable with it, to be prepared for it when it inevitably happens.

Change causes history.

Acceptance of change is a big part of being ready for it and to be grounded in the present. I personally employ mindfulness as a framework to help me stay grounded so that I look at whatever I am working on objectively. Techniques such as meditation and asking questions about what I am working on is how I attempt to stay relevant to myself, my family, my friends, and the wider world.

Questions such as: Is this really the most important thing for me to be working on? Is this the best technology for this problem? Did I think that through that decision enough? All of these questions help me understand that I am using my time effectively and that the accumulation of all these little actions will reduce the chance of irrelevance occurring. These actions on their own will not stop irrelevance from happening, acting upon them is how we stop it. For example, if a new technology would reduce manual input on one of the products that we manage then it is up to us to take the time to integrate that new technology.

Like a garden, we need to clear out some of the weeds and water the soil in which our plants live. If we do that, then our plants stay alive and do not become history themselves. The same applies for our work. This value tells me to always be open to change and be ready to adapt for when it comes so that, in the long run, I do not waste my time.

😄  Happiness Above All Else

Happiness is the pursuit which all of us continually strive for, no one wants to be miserable. With that, we should always make the decision which will make us the happiest and, if we can, change the things which do not make us happy.

Throughout my own career, I have made some bad decisions which have severely affected my happiness levels. This is a normal part of life which it happens to all of us but one day, I thought to myself, “What are all the things in my life that make me unhappy and what can I do to change them? Why am I putting up with them? Is there anything I can do?”. It was then I realised that just because something was happening in the present, it did not mean that it would always be that way or that it had to be for the future. After this, I decided to practise interview techniques to get a new job and I also started to exercise frequently as I had done in the past. Both of which, in hindsight, were the smartests decisions I have made and my happiness levels increased exponentially thus making me much more effective in every other part of my life from personal relationships to my work.

Remember that we all deserve happiness and a big part of that comes from ourselves making the right decisions.

Knowing when to stop, knowing when to change, knowing when to start, knowing when to persevere. This value guides me to always make the right decision for my happiness in the long term whether that be professional or private.

🚀   Do Your Best, To Be The Best

One of my favourite quotes was one which I stumbled across whilst on a holiday in San Diego, CA aboard the U.S.S Midway aircraft carrier museum. It perfectly captured the effort and skill needed to run such a huge vessel such as an aircraft carrier.

One that believes that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

This quote stuck with me as it reflects the importance of striving for the highest quality in the things we do. Imagine you were at a restaurant, celebrating a family members birthday and paying a significant amount of money and the chef did not use fresh ingredients in your meal - would you be annoyed? We should treat our own work with the same level of professionalism we expect from this hypothetical chef.

Doing something right can cost more and be more difficult but the end result could mean the difference between a cherished memory or a nightmare for whomever is the recipient of our work. To be the best, we need to bring everything we have to achieve it. It is that attitude which enabled us to put humans on the moon, land rovers on Mars, travel continents with ease, and build global communications networks. As I read this value, I think of these incredible accomplishments of humanity through to the small wins I see from other indie hackers on Twitter or the fitness transformations I see on Instagram. All of these give me the extra push I need to keep going and learning new things as I know it will be immensely rewarding once I achieve what I set out to.

As I do each task I think to myself, have I done this to the best of my ability and would I be happy using this? If the answer is no, then I know that I have not met the benchmark for this value and that I need to try harder.

How to write your own values

All of my own values were built up over my life and each have their own personal significance to me. To write your own values, I strongly recommend grabbing a pen and some paper (yes, they still exist), and think about the areas of your life which are the most important to you or the causes you believe in the most. Consider what you believe to be the correct course of action in past situations you have lived through or a trait in others which you admire and begin to write down the words which you feel capture the meaning of it to you.

There is no correct amount of time to spend doing this

By going through the process, the values will eventually reveal themselves to you. Keep the piece of paper in a prominent place in your workspace so that you are reminded to contribute to your collection of values. The act of physically writing them will cement the importance of them to you allowing you to reflect on why you have chosen them. Once you feel that you have a manageable set of values, you can choose to digitise them as you wish but remember to go back and reflect on the reasons why you have chosen them. Perhaps keep a journal on how you are living by them? Personal values are by no means an exact science or a one size fits all solution to the challenges we all face.

Personal Values are reminders.

Reminders to treat everyone equally or to always make the right decisions for your own happiness. Personal values may appear to be obvious but it is at the times where we least expect it they provide the guidance we need.

I hope that this post has comfortably introduced you to personal values and how they can help in your day to day life.