How Your Values Can Lead You To Your Ideal Career

Updated: Jan 15


In 2013, I had been working a steady job in banking for nearly 11 years. I started to get the sense that I was ready to move on. It was a well-established company with talented people and great benefits. On paper, it checked all of the boxes of a great employer, but I was itching for something more creative. Deep down, I never felt aligned to my true talents. In a moment of inspiration, I wrote down a list of what I was looking for. It was radically unspecific. I used a slacker’s approach to goal setting if you will.


It included some statements and intentions, with a hunch that I’d need a three to five-year timeframe. It was focused on pursuing my purpose, not necessarily a paycheck. Here was that list:

  • Use my talents of educating and inspiring others to help them use their best talents.

  • Follow my passion of learning and education and find a career that promotes work-life balance and continuous learning.

  • Help other people find their talents and passion and bring out their best selves.

  • Choose to live purposely and slow down to consider meaning before I just say yes.Create a foundation for thought leadership and change.

None of those were specific about how to get a job, or exactly what job title or salary I desired. They were centered around how I wanted to live my life. These worked out well for me as I’ll explain below, but how is it possible these manifested without focusing on a specific outcome? Best-selling author and psychologist Steven Hayes studies how people make goals and who is successful. He found there is a difference between outcome-based goals and values-based goals. Let’s take a look at what this typically looks like with some of my clients.


Two Approaches to Goal Setting

One of my clients might say, “I have to find a new job in the next 90 days.” They are usually focusing on achieving a specific salary, job title, or company. This is outcome-based goal setting. Client two might say, “I think that maybe my current career is out of alignment for me and I'm really interested in exploring how I want to spend my day what my ideal future work is going to look like.” They imagine forward their ideal day including what types of meetings they’ll be taking and decisions they’ll be making. While they have a sense of the type of work they want, they remain mentally flexible on how the outcome may transpire. It is important to them to seek alignment of their personal desires and values and that of their prospective company. This is values-based goal setting.


Who do you believe is more successful because they are happier with their decision long-term? According to Hayes, it would be client two who used a values-based mindset to set their goals. It’s true that the first person might actually reach their desired outcome sooner. They find a job with some legwork, but what they (speaking from my own experience!) tend to feel is dissatisfaction soon after the “new job smell” wears off. After the allure of a desired title and salary fade, they realize they are left with work they don’t love. The second person was very specific about their values and how they want to move through life. They weren't so much concerned about a timeline, but more so with how they want to feel when they get there.


Values-based goal setters, enjoy how they are getting there just as much as the outcome. And, they are happier while they live out the results of their goals because their values remain consistent. Values-based goal setting is the approach I use when my clients come to me for career change help. Why would we want a career out of alignment from our true self?


How did mine turn out? I did set milestones that helped me keep moving forward, and within that year, I left that company. After much interviewing and declining job offers because they didn’t align with my values, I chose to go work for an amazing technology company who strongly valued learning and innovation. Two years after that, I moved on again to work for a bestselling author and keynote speaker to help leaders coach up their teams and lead change without drama. Three years in that job prepared me to make my next conscious decision to honor my values and start my own leadership coaching and speaking practice. I get to work with leaders all over the country to help remove what gets in the way of showing up as their most confident selves in life and work. Ultimately, I am living out my goal of building a foundation for thought leadership and change although I never would have imagined it this way seven years ago.


All of this was possible because I paid attention to how I want to feel and let my values take me toward my True North, while achieving goals along the way. It’s a good thing I wasn’t fixated on a specific outcome, because my comfort zone would likely have pegged me in a corporate job. While I stayed flexible, my leaps wouldn’t have been possible without some blind steps of faith and taking risks by trusting my intuition.


How Can You Live By Values Instead of Goals?

Your values are who you really are. They are things you do or that you find very attractive. When engaged in these activities, you feel most like your true self - connected, excited, and effortless. Many of us lead lives that are too busy with needs and responsibilities and we wonder why we feel frustrated, bored or complacent, wishing and hoping to have a better life.


Considering if your daily choices and actions are in line with your core values is the first step in creating a more fulfilling and joyful life. This includes choosing work you love to do and fulfills your potential. Here are three steps to reveal your values:


STEP 1: Write a description of your ideal day. What do I want my life/career to stand for? What qualities do I want to cultivate? What makes work meaningful? Don’t write what you think you have to do to make money, write what would bring you purpose and joy!


STEP 2: Based on your ideal day and what ignites you and drives your purpose, read this list of values (courtesy Dare to Lead by Brene Brown) and circle approximately 10 that resonate with you. Choose words that feel deeply true for you. Use your whole body, not just your mind or thoughts to choose these words. Sit with each and notice how you react. Do you tense up or feel drained? (not a value). Do you relax and feel purposeful, excited, free or energetic? (Likely a value for you).


STEP 3: Narrow that list down to 3-5. It can help to compare similar values together and choose which feels more freeing or energizing for you? Drop values you think you SHOULD have. Which values, if you lived them, would make work and life most fulfilling for you?

These last 3-5 are your top Core Values. They can serve as a starting point to filter your decisions and discover careers and organizations that align to what’s important to you.


If all you’re able to do today is dream up few thoughts, write them down. You might be surprised how far you come when you choose to look back. I’ve noticed that many high achievers focus on how far they have to go. Happiness researchers agree that it’s motivating to reflect and give yourself some credit for how far you've come. That simple gratitude practice will help give you a little bit of fuel to keep you going.


To take a deeper dive into discovering your values and finding alignment to your true talents an purpose, start by joining my 2020 On Purpose Challenge January 28, 29 & 30.

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I share helpful tip videos every week to help leaders rise confidently to achieve their ideal career and lifestyle goals (hustle free). Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or subscribe!

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© 2020 by Kelli Thompson