Why it’s more useful to rely on your values rather than passion for a rewarding and meaningful work life.
Find what you love and do that, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
Sounds simple enough.
Unless you’re like me and didn’t have a searing passion that relentlessly pulled you towards a well-defined career from an early age. Or if your passion can’t readily be monetised in ways that provide you with financial security. This is where values come in.
We all have values, and they are unique to each of us. Our values guide us toward what brings meaning and a sense of fulfilment into our lives. They guide us toward the kind of person we want to be. In the work context, knowing your values helps you establish practices and habits that shape your work to support your broader life for a more meaningful, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience all around.
Let me explain that with an example.
Jane has a job that pays well. The people are nice, she enjoys performing well and being a team player, but the subject matter isn’t really interesting to her. Jane hasn’t spent much time thinking about her values but knows that her manager relies on her and that she has always received praise for going “above and beyond”. Jane’s manager often adds to her responsibilities, requiring her to work longer hours to get everything done. Jane enjoys being needed but lately she has started to feel angry and resentful towards work.
In this simple scenario, Jane isn’t clear on her values and so has unwittingly adopted external criteria to guide what kind of worker she will be – in this case being guided by her manager’s to-do list and the positive feedback from her manager and teammates.
Without knowing her own values, Jane isn’t able to recognise where to establish her work boundaries. Even though she is exceeding her manager’s expectations and “doing everything right”, Jane still ends up feeling angry and resentful because she is using the wrong criteria to judge what is right for her.
Only her own values can guide her correctly.
Let’s compare Jane to Sophie.
Sophie’s scenario is exactly the same as Jane’s except Sophie is crystal clear on her work values and how work fits in to her broader life for a meaningful and rewarding mix. Like Jane, Sophie enjoys being a valued member of the team, but when she notices that additional responsibilities would require her to compromise her values on wellbeing, family, and integrity, Sophie asks for a quick chat with her manager. In this discussion Sophie shares that she can take on the new responsibilities but would need to drop or reassign others as continuing to add to her responsibilities is not going to work.
In this scenario, Sophie notices and then takes action to allow herself to honour her work values – which include doing a good job and being a team player – and also to maintain her values from the other areas of her life that bring meaning and fulfillment.
Thankfully, in this imaginary scenario Sophie’s manager responded well to her concern. However even if Sophie’s manager didn’t agree with her request, Sophie’s values can still guide her next steps.
There are too many potential scenarios to unpack here but suffice it to say: a solid understanding of our own values is helpful even when situations don’t go our way.
So it’s okay if your passion isn’t your career - for most people this isn’t the case.
But it is important to understand how your work fits into your broader life, and to notice when that balance is off. Getting clear on your values can guide you on where to make tweaks and adjustments for a more rewarding and less draining work life.
For a fun and playful way to start thinking about your values, try this exercise: imagine you’re at your 99th birthday party. Family, friends, and colleagues from throughout your career are giving speeches about you and extolling your virtues. What are some of the qualities they mention that make you most proud of how you conducted yourself throughout your career?
This can be a fun journaling exercise or a topic of discussion a friend over a cuppa or glass of vino.