How to clarify your values and achieve career success

May 11, 2019

Recently, I got to thinking. How lucky am I to run my own business? I have the freedom to set my own hours and take time off when I want.

You see, freedom is an important personal value of mine.

Ever since I was very young, I’ve wanted the freedom of having my own business. After plenty of hard work and nearly 6 years later, being my own boss has allowed me to fully honour this value.

But life wasn’t always this way.

For years, I was a slave to my corporate job and later, my own business. Back in 2017, I was burnt-out, miserable in my recruitment career and dissatisfied with the business I’d created. I’d also not taken a holiday in nearly 3 years.

As a last ditch attempt to move past my unhappiness, I booked a 2 week beach holiday. My intention? Take a WHOLE fortnight off, relax and rejuvenate. The reality? I worked every day, closing sales. I had no time to switch off and enjoy myself.

I’d started my own business because I wanted more freedom and balance. Yet I had none. I was in no way honouring one of my core values. What was truly important to me. And I was extremely unfulfilled and unhappy as a result.

Up until this stage, I’d never taken the time to consider my values. In fact, I had no idea what they were! Clarifying my values has allowed me to create a career and business model aligned to what’s important to me. And life is far more fulfilling as a result!

So, how do you identify your values?

Below I outline what your values are, why they’re important and a 5-step process to follow to clarify your own. Find out what’s important to you in your professional life and learn how to use this information to guide future career decisions.


Your values are what you stand for. The things that make you tick, something that is truly important to you. They are part of who you are and already lie within you.

Values are difficult to articulate because they’re intangible and not something we have or do. They tend to remain stable over time but you may continue to identify new ones during your lifetime.


When your values are being fully expressed in your life and work, you’re deeply fulfilled and alive.  Decisions feel ‘right’, choices resonate and you’re ‘in flow’. Conversely, when you’re angry, frustrated or upset, it’s often a sign an important value is being suppressed.

By clarifying your values, you begin to understand what’s essential for your happiness and fulfilment. This allows you to make the right choices in all aspects of your life, including your career. Your values will impact the career you choose, the specific role, organisation or work environment.

For example, if you value achievement, you’d thrive in a role offering rewards, recognition or opportunity for progression. Meanwhile, an individual valuing creativity and fun would prefer a relaxed work environment, with room for innovation and self-expression.



A values exercise that’s often suggested is to select a handful of words from a long ‘shopping list’ of potential values. The downside of this method is you approach it from a place of judgement, selecting the values that sound the most positive or attractive. This approach is not recommended, as it leads you to focus on what others think or the values you believe you ‘should’ be aspiring to. Not what’s truly important to you.

The 5 step values clarification process begins with two ways to start to explore your values. Both approaches use real, meaningful life experience that will be unique and resonant to you. Follow one of the methods below to get started.

Method 1 – Use a real life experience

Any real life situation can be used to clarify your personal values. Your values with either be plainly visible or completely missing, based on the choices you make in everyday life. By considering past decisions and actions, you can clearly identify the values you were honouring or not honouring.

Recall a specific moment in your life that stands out for you. It could be a significant milestone. A celebration. A positive or negative experience. Something that had a strong impact on you.

Where were you? Who were you with? What was happening? What, specifically was memorable about this moment for you? Write down any key words, themes or thoughts.

Then, ask yourself – what values was I honouring (or not honouring) in this situation? Make a note of the important values that come to mind.

Method 2 – What fires you up?

What makes you angry, upset, frustrated – or generally fires you up?

Your response to this question offers clues to something that conflicts with your highest values. For example, ego, arrogance and insincerity aggravate me, as they oppose my value of authenticity.

Situations that trigger these emotions are indicative that you’re not fully honouring an important value in some area of your life. Reflect on what is causing you to feel this way. Then write down any core values that are being provoked or suppressed.


Based on the values you’ve identified using one of the two above methods, start to create a list of values.

Go through the list. Which values resonate with you the most? The goal is to really feel into each value. Try them on. See what resonates to understand which values are the most important to you.

Next, narrow it down to a final list of your top 10 values. You might even choose to combine two together. For example – honesty/authenticity or freedom/independence.

If you could only choose your top 10 – which would make the cut?


The next step is to get clear on exactly what each value means to you.

Write down the meaning of each value. You can do this in any form – create a string of words, bullet points, a paragraph description or by free writing in a stream of consciousness.

Rather than simply writing out a list of values, this process gets you to experience each one and start to understand what it truly means for you. Values are personal and have very different meanings for each individual. For example, many business owners and entrepreneurs value freedom. But freedom could mean independence, adventure or creative self-expression.

At the end of this step, you’ll have a list of your top 10 values and an understanding of what they mean to you.


Once you’ve identified your top 10 values, consider to what extent you’re honouring them in your life right now. On a scale of 1-10, where do you sit? If 1 = not at all and 10 = they’re present all the time.

This step is very telling. If you’ve ranked any value below 5, it indicates the value is not being honoured. You’re likely experiencing anger, frustration or unhappiness in some area of your life.

If this is the case, ask yourself – what’s the price you pay for not honouring this value? And how could you start to honour this value more in the current circumstances?


Knowing your values confirms what’s truly important to you. Moving ahead, you’ll use these values to inform future career decisions.

Making choices aligned to your values is not always easy. Going after what you want can be challenging and creates discomfort. However, in the long term following what’s important to you leads to a greater sense of fulfillment.

The next time you have a decision to make in your career or life, ask yourself. Is this choice aligned to my values, or moving me away from them? By taking this step, will I be honouring my values and to what degree?

This 5-step process has helped my clients and I discover our values, get unstuck and create greater fulfillment in our careers. I hope it assists you too.

Want to create a career by design, not default? Find out how to build a career plan in alignment with your values.

Hit play on this free guided audio and in 15 minutes, I’ll give you all the strategies you need to get started! Get instant access.

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achievers at a career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms. Stacey works virtually with individuals and organisations based across the globe.