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How to live your values

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I’ve had an absolute sh*t of a few weeks. I’ve made some of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make in my personal life, in the face of confusion, conflict and grief. The only thing that’s saved me, and preserved my mental health is clarity on my values. Knowing that integrity, freedom and responsibility have to come first has guided my choices, even though the consequences seem impossible.

In 2016, PayPal took a stand that made waves. When CEO Daniel Schulman discovered that North Carolina violated transgender rights by requiring people to use bathrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates, PayPal cancelled construction on a new corporate office in Charlotte. They moved it, along with 400 jobs, to a different state. It was a controversial move, but it aligned with their purpose to 'focus on what connects us, instead of what separates us.'

PayPal took a stand on diversity early, when they decided to forbid websites that promote violence, hatred, or intolerance from using their platform. This sense of purpose and values has guided their business decisions ever since.

Every day, we make decisions about how we spend our time, attention, and energy. Those actions reflect our values. When we know and live our values, we’re more connected to our behaviour and we can focus on what matters.

Living your values is extraordinarily freeing. When you know what you’re not willing to compromise, you can let go of everything else.

To find your values, try asking what you most detest in others. The reverse is what you care about. If stinginess is upsetting, then you value generosity. If lateness offends, you value promptness. If groupthink grinds your gears, you value independence.

For bonus points, try upgrading your values. Mark Manson argues that not all values are created equally.  Bad values are based on uncontrollable and destructive emotions, while good ones centre on controllable and constructive evidence. When we’re propelled by how we feel, we make distorted, short-term decisions. But when we’ve chosen our values carefully, we can override those instincts and make choices that really count.

Try replacing low-level values with more abstract versions. If you chase money, seek freedom. If you crave popularity, prioritise connection. Most importantly, commit to values that you have agency over. You can’t always control how much money you have or whether people like you, but you can control how you manage your time and how genuine you are.

What are your core values? What are you supporting right now, even tacitly, that doesn’t align with those? How would it feel to change those things?