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Dust off your compass - how do you take most important decisions in life?

Updated: Sep 6, 2018

Can you recall the thought process you went through when you decided to accept the job you are in now?

Thinking through our values is often the first step to figuring out what works makes us happy

My career coaching clients often tell me how they wish their career path was more intentional.

10, 15, 20 years into their working life they realise where they are now is a result of circumstance. And more than they'd like to admit, driven by the choice of immediate gratification.

Take my client, Mark, a senior manager in a tech firm. He didn't even consider saying no to that promotion. It came with more responsibility, more money, seemed like a no brainer at the time. They could get a bigger house. It felt good when he updated his LinkedIn profile and the flood of congratulations poured into his inbox.

He knew that his responsibilities would change, but that didn't seem like too much of a stretch. He would take over an established team and responsibility for a few high profile projects. With time, it became clear that the 30% pay rise came with a much bigger decrease in his quality of life. The deadlines were tough, and the team fed up with unrealistic expectations. Mark's working hours became longer. From a technical visionary and an innovative leader, he spent his days negotiating resources with management and fire fighting to meet those deadlines.

When Mark and I started working together, we started by looking into his values.

Values as our internal compass.

Having a purposeful life and career is about living in alignment with your values. I like to think of values as life elements that you need to be yourself and thrive. Examples of values include things like honesty, fun, integrity, status, creativity. Once we know our values, evaluating opportunities becomes easier.

But the reality is that we may not know what they are. Also, values can change over time as our life goes through different phases, so it's worth re-examining them every so often. You may find you think you hold a certain value but it's actually a leftover from a previous decade. Or a belief, a "should", inherited from one of your parents.

Going through this in coaching can help bring all those things to light and help identify what matters.

All my coaching sessions are bespoke, but I recommend the values work in the early stages of most coaching relationships.

Values work tends to be particularly helpful if you have a career decision to make.

It forces you to think hard about what is important to you in life, and challenges you to prioritise what you can't live without.

When we worked through this with Mark, it became clear to him that his top business value was curiosity. When we delved deeper into what it meant it became evident that solving complex problems and innovating were what made him most energised.

Then we looked into what he would be willing to give up to have more curiosity in his life. He didn't mind working hard, and was ok with long hours, but growth was important to him feeling fulfilled at work. In his words, "it made it all worthwhile". Throughout our sessions he came to the conclusion that an entrepreneurial route was a much better fit for him. He is now setting up his own business.

What does the new job give you?

How are you evaluating opportunities that show up on your path? Are you taking time to think about what the career decision would give you in the long term? How can you sift through all the well meaning advice and decide what is best for you, but consider implications your decision has on others?

We live in an era of instant gratification. Digital savvy Millennials get blamed for it the most, but it's relevant for all generations. We are biologically wired to prioritise short term pleasure.

When thinking through the next opportunity, it may help to ask yourself: what will this career decision actually give you?

You may find that you are prioritising short term satisfaction, like the dopamine rush you get from receiving your new job title, over long term career satisfaction. Or perhaps you may find that you are accepting a job offer to escape boredom or frustration from being in a career that is not aligned with your values? Accepting a new challenge may give you a temporary distraction, but it won't help in the long term.


Awareness of what you need to be fulfilled at work is the first step, and the values work is where "a ha moments" tend to happen for my clients. There is no magic in it though.

First, it's about having time and space to take a really close look at your life, deeper than you had before. The second ingredient is a skilled conversation partner, with no agenda of their own, to help you through the process, and challenge you by asking powerful questions.

From there, you can start taking action.

Does it mean that I'd encourage you to resign from your job if your core values are not part of what you do today? That's unlikely. If a career move is not practical for you right now, you may be better off finding ways to meet your values elsewhere in life. For now.

While you work on a long term transition plan. Once more, in the spirit of choosing long term satisfaction over instant gratification...



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