“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question we ask children. Ask that question in Silicon Valley, though, and it feels like many adults will fumble for an answer. A better question might be “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” In a place where 25-year-olds are becoming CEOs and where friends are making millions, it’s easy for someone not on a rocketship ride of success to feel filled with pain, struggle, anxiety, and doubt – to wonder, “why am I not ‘there’ yet?” and “what am I doing with my life?” There are opportunities around each corner; which one should you choose in order to be the most successful? Is that the same choice that will make you feel the most fulfilled? How do you decide?
These questions crop up regularly for those who don’t have clarity on how they want to live. That clarity could be absent for one of many reasons: perhaps you chose the wrong path after college and aren’t sure how to get off of it, or perhaps you know you want to make a change but aren’t sure to what you want to change. Or maybe you’re one of the many people who feel stuck with golden handcuffs at places like Google such that you’ve lost site of how to prioritize what’s important. Your ego may be controlling what you think you “should” do versus what you want to do. In Silicon Valley high-tech (and really everywhere), you’ll feel the most stuck when you can’t access your inner compass and don’t know what’s ultimately going to create your most meaningful life.
The best way to solve this feeling of “stuckness” is for you to get in touch with what’s most important to you: your values. Facilitating this values-discovery process has upside for companies: value-driven employees are more loyal, resulting in less turnover and less loss in productivity, and they are also more engaged. When you choose your direction based on your values, you’re more calm and more confident – and it shows. To figure out how you can become more engaged with your job, and to find your purpose regardless of your job, your path is clear: you need to get in touch with your values. So, how do you identify them?
Based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, here are a few ways you can identify and clarify your values.
- Write your own epitaph. If you were gone tomorrow, what would you leave behind? List the people you will be leaving behind, and highlight those whom you will miss the most. Mention people you helped. List your accomplishments. Write about the type of person you were. What did you stand for in life? How will you be remembered? Identify the main question that life asked you. How did you respond?
- Wave a magic wand, and assume you have approval of everyone on the planet, regardless of what you do. All people love and respect you, whether you are a CEO or a serial killer. What, then, would you do with your life? How would you treat others?
- Imagine your 80th birthday. Two or three people make speeches about what you stand for and about what you mean to them. If you lived your life as the person you want to be, what would you hear them saying?
When you employ these exercises and use them to hone in on your values at work, it is likely that the results will have significance in your personal life as well. What personal qualities or strengths do you show your best at work and throughout your life? What is important to you in interacting with your colleagues? Do you want to be known for being supportive to others, for creativity, persistence, and hard work? What values are so fundamental that you would hold them regardless of whether or not they were rewarded? Companies can’t enforce or require buy-in to organizational values, but they can uncover them and attract people who share the same core values. For entrepreneurs looking for co-founders, or for hiring managers, they can identify their individual values and hire people who share them.
This wave of connection to purpose as an enhancement to working life has begun with millennials, who are increasingly aware of the value of prioritizing purpose over income, titles, and achievements. A recent study showed that millennials need to see how the companies they work for are making the world a better place and how their own roles contribute to those efforts. In fact, they’re 64% more loyal to companies that have a purpose beyond profit. Perhaps millennials know that they may never know what they want to be when they grow up, or that they may change their minds a dozen times. But chances are, they have an idea of who or how they want to be. By focusing on purpose rather than on status, title, or income, anybody is more likely to find fulfillment. It’s worth spending time clarifying your values and tying them to your purpose as a path toward your meaningful life.