Why knowing your values can help make big career decisions easier

Break out the post-it notes, it's time to think deeply about what matters most to you.

Individual artists and creatives often work freelance, as short-term contractors, or balance multiple part-time gigs. It’s a career path that means we bounce between different clients and workplaces as career opportunities arise. Sometimes, we can even be tempted to take on work that doesn’t feel right, which can lead us to feeling drained, overwhelmed and even resentful of those we work with.

If this is sounding a little too familiar, chances are it’s time to take stock of what really matters to you. It could be that the work you do has fallen out of alignment with your core values – the values that should be your guiding principles in life.

This isn’t a new issue in the arts and creative industries. At a time where creatives are finding themselves and their particular skillset in increasing demand and also have at their fingertips a global marketplace to sell their products or services, it is difficult to know what opportunities to say yes to and which to turn down.

Similarly new professional development opportunities can present themselves at any time and while it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing all opportunities as good, some of these won’t serve you as well as others.

Kaylene Langford, Founder of Startup Creative, spends her days helping creative turn their passion into viable businesses. For Langford, knowing yourself by understanding the core values that define what matters most to you as an individual is becoming more and more important, she told ArtsHub.

‘It’s actually becoming the stock standard. And I think everything you read about this next gen and my generation before, we are now shopping around for the employers and contracts that suit us,’ said Langford.

‘What I see now in my work is that we’re sitting back and watching people live their best lives, traveling the world and being bloggers or influencers, collaborating with big brands even though they might be a solo artist. We have the ability to choose and design our lives around our work and actually choose work that we love. Now more than ever that is absoloutely a standard that everyone can create and wants to create. People are starting to wake up to wanting to create that for themselves.’

Steps to discovering and upholding your core values

To decide whether you should say yes to a collaboration or job, you should first ask yourself if your values align. Knowing the answer to this requires some deeper work.

1.     Make time and space

There’s a bit of soul-searching and reflection needed to discover the values most important to you. The process itself can take months or even longer. Langford suggests a break from your routine can help get you started.

‘It is really easy to get into the rat race – I get up, I have my coffee, I go to the gym, I do my commute, I go to the office, I sit in meetings and at my computer. Whatever your routine is, you have to break that routine and you have to go and do some inner work.’

‘Whether that is a yoga class, or morning meditation, or going on a retreat, or travelling the world. You have to put yourself in an environment where you can break the norm and break the mundane and reflect on who you are and what you stand for,’ she said.

‘It doesn’t matter how you do it. It is about stopping, zooming out, and being the observer of your life.’

2.     Ask yourself: when did you create that amazing thing you’re really proud of?

‘Being able to reflect back and think, when did I create that work? Or when did that person say something to me that totally blew me away? Those are moments are when life has been in flow,’ said Langford.

Remembering when these career highs happened and you worked with ease and joy will help you define what values you were in alignment with at the time. This reflection will then allow you to create your shortlist of 5-10 core values. Some other questions you can ask are: What was the environment like? Who was I working for? Why was this work so motivating?

Write down a few sentences answering each question and you might notice some recurring themes or key words that will help you identify your values.

3.     Don’t download a list of 300 values

There are hundreds of lists online and it can be tempting to just choose from these, but try to do some deeper work first. When you look at these lists, every single value looks relevant to you (or like they should be) but values are actually deeply personal and it’s about how we define them individually.

4.     Recognise when to say no

Practicing the art of saying no is important, but even more important is knowing when turning something down is the best option for you. This can be empowering and lead you to make better career decisions that align with your values.

‘I think it is counter-intuitive that people think, “if I say no then I won’t be able to pay my bills or get work”,’ said Langford.

‘When you actually say no to work that doesn’t serve you because you know your values so deeply and you’ll be out of alignment and resent the person who is making you do the work or who you’re working alongside, then it actually opens up opportunities to attract more of the work that you do want,’ said Langford.

Brooke Boland
About the Author
Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.