I Wish It Were All Black and White!

Several years ago during a friendly game of billiards my friend Craig exclaimed, “You can’t make everything in life black or white; it just doesn’t work that way!”

For years I had tried to make life fit into the “black or white” box. I thought doing so would help me sort life out more easily and better deal with matters. But all it did was create frustration. As years passed I grew to understand that, with the exception of morality, nothing else about life was black or white. Many a time, issues, events, decisions, judgements and directions were placed before me, but the answers to so many questions were not that simple. As my children matured it became increasingly more complex as they learned to use the five “W’s” (who, what, when, where, why) to assess and question their own lives and the world around them. I didn’t always have a black or white answer for them. I was also afraid that my own personal values, shaped by years of strict parental influence,  would erode and I’d be left with no values at all. To hold on to those values, I wrote my own personal values statement. 

I worked for a number of years in consulting, helping organizations deal with internal restructurings and change. Part of these engagements was to write new or validate old organizational values. These were to become the principles all company decisions were to be made against, with no compromise. At one point I realized that after confirming many values statements for organizations that I had failed to write my own! These values would become what I would live by and never compromise.

Why Write a Personal Values Statement?

A personal values statement helps you focus on the things that are most important to you in life. Identifying your core values and purpose can be particularly useful when faced with so many decisions about career, relationships, finances, needs and wants. If you can define the values important to you as you face life’s complexities and confusion, staying on your right path becomes easier. And when we hit a rough patch, it’s easy to determine why it happened and inevitably we realize we breached our personal values. 

In the Houston Chronicle, business writer Jill Leviticus explains how to write and live out your personal values statement:

Include Your Core Values
Write down every type of value that is important to you in performing your work and in your relationships with other people. These values may include such things as integrity, dependability, friendliness, honesty, creativity, cooperation, helpfulness, industriousness, positive attitude, compassion, and decision-making or problem-solving ability. Narrow the core values down to seven or eight. Think about the values that drive you and those that you would never give up. List the top three values. If you’re having trouble coming up with core values, think about business or personal projects you’ve completed. Break down the values you used to make these projects successful. Perhaps you encouraged the group to work together and found a new solution to a difficult problem. In that case, the core values you used might have been friendliness, cooperation, creativity and positive attitude. 

Think About Career Goals
Think about the goals you would like to accomplish during your career. Keep the focus on what you’d like to do, not what you don’t want to do. Write down a list of career goals. Your list might include such items as find a job as a department director, change the way the world views fossil fuels or the invention of a new credit card processing system. Your goals should include things that are truly important to you and things that inspire passion. If your goals truly don’t mean anything to you, you’re not likely to accomplish them.

Write the Values Statement
Combine information about your purpose, values and goals to write your personal values statement. You might start your statement by saying, “I value truth, integrity and creativity because without these values, it’s impossible to grow and achieve as a person and in my career.” Expand upon your statement with several sentences that explain your business purpose and goals. You might say, “My career goal is to build a successful processing department that will not only develop and create new ways to meet demands, but empower employees and encourage creativity.” Keep in mind that your value statement doesn’t have to be perfect and doesn’t define the rest of your career.

To help navigate through life choices and circumstances with integrity, we must be able to answer these questions without hesitation:

What is important to me?

What do I value?

What will I not compromise?

What are my personal goals?

What will I be remembered for at the end of my life?

Lately I have heard many comments about the legacies certain people wish to leave behind. For some their legacy has been defined mostly by a business accomplishment. I’ve also noticed the large amounts of money companies and individuals spend to have their founders’ names adorn buildings and structures to mark their legacies. But over time someone else comes along with more money and the old name is removed and someone else’s legacy becomes new. 

Yet when we remember truly lasting legacies, without exception they are defined by the individual’s character, how the person treated people, the difference they made in the lives of others, how the person made the world a better place to live through their example. We may forget their life’s work, but we always remember their life’s influence.

Great individuals and their eternal legacies are defined by their uncompromising values!

Though I wish it could, I now know life can’t be divided into black and white. So to help make sense out of a confusing world, what is important is for me to answer the questions above and always have my personal values statement at the ready. This will give me the answers I’m looking for.