Originally published June 15th, 2016

During our career, we frequently have to decide whether to choose option A or option B. What to study? What to do after we graduate? Should we take that job offer? Should we quit our job or change careers entirely? 

When making these decisions, we sometimes intuitively know what’s right for us, and we do it. But more often than not, we have no idea how to decide.

To solve the problem, we are usually advised to get out an empty sheet of paper and write down the advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons of each opportunity. But even after we have them right in front of our very eyes, it doesn’t help us in making the decision. We might feel more drawn to take that year off to travel to West Africa, even though it clearly says on the list that staying at our current job is the better decision. 

But better for whom? 

The advantage of having a safety job might be of no concern to you, and may even feel like a burden. 

The reason a list of advantages and disadvantages is often without results is that you take down analytical facts without taking into account the you behind those facts. 

If you want to make a decision that you actually feel comfortable and happy with, you have to take into account your values. If your decision is not in line with your values, you will never be truly happy, pleased with yourself, satisfied, or fulfilled. You can only be fulfilled if you feel authenticity and integrity. And you can only feel authentic and integer if you know your values.

If you make your decisions in life based on other people’s values, like friends', family’s or coworkers', those decisions will bring you no closer to where you want to be. For some reason this is typically what we do when making lists of pros and cons.

Writing down what’s on our mind is generally an advantage; but not always what’s best for you. 

Your values help you judge what is right and what is wrong, good or bad, important or unimportant: they are your yardstick.

Simply put, if you infringe upon your values, you feel bad. If two of your values are in conflict, you feel torn apart. But if you act according to your values, you feel good.

Knowing your values is like having an inner-compass. If you follow your compass you’ll stop wasting your energy and time on worthless activities. If, for example, you know that one of your greatest values is adventure, you would know that working as a clerk is the wrong job for you. If you value close relationships more than anything, you would probably be miserable travelling by yourself for a year. 

A personal value compass is the collection of your values. It can guide you to make decisions that you feel good about and help you act authentically. No matter if it’s in your personal or your professional life. A personal value compass can help you identify the right job for you and to do the right thing consistently.

How to identify your values:

  1. Identify the different areas of your life, like your relationships, your hobbies, or your career. It might be that you value different aspects in your career than you do in your relationships. Maybe you want freedom in your career, but safety in your relationship, or perhaps the other way around. 
  2. Take a piece of paper. In the middle of the paper write down the area of your life that you want to work with first e.g. your career.
  3. On the rest of the paper write down all values that you want to see fulfilled in your job e.g. freedom, close relationships, financial freedom, variety…
  4. Sum up some of the values (if possible) and highlight the ones that are most important to you (five max).
  5. Take those five values and write down a more detailed explanation of each value by answering the following questions: What does the value mean to you precisely? How do you know you are living according to this value? Is that really your definition of the value or are you just copying it from someone else?
  6. Take an index card and write down your top values for each area of your life. This is your personal value compass. 
  7. Whenever you are doubtful about a decision, get your personal value compass out, and see which of the solutions most resembles your values. 

You can ask yourself the following:

  • Which option is closer to my values? 
  • Which option allows me to live according to my values?
  • How can I integrate my values in each option?

So forget about those lists of advantages and disadvantages. They might not get you any closer to what you want. Instead, when having to make a decision next time, try to follow your values and see where that gets you. 

About the Author:

As a coach and trainer, Jessica Böhme helps people change the world by uncovering who they really are, what their purpose is in life and how to live according to their values. Her work is guided by the question how to live a Good Life and at the same time make the world a better place. 

Next to her work as a coach and trainer, she is currently conducting a research project on the interface of personal development and sustainable development. 

Her website and blog: www.youchangeyou.net