I think many people are aware of, or at least would agree that I operate by a set of core values, but very few could tell you exactly what those values are. That includes me 😞 This post is an attempt to share that list of values and their meanings, plus my thoughts on the definition and importance of values.
Table of Contents
Importance of Values
I spend a lot of time thinking about why core values are important and what I believe in, and still don’t feel like I have all the answers or that what I’m sharing here is definitive or complete. This uncertainty may always be the case. While some core values are permanent, others seem to “approach permanence” while still leaving margin to change, and others are more transient still – relevant at this point in your life, after which you may no longer need them.
One framework that helped me get from “I have core values”, to “I’m confident enough to share these” was thinking about the purpose of core values. I think the purpose comes in two parts, of equal importance…
Personal Values Definition
My definition of core values is that they are…
- A heuristic for making decisions; and / or
- Vital to your identity.
Most core values will fit into one of these purposes, and sometimes both. A core value like Experiences Over Things, would help you decide to take a trip to Brazil instead of buying a new phone, and also show that you are someone who values experiences.
Having good core values is a prerequisite, and what matters is acting in accordance with them.
My 5 Most Important Values and Their Meanings
#1 Operate at Level 10 Integrity
Level 10 Integrity is a powerhouse of a core value that includes nearly everything you do. Integrity goes toward decision making, and very much to your identity. I purposely list this core value first; the others are in no particular order.
Here are examples of things that are not Level 10 Integrity:
- Cheating on your significant other;
- Not telling the cashier when they miss a charge;
- Stating or implying that you are late because of that crazy traffic, when the real reason is you didn’t leave home on time because you were on your couch eating Cheetos;
- Writing racist comments on the internet;
- Tinder’ing when you are being paid to work;
- Torrenting Game of Thrones;
- Talking about a friend behind their back.
The list goes on forever. If you examine any given decision, you’ll find that it exists somewhere on the spectrum of zero to ten, and the vast majority of actions you can take are not Level 10.
Falling short of Level 10 doesn’t in itself make you a heretic barbarian. In fact, you may make intentional decisions to fall short by balancing this value with others. Core values are guidelines and aspirations, not tools for judgement.
So, what is Level 10 Integrity?
Like the difference between collecting and hoarding, you know it when you see it.
Here are a few guidelines that may help you “see” Level 10 more clearly:
- What does the law say? Laws should reflect the values of the group to which they apply, which they do to varying degrees of accuracy. This concept means that while not definitive, laws in society (and rules at work) can indicate what is Level 10, and what is not. Emphasis on “not definitive.” The law may only require you to give two weeks notice to a terminated employee, but if you know six months in advance and the only reason you aren’t telling them is you are afraid they will leave earlier, then I’d argue you aren’t operating at Level 10.
- Is your gut on board? Your “gut feel” is an indicator for what your brain thinks is right. I trust mine. Here’s a related core value: Forthright Communication is the Right Communication. If you have ever been in a relationship, you have considered not telling your partner something, and your gut felt terrible. That’s because omission isn’t necessarily lying, but it certainly isn’t telling the truth.
- Take the Mom Test. If a magic being broadcast your actions to the entire world, including your mom, could you defend those actions as Level 10?
I am committed to reaching for Level 10 in everything I do. If you are thinking about the importance of values in your own life, then I recommend starting with this one.
Alright, more core values.
#2 Play the Long Game, Faster
Most of us are playing the short game in life, and some folks are very good at playing it fast. However, being the first to reach the end of a one mile journey still only puts you at the one mile mark. I want to set the target much further ahead, and work toward that. #metaphors #thankscoach. Sub-values here include Work Toward the Legacy and Creation > Consumption. The “Faster” part of this value includes prioritizing efficiency, automation, and major gains over minor ones.
#3 Raise Every Bar
This core value is about setting high standards for myself in everything I do, and then raising those standards higher. I want to level up the expectations of my creativity, work output, relationships, health, contribution… I hope that this will raise the bar for others too.
#4 Very Me
There is a correlation between time passing and how little I care about negative judgement from others. This core value is about thinking and acting from deep introspection and first principles, and to the exclusion of defaults and dogma.
#5 Strong Mind, Strong Body, Strong Heart 🧠💪❤
This core value is a decision making one, and to a lesser extent about identity. I want to make decisions that keep my mind and body healthy, and that metaphorically represent a strong heart.
Core Values List & Their Meanings
The examples above are my five most important values, and I encourage you to create your own list based on your preferences and beliefs. To help you choose those values, here is a reminder of how I frame the definition of values, followed by a values list split into sections like “Additional Michael Style Values”, “Common Core Values” and “Examples of Beliefs.”
Personal values definition: Core values are a heuristic for making decisions; and / or vital to your identity.
Additional Michael Style Values
Like the five examples above, Michael Style Values have very specific meanings and IMO are better than common core values for making decisions and defining your identity. Example: “integrity” is a common core value vs. “Operate at Level 10 Integrity”; the latter is a guideline on how to behave in specific situations and sets the bar high, while the former is a word without much context. Here are more examples of beliefs and values…
- Forthright Communication is the Right Communication: If you have something important to say, then say it.
- Experiences Over Things: Allocate your resources (time and money) to having more experiences and fewer things.
- Creation > Consumption: Spend less time consuming and more time creating.
- Work Toward the Legacy: Direct your work efforts toward things that matter to you.
- Your Best Work Creates Your Best Outcomes: Have realistic expectations of input and output, because if you do average work, you will get average outcomes.
- Take Care of Yourself to Keep the Unit Strong: I usually think of this one as related to health and wellness, where “the Unit” is a group you are part of, including romantic relationships, friendships, family and other close collections.
- Complete & Unshakeable Trust, No Exceptions: I believe a lot of unhappiness results when you start doubting yourself and the people you care about. Instead, choose 100% trust and stand by it.
Common Core Values
If you choose to find inspiration in the following common core values, I recommend giving them a more descriptive twist. How can you turn something like “determination” into something actionable and vivid, like “When You Are Ready to Quit, You Must Continue.”
I’ve framed the following list for what you can be as opposed to what you can have.
You can find more common values on these other sites. Some of these lists are very similar to each other, and they probably copy/pasted from one original source.
- How to Make Your Core Values List in 15 Minutes (Over 60 Examples) – This list by Taylor Pearson seems the most useful because he includes explanations of what each value means. I disagree with the idea of creating a values list in 15 minutes, because core values are super important and you may live by them for 15+ years.
- Core Values List: Over 50 Common Personal Values – A shorter list of values by James Clear. IMO this resource would be more useful in helping you develop personal core values if James included descriptions. This list seems more curated than some of the others here because there are fewer values on it.
- Core Values List: Over 200 Personal Values to Live By Today – The author made a list of a couple hundred words and says “your conscious mind will evaluate which values appear “better” than others.”
- List of Values – Literally just a list of 400 words. I prefer lists with explanations.
- Core Values List with 500 Examples – At the moment this post is the first result when you search “core value list”, and again it’s a long list of words without much context or description.
Final Thoughts on Core Values
Most core values are bendable, if not outright breakable; it really depends on the specifics. If you are going to break your values, do so intentionally and for good reason.
And core values aren’t only for the individual, you can create values for your organization or relationships too. Your core values will likely vary in each case to help make relevant decisions and to promote a healthy identity.
When you get it right, you’ll know. 💪