written by ethan

How to Define Your Core Values in Life

Do you a have a difficult time making big decisions in life?

Heck, do you have difficulty even with the small decisions?

Don’t worry, I did too. Until I learned a valuable lesson. And I’ll tell you what that is.

But first, let me tell you how I got there.


Here’s the cliff notes version: about four years ago, I was working for a wonderful law firm but was entirely too busy. Between work, professional activities, and my responsibilities I had no time for everything else and I was become stressed, irritable, and unable to manage everything on my plate. I had to let some things go.


Specifically, I had to decide whether to focus on intellectual property law or social media law. I was spending so much time writing and speaking on both subjects that I simply didn’t have the bandwidth for both. But no matter how much a weighed the pros and cons of each route, I couldn’t decide. Did I chose the more established path (intellectual property) where there were many opportunities to secure clients in the short term but was already a saturated market with thousands of other attorneys focusing on that field? Or did I chose the entrepreneurial path (with social media law) where I would be the first attorney in the world to focus on this niche, but there was absolutely no market for my services at that time since there was no demand for a social media lawyer.


I simply couldn’t figure out the right decision. I became paralyzed by indecision. And that sucked.


So I did the only reasonable thing someone could do in that situation: I googled “how do you make an important life decision?” Seriously. And much to my surprise, I found the answer:


Many people feel as if they’re adrift in the world. They work hard, but they don’t seem to get anywhere worthwhile. A key reason that they feel this way is that they haven’t spent enough time thinking about what they want from life…


At this moment, I realized the following lesson:


In order to make big life decisions, you have to know what you want out of life – or in other words – what is most important to you.

I also learned one more thing.


And that was I had absolutely no idea what I wanted out of life or what was important to me.


And at thirty years old (at the time), who had just completed three years of law school and four years as a lawyer, that was a scary thought.


After some serious soul searching (and some more google searching), I ultimately figured out what I wanted out of life (if you haven’t found out for yourself, I recommend pausing for a moment and doing the short exercises here and here). I put it all down on paper: all of the things that made me happy, that I enjoyed doing, that I was passionate about, and that I wanted to accomplish or experience in life.


Once I had everything on a sheet of paper, I then went through the following steps in order to define my core values. I recommend you do the same:


First: Eliminate any complete outliers. It is common for your ideas you initial wrote down to include things that came to mind during your brainstorming session but no longer seem relevant upon reflection. It’s okay to eliminate them.


Second: Refine your list. Place an asterisk or circle the two or three things that are most important to you or that were repeated in different ways on your list. How did I accomplish this?


I group similar values, passions, and interests together into categories.


For example, your list may include:



  • Visit new countries
  • Road trip to California
  • See the Seven Wonders of the World



You may want group these passions and goals into a category called travel.


Your list may also include things like:



  • Helping others
  • Giving back to the community
  • Volunteering at soup kitchens



You may want to group these interested into a category called community service.


Your list may include various skills like:



  • Public speaking
  • Research and writing
  • Simplifying and explaining complex concepts



You may want to classify these skills as teaching.


Once you have classified various passions, interests, and skills, cross them off the list so that you know you have accounted for them and can focus on what’s left. Continue to categorize or eliminate as appropriate.


Finally, take stock of all your hobbies and interests. These are the things you love doing and are important to charting your path in life. For example, your list may include things like:



  • Yoga
  • Mountain biking
  • Trying new recipes
  • Reading
  • Exploring new restaurants



Create a separate list of all the things you find fun and enjoy doing in life. You may find that many of these activities overlap with your passions. You should now have distilled down your list of passions, skills, and interests into several core values.


Your list of core values may look something like the following:



  • Traveling
  • Public speaking
  • Helping others
  • Teaching
  • Learning
  • Spending time with family



Your list may include any number of items or concepts. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.


Why is developing this list so important?


Because these core concepts will guide your path to living a more fulfilling life. I’ll elaborate more on this in my next post (and if you can’t wait, click here) – but in the meantime, here’s the take away:


Whenever you’re faced with a life decision, big or small, just ask yourself: which of these paths is more aligned with my core values? The answer should become clear.