Theme 3: Values & Direction
Use your values to guide you and your “why” to fuel you.
“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why is this theme important?
Knowing what matters to you will help point you in the right direction; knowing why it matters will sustain you. Don’t worry about having it all figured out, but do start somewhere. A strong enough WHY will help you overcome any HOW.
Understand the importance of values.
Put simply, your values represent what you value most in life. Your values are telling of what is important to you, what you believe in, and what you are willing to stand up for. Your values represent what truly matters to you.
Some of your values will be obvious to you because you’ve already made a point of emphasising them in your life (wellness, family, adventure, etc). But if you’ve played life mostly ‘by the rules’ and have a history checking off all of the ‘right’ boxes of life (many of us have), it’s possible that some of your values are hidden from sight, even from yourself. Your values may be buried under the roles you’ve been forced to play by society, your family, your peer group or in your work.
If you’ve never done the work required to understand what matters to you, you may be living a life that’s out of step with the life that something inside you wants to be living. This sort of misalignment may be a big reason why you’re here in the Escape Tribe.
Each of us have our own unique set of values. Our aim in this theme is to extract our values, map them out, and use them to restructure our lives so that it’s in lockstep with them.
Figure out what truly matters to you.
The place to begin mining your values is in your past experiences.
If you’ve already compiled a list of the things you like and dislike about your past jobs and projects; recalled the times you felt strongest and most ‘in the zone’; highlighted the moments when you felt most alive, like ‘this is exactly where I’m meant to be’ – this is a great place to start and extract your values.
Then ask yourself; what are the common threads across all of these things? Are there unifying themes?
If this is tough, it’s possible that your eyes are too familiar with your own story to extract the common themes. In this case, trying handing it over to one of your fellow Tribespeople and ask them to become a detective. Their task: extract your values.
A simple probing question can help your values bubble up. Have your fellow Triber ask you “why” at least five times until they spot a potential theme:
“Why do you dislike XYZ about your job?
“Why do you think that is?”
“And why do you think that is?”
“And why…” and so on.
The goal here is to uncover a set of values that best describe and feel good to you. It may be 3 or 5 or 10. Start broad and whittle it down.
Be aware: your values may contradict each other (i.e. you may value security and adventure) — and that’s okay. You are a complex being. As Walt Whitman said:
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
You contain multitudes. Don’t worry about being perfect. Also be aware that your values today may contradict the values of your past. What you valued 10 years ago is different to what you value today and will be different again to what you’ll value in 10 years time. The challenge for all of us is to understand what we value most at this stage in our lives and make sure our life today is aligned with it. The goal is to give us a set of tools to use and move forward with right now.
Use your values as your compass.
Values are not just something to pay lip service to. While times may change the way the world looks and operates, values have the potential to remain steadfast and help you navigate it. Your values should serve as your compass — a tool to help you make smart decisions in accordance with what matters to you.
If you feel like the work you’re doing is dissonant with your natural state of being, that adhering to your company culture is difficult for you, or that the way you perform your day-to-day tasks does not utilize you at your best — it’s possible your working life operates against your inherent values. And it can help clarify why you’re unfulfilled at work.
Maybe you’re a risk manager who realises that one of your core values is flexibility; you’re a journalist working at Buzzfeed who realizes that you value craft and depth; there’s a strict common dress code at your office and you value individuality and creativity; you’re forced to work inside at a desk all day when you value nature and the outdoors; you work in a large office with constant conversation and activity, but you value stillness and independence.
The goal here is to use your inherent values to help diagnose why your current situation isn’t working out for you. And to serve as a compass to help you move into work that will suit you.
Proudly own and communicate your values.
Once you know your values, the next step is to live your life according to them. Own them proudly and don’t be afraid to communicate them, implicitly and through your actions.
This is no longer about hoping to fit ourselves into the neatly defined box of a job description or trying to contort ourselves to squeeze inside organsations of an old world order. Instead, seek out the organisations and people whose value system is aligned with your own. The ones that do not fit no longer fit in our life; discard them.
“If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job.” —Seth Godin
We believe that organisations in the future will look more like Escape does – a group of likeminded people joined together to work on a shared mission they care deeply about. The mission and the culture of the people of the team are the most important components. Seek out people who value the things you value.
Lead with your ‘Why’.
To make a living. To find a job. To make money.
These are a sampling of the ‘whys’ we’ve long lived with. The problem is that these ‘whys’ are weak, and as we will all recognise in being part of this Escape Tribe, they will not sustain us for long. Operating by these ‘whys’ is how we got into this mess in the first place. Continuing to live by them will keep us there.
When shit goes down, when no one cares, when you’re sick and you’re tired – your why must stand up and sustain you through it all. This is what is required of your why. Your why needs to withstand and keep you standing when faced with a knockout.
As Viktor Frankl said: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Your ‘why’ is your rocket fuel. Your ‘why’ is your driver.
Make no mistake – figuring out your why is not an easy task. It’s where many people get frustrated: “I don’t know what my bloody why is!?!”
So instead of trying to figure out your all-encompassing why, instead try finding your ‘why’ in every little action, project, step you make:
- Why are you working on this spreadsheet?
- Why are you traveling to Japan?
- Why are you having a coffee with this person?
- Why are you taking this art class?
- Why are you working on this project?
Stress test your why — does it fuel and drive you? Without a clear why, you risk drifting. With a strong why, you can and will get through any how.
Sustain with mission.
Why is Escape the City still around today, six years after it started? Why were Dom, Rob and Mikey too stubborn to quit, even when the going was tough?
Here’s a hunch: their personal mission was so tightly tied to the mission of Escape – a mission they cared deeply about – that even as they went up and down on the roller coaster ride that is a startup, their shared mission kept them hanging on tight.
When you have a mission and your work is conjoined to that mission like a siamese twin, you will go far. When mission and meaning is embedded in what you do, it doesn’t matter how many countless people and companies don’t get it; all that matters are the ones who do.
Chase your tennis balls.
In Theme #1 we debunk the ‘follow your passion’ myth. So if finding or following our passion is unhelpful advice, where do we go instead? Where do you start if you have no clue what you want? What if you’re not even sure in which direction to start?
For a clue, remember this: chase your tennis balls.
Let’s say you have a tennis ball and there’s a dog beside you. You throw the tennis ball. What does the dog do?
If she’s healthy and sane, she chases the tennis ball. She almost has no choice BUT to chase the tennis ball. It sets off something in her brain that sends her running wild in hot pursuit of a bright neon-green bouncy treasure.
There are likely things that pull you like a tennis ball pulls a dog. Try to be attentive and listen to those things that excite you and give yourself the permission to follow that excitement. It may not translate immediately to a new job or a new opportunity, but listening to the things that pull you and actually allowing yourself to be pulled by them will lead you down more promising paths. They will offer clues to your unique journey.
Don’t worry about it all being ‘right’.
It’s really easy to get hung up on the worry that your why is wrong, your mission is flawed, and you can’t whittle your list of values down from 10 (or even 20). You will even question whether you’re proceeding in the right direction or not. You may worry whether your current path will lead you to your ‘one true path’.
The reality is that you will not have everything buttoned up; your values, your mission, your why, your tennis balls, your direction. And that’s perfectly fine.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to lay down these questions for a moment and let them rest. Let yourself rest. Give yourself a break. You are a human. You are working it out.
This takes time! If it were easy, more people would have figured it out. You’re putting in the hard work required to understand who you are and what matters to you. Pause and let yourself off the hook for a moment.
So what if some of your values contradict each other? Who cares if you feel like your mission changes with each passing minute? Don’t despair if you can’t pin point your ‘why’ to the same degree as some of the coaches, speakers, and teachers that come to speak with us.
It doesn’t matter much what you come up with; all that matters is that you come up with something and you’ve begun the process. Just start moving with the information you have.
The beginning sessions in the Escape Tribe are focused on the internal — who are you. This is super important. But as we’ll learn in the coming themes, you can only get so far with introspection and pondering. Very quickly we’ll be moving into action.
As you move forward your path will come into better focus. Don’t obsess over having the right answers. For now, have the faith and courage to live with these big questions and keep stepping forward. Put another way by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
- Map your values (identify what matters to you) and spot misalignments with your career.
- Find role models from different walks of life and analyse the ingredients of a purpose-driven life.
- Use all your self-reflection work so far to spot themes that will inform your future direction.
- Identify clues for what your overarching purpose, mission or goals might be going forwards.
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