Character and confidence: why your values are important for everything you do?

Rosa Parks was an American woman who challenged the status quo by refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a bus. Nowadays, nobody would find this act courageous, but in 1955 it was against the law, white people had priority. She was indeed taken to jail after refusing again to stand up when the police arrived at the scene. Beyond this, her defiance inspired one of the most important civil right movements in US history, linked to the rise of Martin Luther King [1]. Rosa Parks sets an example of someone who stood her ground in a very uncomfortable situation. And this the fact sparks my curiosity, What makes some people stick to their beliefs and others not even think about it?

The Lighthouse

For the case of Rosa Parks, I don’t know enough about her to point out the reasons why she acted in that way. However, I can guess that she had a strong character, and do you know what sits at the core of anyone’s character? Their values. She may have valued equality, fairness or justice and I bet these values were shouting inside out not to give up that seat. Her values were not only a source of courage, but they also giving meaning to what she was doing.

Often, we find ourselves demotivated or upset about what happens to us. Perhaps you are a very creative person, but cannot find the confidence to speak up at your workplace. Or you are feeling demotivated as you can’t figure out what your next step is.  Values can be the key that helps you turns things around. Maybe, Rosa Parks did not know where her life was leading to when refusing to give up her seat, but she knew that it was right. It was aligned with what was important for her: her values.

Let’s go deeper

In the most challenging situations, a clear set of values can be our most important source of motivation. Airplanes can keep direction through turbulent weather and zero visibility conditions thanks to their GPS. Values can also be our life compass, but before that, we need to do some work. First, we need to clearly understand what a value is, and second, we need to identify our core values in the different areas of our life. So let’s dig a bit deeper, what are values? 

A helpful way to clarify it is to contrast them with what they are not.

  • Values are not goals, you are never done with them and move to the next one. You stand by them, they are what you live for. They answer the why for anything you do [2,3].
  • Values are not rigid or unchangeable like moral or ethical rules. Values are a personal choice and evolve with you on your journey. Eventually, it is okay to integrate those that become more important and let go of others [2,3].

For example, you may value self-care, so you exercise and have a healthy diet. This is, you do exercise and eat well because you value your well-being. If your reason to exercise is just losing weight (a goal), you are more likely to stop once that happens. Also, you look after your job as it provides the financial needs to sustain your life. Without this, you couldn’t buy healthy food or pay for a gym membership. Finishing a marathon, a promotion, or trying to lose 5 kg are valuable things, but those are goals. In general, you can think of a value as a “chosen direction” [3]. A person whose values are discipline, love, and security will live differently from someone who values adventure, growth, and pleasure.

Identify your values, are you ready?

Once you understand what a value is, you are ready to identify your core values. And it is here where I see the struggle: “I’ve never thought about that before”, “I don’t know how to start”. If this is your situation, don’t worry, you are not alone. It can be hard to think about your values and even more if you haven’t done it before. Start with choosing an area of your life where you want to know your core values, like work or education. Then find a long values list (there’s plenty on the internet) and mark all of them on a scale of importance (for example 0 (not important) to 5 (very important)).  There is no right or wrong answer here. Finally, you might want to discard those with a 3 or less and repeat the process with the remaining values. As a result, you will reach a list of 4 to 5 most important values for you. What is next? Act according to them.

Give it a try

If you decide to give this a try, you may find that being aware and living according to your values will pay off with motivation, positive reinforcement, and life satisfaction [2,3]. You just need to have a clear idea of what they are, avoid the common confusion with your goals and realise that they are not rigid rules. Finally, don’t forget that this process can take time, it needs reflection and perhaps some uncomfortable situations. Just like Rosa Parks. Good luck! And if you feel that you need some help with those first steps, I’m always here to give you a hand. 


[1] Rosa Parks: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King And The Aftermath Of The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott
[2] The Happiness trap. Russ Harriss
[3] Acceptance and Commitment coaching.  John Hill and Joe Oliver

Leave a comment