The one thing you need to know before making a change in life

What is the most important thing you should know before making any changes in your life? Your values.  In other words, what is most important to you in life.

Your values

I have read tonnes of articles on how to live a happy and fulfilled life; how to turn your passion into a career, how to be happy in your work, etc. I've even written some of them. They all have valuable info, don’t get me wrong, but I realised that most of them miss the crucial component: values.

Only by knowing what your values are and making a change that is in line with these, will you be able to set yourself on a successful path leading to happiness and fulfilment.


The first time I was asked about my values was during my coaching and counselling studies. Guess what? I didn’t have a clue. Of course, I knew about the concept of values but I thought it was more reserved for the things like religion and patriotism.

I was given a list of 30 values and was asked to choose my top five. After much doubt, I came up with: family, loyalty, honesty, responsibility and self-development. After a couple of years of being active in my coaching profession and further soul searching, I came up with a slightly different set of values: family, inner peace, self-development, meaningful work and contribution. 

What are values?

Simply put, values are the things we regard as most important in our lives. We inherit them from our parents, teachers, culture and community. I also believe that some values are woven into our character, like, for example, my value: inner peace.

I am, by nature, introverted so in order for me to function well and be happy I need to be alone to recharge my batteries. Someone who is extroverted is most probably not going to hold this value in high regard. 

In his book, "Re-awaken the giant within", Tony Robbins explains how values are this magical force that shapes every decision we make in our lives. Living according to our values sets us up for a life full of fulfilment, whereas living our lives without knowing or not following them, sets us for a life full of suffering.

Why are values so important?

Values lie deep within us. As human beings, we have a huge need to be consistent in our behaviour. What does that mean? It means that in order to be satisfied in your life, your actions need to be in line with your values.

So how can you make a decision and expect that it will have a long-term positive effect if you don't know what your values are? You can’t!

Value conflict

If you feel unhappy and unfulfilled in your life or career, I would recommend that you have a look for clues in your value system. Most certainly, two or more of your values will conflict with each other.

One of my clients’ top values were career and family. She was an expat in the Netherlands and when she came to me, she was thinking of moving to another country where she got offered a top position. She didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, she wanted it but on the other, she felt something was wrong. She felt torn.

When we dove deeper into understanding her values, we discovered that her number one value was family. As she was an expat living far away from her family for a couple of years, she realised that she couldn’t do it anymore.

She understood that although career was important for her, family came first. She rejected the offer and moved back to her home country. I spoke with her a couple of years later and she said it was one of the best decisions she ever made in life.

Another reason for unhappiness can come from the fact that we are in an environment that conflicts with our values.

Values List

The more I work with my clients, the more I see how often values conflict. Although organisations come up with beautifully sounding value statements, in reality, they often "don’t walk their talk".

How to discover your values

Do you know what your values are? If yes, congratulations! If not, don’t worry, I’ll help you.

Step 1

There are different ways to discover what your values are. The first is one I mentioned at the beginning. Take a look at the list below and select your top 10 values. Based on the step below, come up with your top five values.

Step 2

The second way is to analyse difficult situations in your life. Think of difficult situations where you had to make a decision and didn’t know what to do. The difficulty of taking a decision is very often caused by an internal conflict of values.

Now please take your time to think of five difficult situations in your life and explore the conflicting values.
Which value won in the end?
Were you happy with the decision you made?
What does it tell you about your values’ hierarchy?
Which values come first, second and third?

Step 3

The other way to discover your values is by observation. From today on, for 21 days, observe your decisions and their consequences on your emotional state.

Through observation, I discovered a very important value of mine: inner peace. In order for me to be happy, I need a sufficient amount of peace around me. If I don’t have that, I start to become stressed, nervous, irritated and so on.

In order for me to honour this value, which is often a challenge being a working mum; I need to consciously plan my "me-time". I realised that if I don’t do this, I cannot fully honour my one top value - family. How can I be a happy mother and wife if I am constantly stressed out?

Self-awareness is a powerful tool in the search for happiness, and don’t we all just want one thing in the world: to be happy!

So, based on the tips above, what are your top five values? Write them down.

Step 4

Discuss the outcome with your loved ones if you can. How are your values matching or clashing with those of your husband, wife, partner, mother, father or best friend?

This is a very powerful way, albeit confronting, to really get to know what is important for the people closest to you. By investing in this, you will definitely improve your relationships.

How to live your values?

Once you are clear about your value system, answer the following questions:
Do you honour your values at the moment?
Score your top five values from 1 to 10 in accordance with how well you think you incorporate these into your life.
What does it practically mean for you to live in line with your values?

Don’t be shy, share your values and actions in the comments below!


Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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