Many students can’t wait to get into the real world to chase after money, success, and a comfortable lifestyle. While these things are nice, are they really the most important things in life? Understanding what you really value will give you a compass that can guide every stage of your life, from your time in high school to college to career, and beyond.
Values are more than activities you are interested in or skills you excel at: values are qualities that you consider the most worthwhile. Strong values provide a map for your life by clarifying what is worth pursuing and what deserves to be left by the wayside.
Commonly held values are qualities like independence, discipline, success, service, family, and honesty. These aren’t just abstract ideas that sound good on paper: many companies are grounded in value statements that guide their actions. For instance, Google’s informal corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” is really just a statement of values their company wants its employees to live by. And, as the company’s products affect countless people all over the world, all of us are pretty fortunate that this is the motto they choose to shape their culture.
Businesses don’t just want employees that have the right skills. Also, they want employees whose values align with the business’s values, as values direct people during times when there are no easy solutions to problems. If employers and employees value the same things, everyone benefits.
Christine Rodefer, a junior at Waukesha North High School in Waukesha, Wis., has a good idea of her values: “Success in school, family, and good grades.” She credits her parents with instilling the value of academic success, and said, “There have been times when I’ve been really busy with lots of stuff going on, and my grades went down. So I pulled back so that I could focus on improving my grades.”
Values are clearly important, but how do you figure out your values in the first place? Eric Byrd, a guidance counselor at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, S.C., recommends thinking long term. “When students come to me, I ask them, ‘Where do you see yourself in the future?’ Then, go back to the present and figure out what you need to do now to reach your goals,” Byrd said.
By thinking about your goals, you can see what values are most important to you, and which values you will need to accomplish your goals. If you want to be a successful medical doctor, chances are you value knowledge, hard work, and perseverance. If, however, you care more about others than your personal success, then perhaps you value family, helping others, and making a difference in the world.
Thinking about your values will give you some direction for your future career. If you value family and helping others, then you’ll want to think about a career that is flexible enough for you to spend time with your family and still work closely with people who need help. A demanding career might earn you more money, but if that’s not what you value (and you have to be honest with yourself here), is it worth pursuing?
“A majority of students finish high school with a pretty good sense of their values and attitudes,” said Kurt Eisenmann, a guidance counselor at Waukesha North. However, a student’s values are challenged day to day, often by the people closest to them. “Peer group influence is huge,” said Eisenmann. “Peers influence a student’s values more than their church or parents or family.”
Heather Cruz, a senior at Waukesha North, has big plans after high school: she wants to be an OB-GYN. To accomplish that, she’s kept her grades high and stayed focused on her goals. But there were challenges along the way.
“Once, a friend invited me out to a party where there was alcohol,” Cruz said. “I knew it was a bad idea so I made the decision not to go. Turns out, the police showed up and a lot of my friends got in trouble.” That situation taught Cruz not to lose sight of what’s most important to her. “It’s just not worth it.”
If you don’t know what you value, don’t fret. Values are constantly developing, and can change depending on what stage of life you are in. Life is more than money and success, so laying a strong foundation now will guide you your entire life.