free online assessment, the Career Test for the Soul
is a valuable tool for anyone trying to choose a path. It's
also another opportunity to test drive the book, since it's
based on the workbook exercises.
Before making career and life planning decisions it's important
to do some homework and define your own very personal criteria
for success. These criteria should be clearly established
in your mind and regularly updated based on changing circumstances
and lessons learned over time. Otherwise having to make a
quick decision on an unexpected promotion, downsizing, career
or location change opportunity might send you off in directions
you really don't want to go. There are two types of criteria
you need to determine for yourself.
The first are personal life value priorities -
Determining your most important current values (e.g., money,
location, service to others, time with family), rank-ordering
them and deciding which you will trade off if faced with
a contradiction (e.g., the job you want not being available
in the location you want). As we said earlier, many people
keep themselves in a state of continual agitation by refusing
to make focused value decisions.
The second are personal job-content objectives -
Identifying what specific combination of skills or competencies
(e.g., intellectual, technical, interpersonal, physical,
artistic, mathematical, etc.) you want to develop and exercise
in your future on-the-job activities. These objectives become
your criteria for judging the content of potential future
jobs. If a potential opening involves doing a lot of financial
or technical analysis by yourself with no opportunity for
interacting with others - and interacting with others is
important to you - you will avoid that job even if it is
a promotion. You can't assess potential future career paths
effectively until you have some standard or criteria for
judging whether or not what you find is for you.
The following chapters and the workbook at the end of this
book outline an organized process with proven instruments
and tools to help you establish both these sets of criteria.
In this chapter we'll discuss life values.
It's important to know what personal values we want to achieve
in life, on and off the job. Then we can make career choices
that help us meet the most possible of these values. Making
an initial list of our values is usually the easy part. Most
of us can come up with a long list. The real challenge - the
tough part of determining values - comes in the choices we
have to make in setting our priorities, in deciding which
values we will give up or trade off when we face inevitable
I don't know about you, but I want everything. I don't want
any contradictions or forced choices. I want the freedom and
flexibility of a single life and all the rewards of a loving
spouse and children. I want to live in a small, intimate,
low pressure, academic town and have all the challenges, money,
and status of a job that may only be available in places like
New York or Chicago. I want Santa Claus to come along and
let me have it all. And I don't think I'm unusual in this.
I think most people, reasonable or not, want just about everything.
If I let myself think about it, however - if I face the unpleasant
reality that there are contradictions and I can't have everything
- I'll probably discover I do have some preferences. Each
of us wants some things more than others. Precisely what we
want and in what rank order is distinctively different for
each individual. Accepting someone else's -- organization's,
peer's, or teacher's -- rank order is not a very adult decision.
Accepting someone else's rank order for me is laziness, unwillingness
to do my own tough thinking, or excessively conforming behavior.
If I wait for Santa Claus to give me everything, Santa will
not come. Someone or something else (e.g. an unexpected opportunity
for a location move) will make the trade-offs for me. Both
are really non-decision options, and both are dangerous. Letting
chance or someone else make the trade-offs for me will rob
me of many things I want most and substitute things I don't
want nearly as much.
Deciding Our Own Values
We help people start identifying their most important personal
values by asking them to prioritize 20 typical career-related
life values. We do this by giving them a set of 20 cards each
of which defines one of the values. Then we have them practice
identifying contradictions and making trade-offs by giving
up the cards two at a time until they get down to the top
five they would be least willing to trade off. Most find this
a tough but enlightening process. Of course, most will achieve
more than five of the values, but forcing themselves to focus
down on only five introduces a valuable discipline.
The process of looking carefully at your life values and
establishing clear priorities may force you to make some conscious
tradeoffs you've been avoiding, particularly when you compare
what your top value priorities are with the values you are
actually spending most of your time pursuing today.
Figure 3 shows 20 typical life values people want to pursue.
Some will realize more than others. It's unlikely anyone will
realize them all, however, because several are likely to contradict
each other. This is not because the establishment or system
is plotting mean things. This is simply because that's the
way the world is. You can complain that this is not fair,
get angry, and refuse to accept the fact that you have to
trade off anything. It's easier and much more productive to
become your own Santa Claus by making choices, ending the
impasse and moving on.
Figure 3. TYPICAL CAREER-RELATED LIFE VALUES
To work with people I respect and to be respected
To be able to live where I want to live.
To enjoy my work. To have fun doing it.
To be committed to the goals of a group of people
who share my beliefs, values and ethical principles.
To have time with my family.
To motivate and energize other people. To feel
responsible for identifying and accomplishing needed
To learn and to do challenging work that will
help me grow, that will allow me to utilize my best
talents and mature as a human being.
To have a steady income that fully meets my family's
To grow in understanding of myself, my personal
calling and life's real purpose. To grow in knowledge
and practice my religious beliefs. To discern and
do the will of God and find lasting meaning in what
To be deeply involved with a group that has a
larger purpose beyond one's self. To perform in
effective and caring teamwork.
To earn a great deal of money (i.e., well beyond
my family's basic needs). To be financially independent.
To become a known and respected authority in what
To contribute to the well being and satisfaction
of others. To help people who need help and improve
To achieve significant goals. To be involved in
undertakings I believe personally are significant
- whether or not they bring me recognition from
To be seen by others as successful. To become
well known. To obtain recognition and status in
my chosen field.
To have the authority to approve or disapprove
proposed courses of action. To make assignments
and control allocation of people and resources.
To have freedom of thought and action. To be able
to act in terms of my own time schedules and priorities.
To live and work in compliance with my personal
moral standards. To be honest and acknowledge/stand
up for my personal beliefs.
To be physically and mentally fit.
To be innovative. To create new and better ways
of doing things.
Add value definitions of your choice
Parents, Mentors, Organizations, and Others
When people prioritize their life values we suggest they
sort out any voices they might carry in their heads from other
people telling them what they should value. There are four
categories of voices each of us should particularly monitor.
These are the voices of our parents, mentors, organizations,
Many values come from our parents. Most are probably very
worthwhile. We share and want to retain them. It's important
to look at values transmitted from our parents. However, we
must make certain we are not unduly influenced by those we
may not share. We might be putting an inflated emphasis on
wealth as the answer to all our problems, for instance, if
our parents faced economic deprivations we don't face, and
more money had an urgency for them it needn't have for us
(or if our parents were very wealthy and prized that). Wanting
something different from our parents doesn't mean they were
wrong. It just means we're different and probably living in
Most professionals have one or more significant mentors during
their 20's and 30's. Mentors are usually people 8 to 15 years
older than we are - teachers, bosses, or experienced co-workers
who take us under their wings and teach us the tricks of the
trade in our occupational specialties. They help us establish
ourselves as members of our trades or professions. A mentor
serves in a role similar to that of master in the old master-apprentice
To become masters themselves, however, apprentices must finally
break from masters, become their own persons, and steer their
own courses. This often happens when people are between the
ages of 35-40 and realize they have been too subject to influence
by those who have authority over them. They then stand on
their mentor's shoulders, build in new directions from that
firm foundation, and extend their capabilities beyond their
Identify and think about your mentors. Sort out what they
have said you should and should not value. Decide where you
do and do not agree today. You may still be associated with
a mentor or you may be carrying some strong value messages
from mentors you haven't worked with for years. If so, assess
them and pursue only those you still agree with.
Many companies are attempting to better align individual
employee behavior with the organization's vision and mission.
They often do this by communicating various organization values
employees are expected to acknowledge and commit themselves
to. This is basically a good trend. If you know what you organization's
values are you can better understand what's expected of you.
And you can better decide if your personal values are compatible.
This doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision. It's better
to look at each specific organizational value, articulated
or implied, and decide whether or not it conflicts with what
is important to you. You will probably find it's easy to agree
with the majority (e.g., quality or customer service). There
may be some, however, like "working whatever after hours
or weekend time it takes to get the job done" in a significantly
downsized and overloaded operation - or "always exceeding
the previous quarter's sales figures" - that you need
to put into better perspective or even resist.
Another potential contaminating influence on our choice of
values can often be found in relationships with our 'others'
- in our own competitive instincts and need to be one-up on
our friends, siblings, or peers. Their values are probably
and legitimately very different from mine. They may be paying
a high price in some dimension (e.g., time with family) that
is more important than power or money to me. Both of us may
be sacrificing important values in a race neither even wants
to be in. What a way to waste time and lose spirit.
Where does it end? It ends when I call a halt for me. The
others must determine how it will end for them. Think about
who your others are. What price might you be paying for the
competition? Do you really want to race? If not, plan what
you will do differently in the future to avoid these useless
Staying anchored in life values that bring personal meaning
If you don't know who you are you will probably become for
other people (e.g., superiors, peers or society) what they
need or want you to be. There will be no self. Doing what
others expect (including suggested career or location moves)
may bring high recognition and material rewards, but if there
is no self in your decisions there will probably be little
true meaning. You life will drift away from you unanchored
and in directions you don't really want to go.
Even when we believe our life values reflect our own inner
preferences it's important to test this assumption regularly.
Life values are frequently influenced - often unconsciously
- by our evolving life environments (e.g., faddish cultural,
peer or organizational norms). It's important to identify
these influences periodically, make certain they are conscious
and test how they are supporting or impairing pursuit of our
important life and spiritual goals.
We need to know and stay anchored in who we are, in what
we personally value and stand for. Our actions probably won't
always reflect our deepest beliefs. There will be gaps between
our values and our behaviors. Filling those gaps is a constant
struggle for everyone. If we don't notice the gaps - if we
don't strive continually to fill the gaps by better matching
our values and behaviors - chances are we will find sparse
meaning in what we do no matter how great the external rewards.
The following brief reflection will help you make a quick
assessment of what your value priorities are today. Later,
you can take a more in depth look when you do the exercises
in the workbook. Before you do the meditation sit quietly
a moment and get in touch with your own thought process. Monitor
any voices you carry around in your head from other people
(e.g., society, the media, peers, former teachers, your organization)
telling you what it is popular to value. Put them aside and
get in touch with what you want. Listen to your inner voice.
Hear what it tells you about what values you really want and
need to pursue if you are to put more meaning in your life
and career for both yourself and your family.
Look at the twenty Life Values in the table above.
Then take an erasable pencil and make a few notes following
the instructions below. Don't take a lot of time to
do this. Just record what comes to your mind quickly.
See what initial response comes to mind first. (You
can do a much more thorough Life Values exercise later,
when you complete the workbook.)
List your bottom 3 values (i.e., those you would be
most willing to give up)
List your top 3 (i.e., those you would be least willing
to give up)
Least Important Value
Review your bottom 3 values and circle the "B"
after the single value you would be most willing to
give up (i.e., the value that has the lowest priority
for you personally)
Most Important Value
Review your top 3 values and circle the "T"
after the single value you would be least willing to
give up (i.e., the value that has top priority for you
Compare your top values with those you spend most
time pursuing today.
When you compare your value priorities with what values
are actually taking your time these days, are there any discrepancies
or gaps? You are very unusual, or untruthful, if you see no
discrepancies. Are there a few imbalances that have, for all
practical purposes, become unacknowledged false gods that
are leading you off course? If so, what will you do about
It's up to each of us to make our own tough values choices.
Recognizing this can be scary for even the bravest of us.
But there is good news to go with that. We can empower ourselves
and get back on course. The hardest part is tracking the many
times we drift off course, admitting what's happening, and
taking corrective action.
Because this is a book about career planning, we have presented
a list of career or vocation-related values. It is not a list
of moral principles. We can't make a complete list of those
in a book like this. You've probably already learned much
of what you need to know about those from a long list of spiritual
writers and leaders who are much wiser than we. What we show
in Figure 3 is merely a list of fairly typical day-to-day
value concerns (only some of which involve moral principles
in themselves) that most of us need to track and assess continually
throughout our life journeys.
Principle-based decisions vs. evasive value clarifications
When we prioritize our life values it is important, however,
that we make what Stephen Covey and many of our modern behavioral
experts call principle-based value decisions. That requires
a lot more than the typically evasive value clarification
exercises that are so popular in today's value avoiding society.
Unfortunately, many contemporary values clarification exercises
tend to foster not tough decision making, but a currently
popular form of easy-out escapism. They provide a way to pretend
we are making meaningful choices while avoiding any hard decisions.
They give us a tool to play what Peter Kreeft describes as
"moral ping pong." He tells us that questions addressed
by facilitators in many modern values clarification exercises
never about the roots or grounds of values, about
principles. Instead, they are about feelings and reasoning,
They never ask questions about virtues and vices, about
character, but ask only about what you would do or rather
what you would 'feel comfortable' doing.
The one moral absolute in (typical) values clarification
is that there are no moral absolutes, and the only thing
forbidden is for the facilitator to suggest that...there
is objective truth in the realm of values, for that would
mean some of the students are wrong, and that would be 'judgmental',
the only sin. In fact the very procedure itself teaches
a nearly irresistible lesson: values are all up for grabs,
are matters of individual or social taste; no one has the
right to teach another here; values are "my" values
or "your" values", never simply true values;
values, in short, are not facts but feelings.1
This approach to deciding and living our values is obviously
ridiculous - at least when someone like Kreeft takes an objective
look and tells it like it is in non-evasive language. If you
are like me somewhere deep down you have always known it was
ridiculous. But if you're like me you've also not always been
as courageous as Kreeft in owing up to it - or expressing
While we do have to choose our own values, we shouldn't do
that in a moral vacuum. Clearly there are some objective moral
principles we have to consider. I don't believe values, especially
moral and spiritual values, are all relative. But I haven't
always been willing to be clear about - and consistently practice
- what I really do believe. That kind of behavior might challenge
people. In much of modern society it's not considered politically
correct and I don't want to be unpopular. I want to be sophisticated,
urbane, and well liked even by people I know are behaving
in direct contradiction to what I believe - even when they
are subtly pressuring me to behave the same way. What a way
to waste a life! I don't have to get on a soapbox and convert
the world. However, I do have to be certain I at least really
know where I stand and that my behavior and language are always
consistent with that.
If we have a difference in values, I have to make certain
my behaviors are not slipping into compliance with my audience's
rather than my own moral beliefs. I don't have to berate or
lecture everyone I disagree with. That would often be a waste
of time anyway. However, I do have to make certain that my
actions (i.e., everything I do) are consistent with what I
really want (i.e., personal morality, integrity and self-respect)
and not with what I can easily deceive myself into thinking
I want (i.e., more recognition and personal popularity). And
while I don't always have to say everything I believe, I do
have to be very careful never to say anything I don't believe.
Some Very Available Road Signs
Steve and I are not theologians. It isn't our job in this
book to teach the details of moral values. You don't need
us to do that anyway. You already know them. They have been
spelled out for you by much more learned and spiritually advanced
people than we. They are as obvious as the Ten Commandments
and the Sermon on the Mount with its eight magnificent beatitudes.
I don't think many of our readers will deny the validity of
those two documents as roadmaps for a more fulfilling journey
- not only through this life but far beyond to a much higher
realm. If you do disagree with them, you are an unusual person.
Kreeft points out the simplicity and universal acceptance
of the Sermon on the Mount when he says:
The greatest sermon ever preached takes only fifteen minutes
to read and can be printed on a single page; yet it has
changed the world more than any other speech ever made.
Even Gandhi found nothing in his rich, six thousand-year-old
Hindu tradition to equal it. Even atheists, agnostics, and
humanists testify to its greatness. The whole world stares
in ecumenical orgy of agreement at it; yet the whole world
fails to follow it, exactly as the man in Jesus' parable
at the end of the sermon (Matt. 7:24-27) who built his house
on the sand of hearing instead of on the rock of heeding.2
Are we mapping our lives and energy-consuming vocational
pursuits on the drifting sands of transient and cyclical contemporary
fads? Or are we using the solid life anchors provided by this
great sermon, by the commandments, and by the great spiritual
writers of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other major religious
traditions? Are we deafened by the noise of the media, or
by organization and peer pressure? Or are we listening to
centuries of eastern and western spiritual giants who have
provided us with the time-tested, enduring, very public principles
and values we've always had available to us as road signs
for plotting and pursuing more fulfilling journeys?
Most of us are doing a little of each. The trick is to keep
moving relentlessly towards firmer ground. It isn't easy,
but it brings the only true satisfaction and the stakes are
high. The real graduation prize, the only satisfying destination
is not a short, if physically comfortable, retirement in the
sun, not fifteen minutes of fame, but an eternity of much
more fulfilling light in an infinitely higher realm. What
is a practical person to do? A practical person will pay attention
and make the effort to keep his or her value choices on track.
One individual I know, for instance, prioritized his values
and concluded he was unhappily and excessively pursuing both
wealth and personal recognition. He left a career that provided
high visibility and material rewards for a less lucrative
vocation that gave him more opportunity to pursue important
social service, family and spiritual values he'd been neglecting.
He never regretted the decision.
Steve and I have each spent our share of time lost in the
self-generated fog of value confusion and indecision. We know
it's only human. But we have also discovered that it isn't
There are people who discipline themselves to penetrate the
fog. They make the tough decision to take off their blinders
and see the markers. Then they work hard at clearing the air
whenever new mists inevitably form. This gives them a noticeable
serenity despite a chaotic and unpredictable environment.
It provides them with a calming surety of direction when many
around them are circling blindly in a foggy refusal to make
value decisions, or in failing to act when they discover their
values and day-to-day activities are in conflict.
We've said that many of the values we define in Figure 3
are not moral principles in themselves. However, there is
a morality implicit in how and to what extent we pursue any
given value on the list. There is a proper balance. We know
that intuitively even when we don't allow this clear knowledge
into our consciousness. Some values are definitely more important
than others in light of our journey's ultimate destination.
And an excessive pursuit of several can easily lead to an
imbalance that we know, if we clear the fog, is not moral.
Paraphrasing Kreeft we know, but we do not always heed. And
we are geniuses at not noticing we are not heeding.
Kept in appropriate perspective, none of the values on the
list is right or wrong in itself. However, pursued out of
balance, many can become debilitating and road-fogging false
We tend to think of false gods as antique and currently non-existent
phenomena. No one has worshipped Zeus or a golden calf for
millennia. In truth, however, we have not eliminated false
gods; we have renamed them. If you don't know the names our
values list can give you several clues.
Personal growth and satisfaction
If we track our progress and stay on course, our values will
evolve and mature. We will grow and the growth will be satisfying.
Being clear on our values can keep us anchored when the situation
around us is falling apart. It can keep us in touch with our
authentic selves, with who we are and, most important of all,
with who we want to become in our ongoing development as both
human and spiritual beings
1. Peter Kreeft, Back To Virtue (San Francisco,
Ignatius Press, 1992) p. 28-29
2. ibid. p. 79