I have a new-ish friend named Chantal. I liked her right away when I met her for lots of reasons – she’s genuinely and intensely curious about other people, she’s a voracious learner, she’s hilarious, and she asks really tough, big questions that make me think (for example, she recently asked me casually to distill Sean and my parenting philosophy). But beyond all of this, she achieved total awesomeness status in my mind when I found out she made t-shirts for her husband and daughter a few years ago that said FLICE.
No, it doesn’t stand for F&*%ing Lice. FLICE is actually an acronym for their family values. (Note: This is totally, absolutely unrelated to the weird, icky Dan Quale/religious right discussion about family values.) Her family values refer to exactly what the words mean – what matters to her family and why (which in turn guides decisions and trade-offs they make). Think about it, while all companies and organizations have values (and spend a lot of time and money coming up with them), very few families have formally thought out and written out values. How do we focus so much time on how we’re behaving as colleagues, and so little on how we’re behaving as loved ones? To read Chantal’s perspective on the role of values in her family and in organizations, check out her blog.
The idea of family values is similar to the concept of a wellfesto – the point of both exercises is to be clear and direct and open about how we want to live our lives….to have checks and balances to ensure we’re staying on track and living lives that make us and the people around us full and whole and well. All of this sounds great when things are going smoothly, but the rubber hits the road when values are tested by a challenge or tension. For example, if a family values honesty, and a parent becomes ill and wants to shield the children from what’s going on, does their core value for honesty change the way they deal with the situation? Or on a personal level, if I say I value sleep, but I find I can’t fulfill the other parts of my life AND get the sleep I need, at what point do I make trade-offs in the rest of my life so that I can get the sleep I know I need?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to view life as a series of trade-offs — an ongoing journey during which we have to pick forks in the road not knowing where exactly they will lead. A steady stream of situations where we have to dial up and dial back various parts of our life every day to meet unexpected demands and challenges. Trade-offs are tough any way you look at them, but it’s been my experience that guideposts for what we value most (in our relationships, in our bodies, in our work, in our lives), make them a whole lot easier to deal with, accept, and move on from.
There are lots of different ways to come up with and articulate personal and family values. Chantal sat down and wrote down the things that were most important to her/their family. Aaron Hurst, the founder of the Taproot Foundation, recently included values in his “User’s Manual” (a quick primer for his team at work on who he is and how he works). I worked with a company a few years ago that used the concept of “anchors,” “optimizers,” and “things I can let go” (in life), as an attempt to help employees tier their values. And I wrote my wellfesto last month. If you’re thinking about going through the exercise yourself, here are a few simple tips:
- Aim for 3-7 values. Fewer may not paint a full enough picture, and more than seven are unwieldy.
- Use plain language. These don’t need to be fancy, they just need to be super clear. Write them in crisp, short phrases/bullet points.
- Test them. Once you have your values written out, think of some tough trade-offs you’ve had to make in the past and test them against these values. Do the values guide your decisions using what matters most?
- Be realistic. It’s easy to write flowery, nice-sounding text that isn’t likely to become a reality. The key to good values is a mix of aspiration, inspiration, motivation, and reality.
- Tack them up. Once you’re settled on your final values, put them somewhere in clear view. On a poster…on a chalkboard…on a tshirt. Just put them somewhere where you have a visual reminder every day.
Have you ever taken time to write out your personal and/or family values? If so, how did you do it? And have they endured the test of time? And if you want to share, what are they?