What are Your Two Core Values that Define Who You Are?

When you make the decisions to let bravery define you, knowing your values will guide you in the making of those many decisions. Do you know your values? I’m sure you can randomly guess at them and generalize them but what I’m asking is different. And worth the work that I’m challenging you to do. This is all Dr. Brene’ Brown Dare to Lead leadership training stuff. And a good exercise for you to work through as you lead your brain and live into your birthright.

Here are some starter tips from Dr. Brene’ Brown’s research:

  • There is not a set of professional values and personal values. We only have one set. We don’t shift our values based on context.
  • Conflicts in our lives come in when our values are in conflict with your place of work, your family, the stranger in line at the store. Our values don’t change in situations. These are our north star which guides us through all of this.

I’ve gratefully taken the word list from Dare to Lead (p. 188) which the book gives permission to share with you. These are a list of values but maybe one of yours has been left off of the list. This is okay. There is room to write more in. You can find that list on the right-hand column. 

The task is to pick the two that you hold as most important. Just two. Yes, your first glance at this word list and you already see more than two that you want to circle. I will give you some tips as to how to get down to your two. But first I’d like to share why you must do the hard work to get down to two. It’s from Dr. Brene’ Brown’s research again. To quote:

“The research participants who demonstrated the most willingness to rumble with vulnerability and practice courage tethered their behavior to one or two values, not ten. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, I see it the same way that I see Jim Collins’ mandate “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.” At some point, if everything on the list is important, then nothing is truly a driver for you. It’s just a gauzy list of feel-good words.

“Second, I’ve taken more than ten thousand people through this work, and when people are willing to stay with the process long enough to whittle their big list down to two, they always come to the same conclusion that I did with my own values and process: My two core values are where all of the ‘second tier’ circled values are tested.”

That second point is a good tester for your two values. This really helped me when I did this work. This will be some holy tension work for you. At least it was for me.

This is how I tackled it. I printed out this word list. I scanned it and saw that some were easy “no-ways” and the rest were going to taking some discerning to figure out. I set the list aside for the next day.

On this next day I set aside 30 minutes of quiet and focused time for this list. I prayed a bit to clear my head and focus my mind. Then I read over the list with a pen and highlighter. I crossed out the “no ways” and highlighted everyone that resonated with my soul.

That knocked the list down to only 18. 18! Sheesh. Now the hard work began.

I rewrote my list so it had just the 18 on it. I don’t do inspiring work well when there are scribbles everywhere on the paper. I need clean and orderly to help me process. When I made that list I was able to delete four more. Those words definitely resonated with my soul but when up against the other words—once those other words were on a shorter list—I knew I wouldn’t be wrestling much with them. So now I was down to 14. Sheesh still.

I made this list full of fancy fonts and printed it. Again, I can work better from something orderly. And one of the words that I kept was “beauty.” As I was creating this fancy font document so I could be inspired to do this hard work in an orderly manner, that word beauty continued to pop out at me. I also felt dread because I knew the next steps were going to be hard, vulnerable, uncomfortable and take time.

I knew also that to help me eliminate 12 of these words I would have to lean into the research that my two core values will be tested by the other twelve. I hoped that somehow this give-and-take would bring two words to the top.

Immediately then I knew one word could be eliminated. It was “financial stability.” That one does sing in my soul because I’ve never had it. I’ve been in full-time ministry my entire life and have not been paid well. John is an entrepreneur—that is far from stability. But I have never once made the decision to live with financial stability. I could have left the ministry, taken the bigger-paycheck church, or pushed/nagged John to get a job. Through all of these years I have never done that so clearly this is not a core value to me. Though crossing it off was hard as I still desire it.

I found “integrity” to be easier to cross out. This has been a word that has been important to me since I started in ministry in the early 1980s. Especially as I started as a single person and was single for so long. I definitely wanted integrity to be a mark of my ministry. This value has been with me for a long time. But I now have this Brene’-Brown brain and when I read this from Dare to Lead I chuckled way too much: “The word integrity may be overused, watered down, and written on way too many inspirational eagle posters from the ‘90s.” Then there is Brene’ Brown thought on integrity—did I choose courage over comfort? Maybe courage is more my value than integrity? Do you see how some of these words are actually sub-categories of the two big words?

When I put the rest of the words through this window I was able to cross off eight more words. And one word became quite obvious as the one.

One word claimed! Now four words left to rumble through to find the other one.

From the four I was able to sub-category two of them to another word. But was that word the one? I still didn’t know.

Down to two—for one spot. I actually wrestled with claiming three words as my values. Three is close to two, right? But I decided to rumble for another day jostling those two words in my daydreaming, in my rambling prayers (often the same as my daydreaming), and paid attention to anything that randomly happened in my life to help one of these words pop over the other. In other words, I carried this holy tension all day with me.

And I settled on 2.5 words. I found a common sense way to subcategory one of the words but I also want to keep that word prominent in my brave decisions.

My first word is bravery. A write-in word! Or simply changing the synonym of courage to bravery because I prefer that word. This word is a “duh.” But I still rumbled through it. Just because I named my website after this word didn’t necessarily make it one of my core values. But this is the word that all of my sub-category words fit under. This is the word that has defined my approach to ministry all of these 37 years. I was brave in 1981 to even think I could lead junior highers. I was brave to follow the call on my life even at the great disruptions it caused in my life. I was brave to wrestle through and try new and better ways to do youth ministry that I completely believe in still (and created 25 years of resources while I did that). I was brave to turn down marriage proposals waiting for the right one. I was brave to date so many duds that led me to find the right match for me. I’ve been brave in our financial instability. I was brave when I first met our boys and followed wherever God was leading. Even when I was physically unsafe. Definitely when I was vulnerably ripped open with pain from their choices. I’ve been brave to stay through it all unwavering in my unconditional love for them. Though the unconditional love part has been easy. These boys/men of mine are easy to love. Bravery has definitely marked my life of faith—all along the way.

My second word is beauty. I wrestled with it because at first it is such a vain word but I couldn’t cross it off the list. As I rumbled and prayed I kept remembering the truths that there is a deeper beauty in pain. This quote has defined me so often in my life, “In the meantime—let the pain be. It’s likely making you even more beautiful.” There is also vulnerability in beauty. You need to be seen. Not in the vain way but in the way that draws others to hope and beauty. Think of art. Think of those beautiful people you know. Then from my reading of my two current books I’m finishing (remember I was paying attention to the random things that would happen in my days to help guide me) I read this quote, “Beauty is uncomfortable but can comfort others.” There is a lot to dig out of that quote. I’m not done with that quote.

My .5 word is future generations and I sub-categorized it under beauty. I never ever would have thought of this word if it hadn’t been on the word list. But it is true to me. It is the core reason why I’m still a youth pastor 37 years later. It is why I haven’t used my skills to be a pastor. It is why I created youth ministry values that are designed to not put butts in the seats (though all are welcomed) but to bring faith near so faith is a part of their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. also. It is why I still have relationships with grown teens who are now in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s! Seeing the living faith in these grown teens is the juice that keeps me in the ministry. I haven’t even mentioned the beauty of my grandchildren and the generational curses we are breaking with them. It’s like these words were put into me in 1981 and all of my decisions for my life since then have been based on those words. The beauty of those words. I just never recognized it until I saw this word list.

Whew. Hard work completed. And it is a release of pressure, that joyful kind when you know you’ve worked hard and true.

Your turn. Be brave.