Stanford's What Matters Most & Why: Values

This is a daunting question, and most people are lost at sea with it before coming to me. The way to tackle this is to examine the question behind the question. First of all, in becoming part of the GSB alumni, you would be an ambassador of sorts, whether you are aiming to or not. Because of that, they want to really understand your operating system – your values.


And so, this question actually asks, what do you most value? The answer is meaningless without an anecdote, really – as with all the essays, show, don’t tell – and the story should illustrate how you acquired the value to which you lay claim.


As a coach, I try to help my clients discern their values so they can make better decisions. To use myself as an example, my values include self-expression, playfulness, and independence. How did I come to know this? Before I got into this business, I moved from newspaper marketing to Wells Fargo.


The change appeared to be an upgrade from the outside, but I found myself stripped of all that I valued. No longer was I able to champion my own initiatives, lead graphic designers, copywriters, or collaborate with the news desk. None of the writing I did came from a place of self-expression like it used to.


Rather, everything at Wells Fargo was lockstep, recycled from the marketing calendar, under heavy scrutiny of compliance standards, and totally devoid of all humor and spontaneity.


Had I understood my values, I would have been able to articulate why my inner guidance was saying NO DON’T DO IT. Once I started at Wells, I then realized to be happy in my work, self-expression, independence and playfulness needed to be there.


When it comes to What Matters Most, consider personal and professional anecdotes and see what the golden thread is, the “through line” that ties things together.


The exercise I have people do is to identify one personal and one professional anecdote for each of the following:

1) when did you feel most proud?

2) when did you feel most accomplished?, and

3) when did you feel most fulfilled?

Then we consider each anecdote and from there back out what it says about the values of that person.


For instance, one of my clients felt most fulfilled when several coworkers slammed his phone with messages encouraging him to apply for a new job opening in their department.


As an Iraqi American in Texas, he had been the target of racist bullying in his youth, which gave birth to his value around feeling a sense of belonging within the community, feeling wanted and welcome.


In his essays, he first shared the story of being bullying and then stories around his subsequent efforts to create safe and welcoming communities for himself and others, both personally and professionally.


By identifying where your values come from, you can understand why they are important to you provide a holistic and authentic answer to “What matters most and why?”


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