On her Spotify exclusive podcast, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown discusses with the entrepreneurial professor and author, Jim Collins about values. He introduced to me the concept of a shadow value and defined his shadow value as the freedom to choose how he spends his time. This value resides beneath his primary values of curiosity and relationships.
It got me to thinking, what are my shadow values and as an extension to this line of thought is there such a thing as dark values? I’ve decided that like all things in nature, there must be a balance. As there is good so too there is bad, therefore it is possible to have dark values too.
To understand shadow and dark values, let’s take a step back for a moment to understand what a value is.
What are Values?
A value is that which is important to you.
Each of us values something/s in varying degrees of importance. We make decisions based on these values. Our lives are guided by that which is important to us. Your values can change depending on circumstances and context. What is important to you today is highly unlikely to remain important to you in the future.
To appreciate the importance of knowing your values, understand that all conflicts are caused by a values misalignment. Identify and respect what values are important to another person and you will always maintain good relations.
The technical definition according to Google of values is:
noun: principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life.
verb: consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.
Decide what your values are
An exercise you can do to determine your own values is to study this list of values and choose from it your top ten. Meditate on the list to narrow it down to your top 3-5.
Take your time with this process, it may take a while for you to determine what is the most important values. Ask those around you what they think is most important to you. Keep in mind that while comprehensive, this list is not exhaustive. As you’ll come to see a few of my values are not listed therein.
There’s no right or wrong way to determine what your values are. And they may be different for different contexts, circumstances and situations. These are standards or qualities that are important to you for how you want to lead your life as it presently is now, or like me, things you’d like to improve.
Chat with me about it, if need be. I know advanced NLP techniques to elicit your values if you find this challenging.
My primary (light) values are to care, collaborate and communicate. I chose these three values not only because they’re important to me in my work and personal life but also because I have room to improve in each of these areas.
I care about things most people don’t think to care about.
I pick up rubbish everywhere I go. I bought ‘Be a responsible dog owner, clean up after your dog’ stickers and put them on the poles around my local lake to reduce the amount of dog waste on the footpath because the council were doing two parts of nothing-at-all about it. I let people go ahead of me in shopping queues if I can see they have fewer items than me.
I called the emergency services when my neighbour’s house was flooding after their roof was damaged by a storm and they weren’t home. I contacted all the other neighbours to see if anyone knew how to contact them.
I once anonymously paid the restaurant bill for another family’s meal to teach my son about being kind to others without being thanked for it. At least once a week I buy a pay-it-forward coffee at my local cafe.
I seek out things to do that are kind and caring, compassionate and considerate all the time. For no other reason than it feels reallllly good.
But this is not why caring is my number one value.
It’s my number one value because to fully care about someone or something, I must give a shit when I least want to. Caring is comprised of compassion and empathy. It continues to be a challenge for me because there are many times (in any given day) when I just don’t care.
Dreadful, huh? But it’s true.
Caring is bloody exhausting. And sometimes, to care is to not care. Not to the point where it causes another person direct harm, but still, if I cared about every homeless person I saw on the street, I’d be broke and soon panhandling next to them.
Discerning when to care and when to put other’s needs aside for my own benefit is really hard. Especially as a wife and mother. It’s not a simple case of learning how to say no. Sometimes, I have to force myself to care about others less in order to care about myself more.
It’s considered perfectly natural for a mother to sacrifice herself for her children. Mother’s are deemed selfish to not do so, and yet, time and again, I’ve found that if I don’t take the time to take care of myself I do not have enough strength to care for others in the ways they need.
This is why caring is one of my light values. I need to continue to strive for a balance that fuels my heart, head and body in all the ways it needs so that I can do good for others and have it be good for me too.
Collaboration isn’t just about working with others to achieve the same goals. Collaboration is comprised of compromise, negotiation and balance.
It’s not just useful in my work where I find myself leading a team for the first time in seven years and a remote team for the first time ever in an industry I have little to no experience in, of ages and cultures similar and also vastly different than my own.
Collaboration is also about choosing the battles worth fighting with my husband to ensure our marriage lives to see another day. It is about how he & I work together to budget our household finances and build our future together.
It’s also about ensuring that I get my needs met while meeting the needs of others.
Women bear the burden of a heck of a lot of invisible labour in a family. We think and plan everything for everyone. We see and do what needs to be done. We consider what needs to be considered. We remember stuff that needs to be remembered. In our brains are the shopping list and what’s still in the fridge and pantry. When the clothes were washed last and what days the bins go out. We know who is who to whom. We know what is what and where it is.
Women’s brains are a force of nature that is built for collaboration. There is a reason most women-led businesses and countries are more successful on multiple fronts. It’s as though women have the hard-wired capability to collaborate to a far more minute degree than men can.
Am I being sexist? Are men capable? Of course, they are, but, it’s not hard-wired like I think it is for women. What comes naturally to a woman’s brain takes a concerted effort for a man. And before I get all the feminist’s unsubscribing, there’s a lot of things science has proven that men have a higher capability than women to do.
And yet, for me, collaboration as a value means I need to not do it just because it’s hard-wired. To push back on other’s expectations at home or at work that I’ll do it just because I can. It also means that I need to leave things not done so that others can do it. Even if that means not emptying the dishwasher for a week.
To collaborate also means that I must learn how to best work with others even when I don’t like them.
A stranger’s being a bad driver, I must collaborate with them so they do not cause us or others harm. I need to negotiate my pay even when I don’t enjoy openly talking about my monetary worth. I need to compromise on what I want in order to see that the majority achieves what they need.
None of this comes easily to me and yet, it’s essential to my leadership and to the happiness of my family. It is a significant value for me because it influences all of my relationships.
Communication is comprised of my language and its linguistics, tone, body language, emotional intelligence, intent, interpretation, comprehension and conclusions.
It is what is said and not said.
Shown and not shown.
To communicate, I must appreciate how to articulate myself to get my desired results and I need to learn how to listen and hear (they are different).
I must appreciate that sometimes truths do not need to be told. And that honesty (which is another lesser value of mine) isn’t needed but that doesn’t mean you need to be dishonest either. I need to learn when not to talk and when it’s better to bite my tongue or not send that email. Or to say something in a slightly different way to achieve the desired outcome without alienating anyone.
Of all my light values, communication is the hardest one for me to achieve balance for. It’s the value that causes me the most conflict because I find myself in my head a lot, with glorifying thoughts, opinions and beliefs that are rarely the complete story.
To achieve this value I must learn to choose wonder over judgement, be curious, ask questions and always seek to find that softest way to get the strongest outcome.
My understanding of Jim’s explanation of a shadow value is that behind my light values of care, collaborate and communicate, there is another value that guides my life. It’s not prominent but exists to provide a foundation or motivation underneath my light values.
I like Jim’s shadow value and agree, many of the decisions I make for my life are also formed around my need for freedom for how I spend my time, but the truth is it’s not how I lead my life. I cannot. For starters, as a mother, my time is determined by school or child care hours. In my work, my time is determined by what time my CEO in Lithuania and my team in the UK start work, which is usually late afternoon in my time. Most of my time is not my own.
And yet, what has shaped how I’ve worked and led my life over the last 15 years is the desire to be location independent. That is, to be able to work independently of any specific location. It was one of the drivers behind starting my first business. And it is a strong motivator for the work I do now and the things that my husband and I are planning for our life living in Nigeria (his home country) and in other countries.
My inner gypsy has a yearning to live in the world. I don’t like to take short vacations. I do not enjoy playing tourist. I like to immerse myself in a country’s culture. I like to learn languages and discover different cuisines. I like to meet new people and broaden my knowledge of the world and how it works with direct contact.
I discovered the term, ‘location independent’ while living in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2009 while in-between ‘English as a Second Language’ teaching jobs that were based in China. I had a two-month break between jobs and was learning all there was to learn about how to work online and travel for the rest of my life.
I went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with friends where fate would not see the move to Guangzhou to start a new job. Instead, I met the man who would become my husband. As I taught English, I continued to research ways to work online. My first business would’ve been to become an online ESL tutor and English Editor for foreign-produced English publications (Chinglish anyone?) but instead, I returned home to Australia.
While returning to Australia was best for the future of Sanni and me, my inner gypsy has been sad ever since. When Sanni took me to meet his family in Lagos, Nigeria at the end of 2014, my inner gypsy awoke with a fiery burst of passion. I became determined to ensure that location independence would be my future. Henceforth, I have made all life decisions based on my ability to travel and work anywhere in the world with access to the internet.
Having this as a shadow value provides me with long-term motivation and guidance for a life I do not need to take a vacation from.
A dark value is akin to what we call a secondary gain in NLP. It’s something that isn’t good for us but we do it anyway because the resulting negative action, belief, or thought is beneficial in some way.
A dark value is the same. It’s a negative thing to have in our life but it gives us some value, which is why we keep doing it.
A narcissist values themselves too highly, at the detriment of others. They also value control and power over others. But, good people with good intentions also have dark values. A father who wants to keep his daughter safe might have a dark value of safety that makes him over-protective. It doesn’t make him a bad person, it just means that the outcome of the value is negative for him and those who experience it.
I am still trying to uncover my dark values, but the one that was easy to call out is my use of profanity, in particular, the word fuck. Now, swearing itself is not the dark value, it’s the outcome of the value.
Swearing for me has value. I never use it to harm or insult, it’s only ever used for emphasis or because I think it will illustrate meaning in a specific way. It feels good. I like the shock it brings. And yet, it’s not a good thing. It has benefits but, if you can believe this, I actually hate the sound of it.
Yep. You read that correctly.
I don’t hate it when I hear it from others. I hate it when I hear it from myself. Not when I say it. When I hear it. I make a lot of video content for LinkedIn and on the very odd occasion that I swear during recording, I am repulsed by the replay. It’s a momentary experience of full-body disgust.
And yet, I do not stop it.
Aside from the fact that there really isn’t enough soap in the world to wash my mouth out with (as my mother will attest trying to do multiple times when I was a child – literally!), swearing provides more value and benefit to me than not doing it. Until such time as the bad outweighs the good, this act of swearing will never cease.
As a behaviour, it’s motivated by a value – one I am not sure I can easily identify. When I think about the times I swear, it’s when I’m expressing heightened negative emotions, or when I’m being funny, or when I’m illustrating a point. Each time, the swearing is for emphasis and that brings me a particular kind of attention. That attention makes me memorable.
Oh wow. Mic drop moment.
Being memorable is important to me because growing up I wasn’t memorable. I wasn’t popular like my brothers (twins). I was nerdy, chubby, smart (and a smart arse). But I was only ever a B-average student. I never excelled and had no one to motivate or push me to excel. There was nothing at all remarkable about me. And I swore, a lot!
Swearing got me attention then and it still gets me attention.
There is likely an untold cost to my swearing. I know my colleagues, all Brits, were surprised when I first started working with them, by how much I drop the f* bomb. They joke about it, but recently I’ve found myself not enjoying the banter. I feel as though they think less of me because I swear, even though, I know in my heart they don’t.
And yet, what of those who don’t know me well? What impression am I making? Is it the impression I want to be making? There are two ways to look at this – I can be of the attitude that if it matters to them they don’t matter to me, or, I can appreciate that if it matters to them then I might be missing out on opportunities that would matter to me if my swearing wasn’t preventing me from learning about them.
Like all dark values, we don’t really know what other benefits exist by not having this as a value. It’s like valuing a thick slice of chocolate cake with your cuppa. It tastes sooooo good but would your body feel better for not having that slice? Probably. Do you value your body enough to not have the slice?
Do I still need the attention swearing brings? Is that the kind of memorable I want to be?
It’s challenging for all of us to identify and change dark values because no one enjoys, let alone actively seeks out, that which is sucky about ourselves. And yet, this is precisely what we need to do in order to become better humans.
And I do want to be a better human.
My light values continue to guide what I learn and what decisions I make but it is my shadow value that shapes my future. I’m sure that my light values will change in time and as I begin to bring my shadow to light, I have no doubt that a new shadow will form to direct the way I lead my life.
As for my dark values, well, I will either have to find peace with this part of me or decide that it’s not as important as something else and make the effort to change, grow and learn.
Care to Share?
What are your light, shadow and dark values?
With gratitude, love and laughter,
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