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When I start working with a coaching client, one of the first things I do is to help the client to draw up a list of their core values. Every one of us has a set of values that represents the things that are fundamentally important to us. Core values, therefore, are an expression of who we are. The more we are able to express those core values, the more fulfilled we will be and the more comfortable we will be with ourselves. It is suggested in the coaching literature that our core values are established by the time we are about 7 years old. However, the relative importance of those values varies according to our circumstances. For example, consider someone who values security. If they own their own house and have a secure job with a comfortable income, security may come fairly low in importance relative to their other core values. But if they lose their home and job then the importance that they attach to security will increase.

A list of your core values can be a powerful affirmation. Reading through the list gives you a strong sense of, and confidence in, your own true identity. It can also be a valuable tool for decision making. For example, imagine you are thinking of changing your job. You may have several options such as staying in your current job, moving within your current organisation, moving to another organisation, or setting up on your own. You will want to look at practical issues such as finance, but you will also want to consider what each choice will contribute to your sense of job satisfaction and fulfilment. To assess this, consider the extent to which each option will enable you to express your core values. If freedom and independence are core values you may be better setting up on your own. If creativity is a core value you will blossom in a job that enables you to express that creativity. If honesty and integrity are core values you won’t feel comfortable working in sales for a company whose products you don’t believe in.

Core values are always intrinsic values. Money, for example, is rarely a core value because its value is instrumental, i.e. we value it for its ability to procure other things. It may give us security, or freedom of choice, or the ability to create a nurturing or inspiring environment, or to care for our family.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the core values expressed by my clients over the last year or so, to see which values come up most frequently. There were so many very different values expressed by all the wonderful people that I have coached. But the values that keep coming up, in order of frequency, are as follows:

  • Creativity
  • Spirituality
  • Belonging
  • Independence
  • Laughter
  • Love
  • Music
  • Peace
  • Security

I can imagine the fulfilment that must come from a life that allows you to fully express all of those values.

The latest issue of Resurgence carries two responses to the current economic recession, one from Nick Robins, co-editor of Sustainable investing: The art of long term performance, and the other from Tony Juniper, formerly Director of Friends of the Earth and currently a Green Party candidate. Robins believes that this is “a period of great excitement” that could lead to “the prize of a sustainable economy”, although Juniper worries that “governments around the world seem fixated on keeping the failed system on life support rather than on giving birth to a system more fit for the times we live in”. Both writers urge us to identify new economic priorities, and point to the limitations of the main government indicators such as GDP. Gross Domestic Product is the total income generated by economic activity within a country within one year. It is widely used as an indicator of economic welfare, but this assumes that all expenditure is good and, conversely, that not spending is a reflection of poor welfare. These assumptions are false. For example, I can improve my work-life balance by working fewer hours and taking more time for activities that contribute to my well-being. Such activities might include spending more time with my friends and family, going for long walks in the countryside, singing in a choir, and many other activities that cost very little. If many of us did this, our welfare would improve considerably but we would be contributing less to GDP, which would fall as a result. Similarly, shopping locally in small privately run shops rather than large and more distant supermarkets enhances our welfare but contributes less to GDP. Conversely, if the country experienced a disastrous event such as a hurricane or an earthquake, our welfare would suffer but GDP would increase as a result of the cost of repairing the damage.

GDP also ignores trading activity using Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS). These are grass roots schemes that use a local currency that is issued by the scheme organisers, not by the banks. George Monbiot explains that in a recession “everything grinds to a halt for want of money”, but that money doesn’t have to be sterling or dollars. In A better way to make money he describes a number of schemes using local currencies that have successfully kick-started economies, saved local businesses and even whole towns, solved major social problems and generated employment. Almost all of these schemes “were closed down as the central banks panicked about losing their monopoly over the control of money”. Monbiot believes that it is time that we gave serious consideration to such alternatives.

In the Simpleology course, The Simple Science of Money, Mark Joyner presents a model of business that has three inputs – money, time and energy – and one output – money. This is a very narrow view of business. Money has instrumental value, i.e. it has value because we can use it to acquire other things that we value. If the work that we do produces no other benefit than money, then our work also has only instrumental value. But in a creative and fulfilling life, work is much more than this. It has intrinsic value. In other words, it has value in and of itself. It has non-financial benefits that are specific to the individual but might include working with inspiring people, expressing ourselves, indulging our passions, developing our talents and confirming our place in the world. To achieve such work I believe we need three additional inputs – passion, inspiration and creativity.

The Slow Coach

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"Every week I meet people setting out to offer life coaching. Only once have I encountered a life coach with the intellectual agility, insight and strength of character to impress me."