Do you know your personal values?
I spent last summer in Summit County Colorado—high up in the mountains, close to some of the popular ski resorts you’ve probably heard of: Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper, and A-Basin.
A particular day comes to mind. It was Friday. I was burnt out after working a long week, itching to disconnect over the weekend.
So I packed up a bag, hopped in the car with some friends, and went out for a long day hike to a scenic lake.
The hike was healing. I was present with my friends—sharing stories and laughing while taking in the fresh scent of the pines. Life felt harmonious.
When we got back to the house that evening, I couldn’t stop thinking about the emotions of the day—everything felt right.
How could I get more of this feeling? Was my current lifestyle lacking something?
So I journaled and read, journaled and read, and eventually found clarity:
I needed to put more thought into my personal values.
What are personal values?
Psychologist and writer Nick Wignall puts it best:
“Personal values are simply ideals that help guide you toward your best life...[They] serve as guiding principles for our behavior, especially when strong emotions like fear or shame are involved.”
Clarifying personal values often leads to many benefits, including:
- Feeling more confident
- Improving relationships
- Reducing procrastination
- Worrying less
- Finding more joy in life
- Sticking to goals
Sounds promising, right?
While I could benefit from all of the above, the one that jumped out at me first was finding more joy in life—that’s the feeling I got when I was hiking with my friends in Colorado. I wanted more of that. So I decided to spend some serious time thinking through my personal values.
It was my hope that, by clarifying my values, I could improve the quality of my life across all areas: relationships, health (emotional and physical), work, and passions.
Long story short: it worked. The rest of this piece covers my personal values.
How to discover your own values
My intention is for you to iterate on my values and determine your own.
If you’re interested in clarifying your values, check out Nick Wignall’s process here, and try Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s (writer and founder of Ness Labs) approach here. The process to uncover values requires deep work, but it's worth it.
Remember that values aren’t static. They’re subject to change as you journey through life. It’s important to check in on your values at least twice per year and adjust as needed.
My 7 personal values
Here's my definition for growth: steady progress as a human being.
Just months ago, after many years of grinding, I woke up. I realized that there’s a particular beauty to slow living—being more intentional and appreciating the little moments that make life so wonderful.
The realization had me questioning my entire life up to that point—I’d been focused on growth and progress through schoolwork and my career for years. Was it all for nothing?
Luckily, growth and intentionality are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they pair well together.
The trick is emotional fitness: learning how to control when to speed up (build things with quality, work hard, etc.) and when to slow down (relax in nature, enjoy conversion with friends, be spontaneous, etc.).
Now, growth is one of my most important values. I value consistent forward progress with breaks along the way to take in life's magical moments. It’s a journey:
- Consciously becoming a better human each year (more accepting, understanding, caring, and more emotionally resilient).
- Leveling up in work by consistently building transferable skills like writing, marketing, selling, and working with others.
- Improving my health and fitness through training and eating healthfully—most of the time :)
A good friend of mine, Rich Keller, taught me something truly useful—you should be able to sum up your personal brand in one word.
As it turns out, I’m an adventurer.
But adventure isn’t what you think. In fact, I tried my best to debunk the concept of adventure at TEDxTCNJ.
Adventure is simply about being present in the moment, being excited about what you’re doing, and being open to new experiences, people, and places. So adventure is more attainable than you might think.
I value being adventurous daily. Here’s how I think about adventure:
I try to strike a balance between taking small adventures regularly, and going on the occasional big adventure.
My small adventures include: mountain biking at a local park, taking walks to the beach in Asbury Park, playing in soccer games, and learning to play the guitar.
Big adventures are usually planned in advance: trekking Mt Kilimanjaro, backcountry camping in New England, studying in Shanghai, and solo road tripping out West.
I believe that adventure leads to a happy and fulfilling life. So I prioritize it.
Connection with other humans is one of the basic needs of life. Think about it: doesn’t it feel nice when you spend time with people who you can be your full self around?
Connection is achieved through listening and communication skills. This is where slowing down becomes increasingly valuable—I block time to allow myself to hold deep conversations with people so that we can truly get to know each other.
I try not to let conversation stop at surface level. I ask questions to make others feel comfortable getting deeper with me:
- Whenever someone asks me a question, I answer it, and then turn the question back to them to hear their answer (when it makes sense).
- I ask “why” a lot. If someone tells me something that feels shallow, I ask “why” and allow them to explain or get deeper on their own terms.
- I nod and smile while listening, and allow enough silence and pause to let people continue speaking.
You can tell you're truly close with a person when you can simply exist together in the same space without talking, and things feel comfortable.
One last way to build deeper connections with people: go out of your way to do things for others. Two examples:
- Say you visit a friend in NYC. Try writing a hand-written note for your friend thanking them for hosting you.
- Offer to pick up your roommate from the airport instead of looking the other way while they grab an Uber.
Thoughtful touches breed deeper connections—which queues up a smooth transition to my next value.
For me, thoughtfulness encompasses patience and curiosity.
I’ve never been particularly patient. I grew up seeking instant gratification, and my trajectory through school and sports led me to believe that I could power through difficult situations without having to wait very long for results.
Man, this hit me like a ton of bricks post-college. I thought I’d instantly be a successful, polished adult in the real world. Figured it would be as easy as it felt growing up. But I was humbled.
Patience, for me, means building positive habits and making progress through consistent effort. It applies both to work, relationships, and hobbies. There are no shortcuts. Be patient.
I was tempted to write about intelligence. But a more accurate word to describe thoughtfulness is curiosity. I admire a childlike sense of curiosity—a commitment to lifelong learning—in both myself, and the people I surround myself with.
Intellectual curiosity, specifically, means striving to acquire more knowledge. For me, it’s less about the knowledge, and more about the process of taking in new information, synthesizing it, and taking action on it.
For millions of years, humans have been building things. You could say that, in an evolutionary context, we’re wired to build.
I deeply admire people who can build things with their hands: contractors, mechanics, engineers.
I also admire creators: musicians, painters, writers, photographers.
Creating things requires both discipline and freedom. Discipline to get started and to work on a creative practice daily for long periods of time, and freedom to iterate on a dime and follow instinct.
For me, creativity takes shape through my writing (this blog, my work at Demand Curve), through playing soccer, and through learning to play the guitar.
When you create, you have something to show for your effort—even when your work isn’t perfect. You feel better about yourself as a result.
For years, I loved living in cities. I craved some of my other values, like connection and thoughtfulness so much that I sought out areas with high concentrations of people who I wanted to be around.
But I started to get sick of concrete.
Growing up, I always appreciated nature, but never went out of my way to intentionally add more of it to my life. I was so busy with school and soccer, that I didn’t frequently stop to appreciate natural beauty.
But when I turned 20, I started to fall in love with the outdoors. Frequent trips up to the mountains of Vermont became standard, hiking and biking with friends became my go-to activities.
I started to push the limit with bigger trips into the mountains, each time feeling more connected with nature.
Now, nature is an essential part of my life. It guides nearly all of my travel decisions. It’s also one of the main factors in determining where I live, and what type of place to rent (prioritizing outdoor space).
When I optimize my life to be around nature, I feel more fulfilled.
For me, flexibility can be interpreted two different ways: willingness to iterate, and freedom. I value both.
Willingness to iterate
Here’s an example from my career:
Since I graduated college in 2017, I’ve already held 3 jobs, worked as a freelancer, and started my own company.
To put it in perspective, most of my friends are still working at the jobs they got out of college (absolutely nothing wrong with that, either).
But for me, I quickly identified when 1) I wasn’t on the right path and 2) my rate of learning was slowing down.
As soon as I experience either of the above scenarios, I iterate. Note: iterate doesn't mean leave immediately, it simply means allowing time for a deep dive to consider alternatives.
Willingness to iterate doesn’t only apply to work. I use this same framework for all areas of my life. I try not to get caught up in sunk costs—it’s better to iterate and get on the right path than it is to push on solely because you invested time in something.
Freedom leads to flexibility.
I think of freedom in terms of time, location, and money.
Time and location: I deeply value my ability to work remote, and, mostly, on my own time. Julian at Demand Curve is nice enough to allow me to work when and where I’d like, so long as I’m accomplishing my goals.
Money: freedom, to me, is minimalism. We have two options when dealing with the desire to acquire things: we can either:
- Make enough money to buy whatever we’d like (not very easy and often requires working more hours and losing time).
- Remove our desires and only want things that we already have.
I choose the latter. Mostly because I’d prefer to work less and own less stuff. More time for living.
While we’re here, check out this cool framework for making purchasing decisions:
Only buy things that solve a problem you’re facing. Never something that you’re adding without solving a problem.
Here’s an example:
Don’t buy a drone just because you think it would be cool to fly a drone and make videos. The drone is an add-on that you don’t need.
Do buy a new washing machine because your current one is leaking and each time you run it you need to towel dry the floor so you don’t ruin it. The washing machine is solving a problem that will improve your quality of life.
Honorable mention: Travel
I could write a novel on travel. But I won’t include it because I believe that it’s an activity rather than a value—it funnels into many of my personal values: adventure, connection, nature, and growth.
Here’s what I love about travel:
- The obvious: seeing the world and having pleasurable experiences.
- Learning about cultures and becoming worldly.
- Leaving each place you travel to better than you found it.
- Sharing stories from the lessons you learned while traveling that can improve people’s lives back at home.
- Making lifelong friends all over the world.
I hope that you use the frameworks above to discover your personal values and use them as a compass to guide your decisions. In doing so, you’ll create habits that will make you happier.
Think: if you discover that one of your values is health, you can make a choice to avoid eating Ben & Jerry’s each night, and eventually you’ll replace your bad habit with a good one and become healthier as a result.
As for me, my values have come a long way since that hike in Colorado. Though, come to think of it, I think I’m due for another adventure. Where to next?