Welcome to Issue 8!
This week, we’re talking about values.
What works for me might not work for you. I like things that maybe you don’t. Fulfillment for me comes from a different place than it might for you. Your sister might love reading for hours to get ready for a trip, and you might love diving in without knowing a single thing. She values research and learning differently than you value taking action. Both are beautiful. The difference between the two is explained by a difference in personal values.
People can live their whole lives without writing down a list of their personal values. Most people have an intuitive sense of what they value, but I’d like to make the argument here that you stand to benefit from understanding your personal values at a deeper level.
Through my work with dozens of venture-backed startup founders, I’ve seen how being aware of what you value can be the difference between battling with yourself and being at peace with yourself. Practically, “Living your values” can be the difference between a week feeling empty and a week feeling fulfilled. Sounds nice, right?
So what are values? Values are what you seek out. For the psychology nerds, the technical term many therapists use (not necessarily with clients) for values is “appetitive,” and the root word means…wait for it…to seek out. Anti-values, on the other hand, are what you’re repelled by or averse to.
Here are a few exercises to make that more concrete:
Think of 5 People You Admire: They can be living, dead, or made up. A few of mine are Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes), Carl Sagan (the astronomer and author), David Whyte (the poet), and Gandalf and Merlin (the wizards).
Think of 5 People or Behaviors That Make You Want to Vomit, Punch, or Say Mean Things: These are things that irritate the snot out of you. You might start by thinking of a person you know, and then from there, think of what that behavior is that really drives you crazy. For example, there’s someone in my life who is constantly complaining and not taking responsibility. Drives me nuts!
Now that you have your two lists think of what all the common patterns are. For me, most of the people I admire built something (comics, poetry, books), are hugely curious (about life, the stars, magic!), are fantastic communicators (in comics, poetry, and more), and carry themselves with lightness. I could go on, but you get the point. Look for themes!
And then do the same with the second exercise. Except for this time, once you find a theme, ask yourself, “What would the opposite of that be?” For example, if “negativity” is a theme, then you might value optimism.
At this point, you should have a pretty nice list. It may not be exhaustive, but that’s A-OK. You can always add more to your list as you learn more about yourself. Maybe in three weeks, you’ll have a meeting with a potential new hire on your team, and something drives you nuts about them that you can’t put your finger on—that’s your body trying to tell you about a values conflict! The more self-aware you are about what you value, the more you can use that to make values-aligned decisions on things like hiring, choosing where to work, and so on.
Finally, I’d like to encourage you to try and put all of your values into “-ING” form. A lot of folks start with nouns like “optimism,” but I find it more useful to frame each value into “-ING” words so they’re less abstract and are instead framed as behaviors you can ask yourself if you’re embodying. For example:
Optimism → “Believing a better future is possible.”
People who make things → “Building things other people find valuable.”
Good communication → “Simplifying complicated stuff and telling stories that make people feel alive.”
And here’s how I use my “-ING” words. If I’m feeling burnt out, tired, or just plain bored, it’s usually because I’m not practicing one of my values. So I’ll open up my “Personal Values” page in Notion, which has my “-ING” words at the top, and check in with myself as I run down the list with the question, “What do I need right now?” Every time, something jumps out. I haven’t been building things other people find valuable, I haven’t been bringing a lighthearted, silly mindset to my life, and so on and so forth.
A final practical example of how you can really use your values. A couple of years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book on raising venture capital. When people give me compliments on it, I bristle. After reflecting, I realize it’s because the book doesn’t feel like me. The book aligned with some of my values, but not enough. I had enjoyed writing because I was problem-solving, simplifying, researching, and mastering…but there was no playing—the book is straight business, and that’s not me. So going forward, I now know I need to let myself be more playful in my writing.
Write down your values or not, turn them into -ING words or not, values will drive your decisions and state of mind daily. I hope this week’s newsletter is helpful for people who want to understand themselves a bit better, make decisions that lead to outcomes they feel good about, and overall feel a bit (or a LOT) more fulfilled each day.
That’s it for this week. I’m looking forward to what’s next.