Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inner and Outer Values

As a bi-cultural woman I shouldn’t be surprised that most of my clients are other professional bi-cultural women.  I have observed what I’d like to call a challenge of inner vs. outer values.  This is not limited to bi-cultural women, but they are the ones who have brought this to my attention.

I’d like to think of inner values as those we’ve had for what may seem forever.  For example, take Jane, when asked, “What are your top 3 values?”  She mentions: freedom, courage, and justice.  Based on my interactions with her, it was obvious that honesty was high up there.  So I asked her why she didn’t choose honesty, and she was puzzled herself.  She said, “I guess it’s just the way I am, so I don’t even think about it”.   Inner values are those you don’t have to think about, they are part of who you inherently are.  You would possess and express those values regardless of your circumstances.  You might not even notice it in someone else unless of course they weren’t.  But, that’s another discussion.

Jane is a bi-cultural woman who is a first generation American.  Her parents moved to the U.S. when she was only 10.  She had to quickly adapt to a new environment, language, etc.  She had to go through being the new kid in school, the new kid who dressed and spoke differently.  She had to adjust quickly and learn to be tough so she could survive the challenge of being the different one.  She developed the outer values of freedom, courage and justice during this time and she has applied it in her life and career since.
Outer values are developed through challenges and difficult situations that provide the right circumstances.  Whether these were always Jane’s values and had been sitting in a dormant state until she moved to another country, we’ll never know and is irrelevant to this discussion.
Outer values are the ones my clients use to navigate through life and challenges.  It’s what is at the top of their mind, and consciousness.  It’s what they rely on when things go wrong.  Ironically, it is also what they struggle with. 

For example, Jane’s outer value of freedom is something she talks about all the time.  She sees herself free from what other people think, not afraid to push the envelope, a daring to be different quality.  However, in her professional life, she is very careful with how she presents herself.  She appears to those she works with as a very professional and conservative person.  Freedom is a selected value that she uses when she wants to, it is not an inherent inner value.  She likes to please authority, and her bosses.  However, if something goes wrong at work, if her bosses expect her to lie for example, and her inner value is honesty, she will use freedom, her outer value to get out of that situation.  This of course comes across to her bosses as something unexpected.  They might even think of her as someone impulsive or erratic because they never saw it coming.  When we don’t express all of our values consistently, we can be misunderstood.

What if Jane felt truly free?  What if she showed up at work the same way she shows up with her friends or family?  What if she allowed her creativity and unconventionality to be expressed at work?  Would she still use freedom as a crutch to rely on when things got bad?  Or would freedom be something she’d be known for like her honesty? 

I’d like to think of our outer values as opportunities for development or conversion into inner values.  It takes practice, a mirror and a coach to help us strengthen and consistently use those values so that they become part of our inner or core self if we so choose.

Questions to Ponder:
1)    What are your top 3 inner values?
2)    What are your top 3 outer values?
3)    When do you use your outer values and with whom?

Spiritual life coaching is a client driven process where you can explore your values and determine how you express them in your life and/or work.  If you are interested in learning about how you could be consistently in congruence with your own values, please contact me for a complimentary 30 minute consultation.

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