I don’t think I’m alone here, when I say that I thought the done thing was to get your education, find a good job and then make your way up the ladder.

This hang up has been passed on through the generations, from the industrial revolution – becoming part of ‘the machine’ – and the pre-digital era. Our parents’ and grandparents’ worlds were much smaller, with fewer options available to them.

However nowadays, there is a firm movement towards the opposite: by staying in a job too long, there is fear of becoming stagnant. Even worse, the fear of stagnating in a job that feels out of tune with who we are or what we want to be.


We are experiencing a shift away from the Newtonian mindset of things being compartmentalised and separate from one another. This shift is seeing people move back towards looking at the whole, whether that be our health, our communities or our lives in general.

There is a movement towards wanting to find meaning in what we do, and an understanding that our lives are an interrelating, multi-faceted entity, where one thing has a knock on effect to another.

And so with our careers.

If we feel out of sync and unhappy with our jobs, this can have a domino effect on most, if not all, areas of our lives; be it mental health, physical health, relationships and so on.

But understanding what is important to us can be hard to define, certainly if it has been ingrained in us from a young age. Whether through caregivers, the educational system or society at large, we have been conditioned to think that living a certain way is what is required for all of us. A certain formula which is needed to be ‘happy’.


Many of us have found ourselves dissatisfied in our jobs. We start to question, what is it that I want? What is it that is important to me? What is it that uses my skills and strengths to the best of my ability, whilst also enjoying and believing in what I do?

Questions like these can leave our heads spinning and lead to feelings of hopelessness when we find ourselves without the answers.

So, how do we find out what is important to us? What is it that we value?

These may seem like obvious questions on the surface, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, actually articulating what those are can be difficult.

Perhaps we have lost sight of what we hold important, working towards a goal that we wonder why we set in the first place. Maybe it’s because we are still living by values that were imposed on us at a young age, without questioning them.

Or maybe we are too afraid to question these values, because without those, then what…?


When I talk about values, you might think: be nice to people, don’t steal stuff, say thank you. Generally be a good citizen. 

Values are not to be confused with morals.

Morals are based upon social concepts and are more defined by good or bad. Values are guidelines by which to live by and by which we make our decisions. Morals, for all their worth, lack individualism, which is what separates them from values.

Values are personal. What is important to one person, may be of little significance to another.

Things that are important or unimportant, can also be good or bad, but this is from an objective point of view. For example, you can be completely immoral but be sticking to your values. I wouldn’t suggest it, but it illustrates my point…

Clarification around values is a vital part of career transition because it helps us to understand what motivates us, what brings us joy, and how best to fulfil them. Much of the time we are unconscious to what we truly value, so part of the process to gain clarity on a new career path is to shine a light on them and work with them consciously.

In many ways we are our values.

We live according to what we believe is important in the moment. But what happens when we question these values, or find we are living in discordance with what we thought were our values? We suffer. Whether that suffering is low-level dissatisfaction or a full-scale breakdown, if we lose sight of what is important to us, we can feel lost.


I liken values to a compass. Without a compass, you can be out at sea without direction, drifting around not sure which way to go, being buffered about by other people’s values, influences and opinions. We may even shore up on the first island of opportunity that comes along, even if it’s not somewhere we want to anchor down, just to get the sense that we are going somewhere. Anywhere.

Values are not something we possess or something that is finite.

As eloquently put by Steven C. Hayes, who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, “values are qualities of unfolding action that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path.”

Values are directions.

If your compass is pointing towards supporting others, you go in that direction of supporting others along that path. You don’t help someone out and then, tick, you’re done. It is the commitment to engaging in the supporting of others that will provide you with a sense of purpose.


Simply knowing your values is not enough, it is this commitment to continually engaging with them, of seeking them out and bringing them into your life that is the key. Whether that is engaging with people, things, projects or places. Only then, will your values provide you with a sense of purpose.

So once you have your compass, follow it.

If you’d like to find out more and are looking for support in understanding what is important to you around career change, check out my Services page and get in touch!


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Hello! I’m Gemma!
I’m a Career Change Coach and I’m here to help you get unstuck, find clarity in your working life and take brave, actionable steps towards fulfilment and purpose through career change.
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