We all have core and secondary values. There are the aspects of your life and beliefs that define you, that make you who you are – these are your core. Then there are your secondary values – the things that still make you the unique person you are, but change over time.

Your core values are foundation stones in your identity, and as such, they are essential to defining your purpose and keeping you on track. If you try to ignore or go against your core values, you become conflicted, and you will struggle to build or achieve anything of lasting value.

How understanding your core values can help

Sometimes we don’t discover our core values until they are tested. This can happen in a dramatic way, or it might be a series of mundane events, wearing away at us until we come face to face with our inner selves.

We make plans for our lives based on our values, so when life happens and our plans must change, does this mean that our values have changed along with them?

One way to separate our core from our secondary values is to think about where we compromise. For example, do you believe in survival at all costs, or are some things more important to you than life itself?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

These days people change careers more often, and more dramatically than previous generations did; a societal change which brings many positives. But we still fall into the trap of defining ourselves through our work.

However, an engineer, an accountant, or an entrepreneur is not who I am. I may be practical and hardworking, have a head for numbers, or an entrepreneurial mindset, but that’s still not who I am.

“We still fall into the trap of defining ourselves through our work.”

The true constant, the true core, is made up of the things I take to all these roles. This is what I mean when I talk about core values. If you look at the world in an innovative, creative way, then you will apply that in one way or another to whatever role you take on. You will apply it even before that, when deciding what role you take on.

Then again, your core values might not seem obvious, but will show up in the way they underpin and inform your secondary values. Three different colleagues, who deeply value people and relationships, might show this in three very different personalities – one might be the office joker, another never forgets a birthday, and the third always shows new people the ropes. On the surface, these people may seem very different, but at their core, they share some essential values and traits.

You’ll see that this shared value shows up away from their work as well. These people are likely the ones who place greater value on family, and nurture long-lasting friendships.

Understanding the difference between our core and secondary values

Whilst our core values should remain central throughout our lives, so much of what we call personality is actually only present on a superficial level.

The world would be a dull place if we were all the same, and our unique strengths and perspectives allow us to achieve great things when working together. But building a team or selecting a partner based on personalities and passions makes for a shaky foundation, because these things change.

I’m reminded of the man who stood up at his fortieth wedding anniversary (forty years! I know, right? I promise you it wasn’t that long ago – no stegosaurus or velociraptors present.) The man stood up, wife by his side, and announced that he had been married to many different women. His friends were puzzled. This man had married his childhood sweetheart and here the two of them were, forty years on.

His point was that people change and adapt. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s strange, but none of us remain the same. You’re not the same person you were ten years ago. It would be somewhat strange if you were – if all that life, all those experiences had produced no noticeable change.

“His point was that people change  and adapt. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s strange, but none of us remain the same.”

Then again, at a deeper level, you are still you. If your core values have changed then it is either a sign of a deep personal crisis, or that that core value was really only ever a secondary value in disguise.

Looking beneath the surface

Now to say something is superficial isn’t to deem it fake or unimportant.

Imagine a lake. You can stand by the side of a lake on a sunny day and watch the sunlight dancing on the water. You can be refreshed simply by the beauty of its surface. You can even take a canoe and go out for a paddle across the lake’s surface.

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash

The surface is real – a vital part of the whole that has meaning and beauty and purpose. But the lake also has depth, and that depth is what makes it a lake. If there were nothing more than a surface then it would be a fake, a mirage. And it’s the same with people.

Our ever-changing surface, or secondary values, are real. They are a vital part of our whole with meaning and beauty and purpose. But they’re just a part of the whole. Without something deeper to inform and underpin these secondary values we too would be fakes and mirages.

Commiting to the core

Understanding our own and other people’s core values is so important for so many aspects of life, especially trust. When choosing a partner, in life or in business, we are making a commitment, and the commitment we are making is to that person’s core. The man at his fortieth wedding anniversary had been married to a woman whose appearance, interests, personality, and even spirit, had changed over the course of their life together, but deep down at her core that woman was the partner he had committed to and who had committed to him.

I hope the next time you are thinking about brand (and you should be thinking about brand) you will stop to consider that brand’s core values. Whether it’s your personal brand, your business brand, or somebody else’s, a brand should be clearly informed by unchanging core values.

If you are looking for something solid, something trustworthy, look to the core.

Let me know what you think. If you would like to know more, please get in touch.

Originally published at www.imagegroup.com.au


  • Jon Michail

    Image Consultant | Personal Branding Coach | Business and Personal Branding Strategist | Author | Group CEO and Founder, Image Group International |

    Image Group International are Entrepreneurial Activists… Rebels With a Cause! Jon Michail, Founder and award-winning Chief Imagemaker together with his team at Image Group International helps executives and entrepreneurs to build, grow, and monetize their personal brands, (online and offline) by positioning them to stand out so they attract their ideal clients. They are committed to maximizing an individual’s personal impact, influence, and value in the ever-changing and disruptive business environment. Image Group International is recognized as Australasia’s leading personal brand image advisory, with over 31 years of proven results.