A critical step for success when exploring a midlife career change is going through a process of clarifying your top-most values. Without a crystal clear understanding of YOUR personal principles and priorities, you’re almost guaranteed to live a life of frustration and disappointment. It is probable that your past choices have been based on what other people value – your parents, teachers and the culture you live in. But enthusiasm for your life will only come when you follow your internal key values.

What is a value?

First, let’s clarify what a value is. Values are not morals. They are those principles and qualities that matter to us, which are really important to our sense of well-being. Some values are: helping others, having fun, being honest, good health, love of family, beauty, education, liberty, justice and money.

So much of life involves making choices: What am I going to have for breakfast? What am I going to wear today? What am I going to do today? How am I going to get to work today? Do I want a long-term relationship with this person? Do I want to change careers or find a new job? What flavor ice cream do I want? (For me, it’s chocolate every time.) And on and on.

We make unconscious choices

Much of the time, operating out of habit, we make choices unconsciously. Are you mindlessly grabbing a box of cereal or making a cup of coffee - “the usual”? Do you take the same route to work each day on auto-pilot? Have you ever found yourself in a relationship and couldn’t remember, “How the heck did I get here!”? To get the most out of life, we must to be making our choices consciously. And your values – what you think is most important in life – play a key role in making those choices..

Sometimes we are faced with choices where two of our values are in conflict. Not only knowing what you value, but clearly understanding

“What do I value more and what do I value less?”

is the key to unlock more joy and fulfillment in your life. So, for example, if I value both my spirituality and having fun, I need to know which is more important (for me, it’s spirituality). Then, if on Friday night there is a religious service and a good comedian is performing, I know that going to the service will be more satisfying. Does that mean I would never choose the comedian over religious services? Absolutely not – but I want that choice to be conscious. I very well might choose to go see Bill Cosby instead of going to synagogue that week.

How does this apply to your midlife career change?

Our values are critical to exploration of a new career. When you were younger and chose your current career, accomplishment, achievement, recognition, and monetary rewards all may have been top values for you. Now, in your middle years, things such as a more relaxed lifestyle, time with family, and giving back to the community may be most important. If that’s true, that would make a big difference in your choice of a new career. In fact, this shift in values is probably a primary factor in your thinking about changing careers.

So, in order to choose a new career that is going to be a good fit for you, you have to be clear about what your most important values are. Here is a simple exercise for clarifying values:

1. Make a comprehensive written list of all your possible personal values.
2. Now rate each one as "A" (high importance), "B" (medium importance), "C" (low importance).
3. Review the A and B values. Are there any that are essentially the same value or one that is an obvious part of another? If so, bring them together and rename, if necessary. For example, if you have both integrity and honesty as values, honesty may be part of integrity for you.
4. Rank the list from highest to lowest as to their importance to you up to a maximum of ten. This is now your list of your top core values today.

Now, as a final step, make sure that you have truly chosen your own core values:

Ask yourself whether these are your true, internal "bone deep" beliefs or if any are external "you should do" values. We often don't recognize a lifetime of conditioning that has left us with other people's belief systems. You need to replace any "should do" values with your own “want to’s”.

Your listing of top values can’t be right or wrong. This is a non-judgmental process. If you have judgments that some values are better than others, this will distort the clarification process. This will lead to making decisions that will ultimately not be satisfying for you.

Examine each core value to ensure that it is an end value and not a means to some other result. For example, wealth is seldom a value in itself. It's usually the means to some other end value, such as status, power, security, freedom, pleasure, or helping others.

Now that you have this list of your top core values, you can use it to compare different careers that you are considering to see how well they stack up so that you achieve your goal of a successful midlife career change. In addition, you can easily start using your list every day to verify, “Is this choice in alignment with my top personal values?” The results of this small effort will quickly amaze you as momentum builds toward a life of passion, purpose and joy.

For a more comprehensive look at your values, click http://tedb.uibc3.com/files/2012/01/Values-Clarification.pdf.

N. B. I invite you to visit the Contact page on my website and let me know your thoughts after you've done the exercise.

Author's Bio: 

Ted Behr, CPCC, The Uncommon Success Coach, is a career and life coach who specializes in working with members of the Boomer Generation who are considering a midlife career change. Through his writing and coaching, Coach Ted helps people to discover the career that will give them the enjoyment, fulfillment and meaning that they desire. For a free 6-part email mini-course on “How to Discover Your Ideal Career,” a blog and other resources, visit his website at http://careerchangeforboomers.com.