Make your values the star of the show
What is it about being put on the spot?
We've all been there, wishing for awkward silence over a toe-curling question. Sadly that never seems to prevent the inevitable - "What's your favourite song?" - or some other similarly painful poser. In this particular case, the wrong choice spells social disaster.
I felt a little like this when first asked to state my values - except my interviewer had every right to ask. Unfortunately, our values don't often reside on the tip of our tongues and identifying those that guide us involves thinking for ourselves about ourselves. When we are aware, we make decisions with confidence, and these choices control our careers. They determine our success.
Below, I offer a sneak peek into my values, with the hope of inspiring you to think about yours.
My dad taught me to play table tennis at a national, then international level, from age six to eighteen. It was all I did, bar school and homework. He went from playing in the lower echelons of a local league to coaching an Olympian in London 2012 – quite phenomenal when I think about it now.
Parents that coach their progeny often get a bad rap. Onlookers struggled to spot the contrast between the needs of a son and those of an aspiring athlete. But I never felt troubled in either respect; the difference was always striking. "If you want to play and you're hungry to win, this is what you need to do". It was always my choice.
'This' was not easy, morphing from zombie to leaping frog every day before school, outside what is now City Hall; undoubtedly worth it for the expressions of passers-by. Then came school, homework and training in that order. On competition-free weekends we would stay up late discussing the meaning of success and watching legends of the day. We would discuss how it felt to win, lose, and have the correct mental approach.
"Why? You only play ping-pong." asked befuddled friends.
The point is no stone was ever left unturned. Performance was always centre-stage - it remains a focus in all that I've done since.
My parents never swept issues under the carpet. They were painfully honest with us about almost everything. It was probably just as well they kept some things to themselves!
We were young adults from a comparatively early age, and mine was a position of responsibility; this included a twenty-six-mile school commute from the bowels of Bermondsey to the Purley Way. Now that I have an eleven-year-old daughter, I see just how quickly times have changed.
Picture me back then. School shorts, racing green blazer, matching peaked cap and a leather briefcase. Quite the sore thumb!
London Bridge station always teemed with yuppies, carrying bricks which built portfolios, with a craving for Porches and pads; penthouse and shoulder in equal measure.
I was once accosted by two teenagers, while adults streamed past in droves. "Why was nobody helping me, I thought ", as I mined for coppers. Lucky for me, thirteen pence was beneath their limit order, and my wealth remained intact.
Ambling back down Tooley Street towards home, I pondered which was worse. The attempt to rob mini-me, or the herd of city slickers, who couldn't have cared less.
Doing the right thing has always been important to me; this isn't a result of altruism or a bad experience in a terrible school uniform. Far more likely the product of my parents' example.
Dad was always fond of inventions, including the Kirby carpet cleaner and the Suzuki wagon R+ (I won't be recommending either!). His desire to design and create himself was what I truly admired - even if his creations were always table-tennis related.
His most successful gadget was a device for collecting table tennis balls in vast quantities, scattered across the training court. It scooped 15 at a time, with a capacity for 300, and went through several iterations, pre-eureka. When you're already exhausted from training, picking up ping-pong balls brought new meaning to the term ball-ache. Such ingenuity left its mark.
I now find the combination of invention, use, behaviour, and business model fascinating.
Thinking about our values and whittling them down to a sensible number takes time.
Recalling moments of happiness, pride and fulfilment, as well as the values that led there, is a start. Equally, life isn't always a bed of roses. 2020 reminded us of that.
It is also worth reflecting on challenging times. How did you overcome difficulties? Which values helped you prevail?
Progressing your core values from the spot to the spotlight creates a foundation for effective decision-making; in work and play, through good times and bad. It produces results that lead you to your definition of happiness.