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  • Stephanie Thrower

Truffle hunting for career values

For some time I have been borrowing a metaphor I learned from Dr. Jenna LeJeune, a psychologist and an expert in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. She’s specifically an expert in finding out what really matters to people (a.k.a, values). I heard her say in an interview how she compares searching for values to truffle hunting. She said, “truffles are incredibly precious but often they are buried until a bunch of dirt and leaves. So, when you go hunting for truffles, you often go out with a dog who has been highly trained to sniff out the scent of truffles.”

Somehow my brain skipped the part where she was referring to herself as a dog. Here I’ve been for years referring to myself as a truffle hunting pig, which luckily always makes my career clients laugh. Despite realizing I’ve been unnecessarily calling myself a truffle hunting pig, the metaphor works. One must take a journey to dig down and unearth authentic personal and professional values.

A values card sort is a common career tool to help people identify personal and professional values which essentially has clients rank a long list of values and narrow down to 10 or 5 important values. Unfortunately, when people are faced with a long list of positive values and asked to prioritize, it really can feel like a useless exercise. Most people fear selecting some values over others, I mean these values are all positive, right? It can feel like they are closing the door on opportunities to achieve, perform, or even learn more about themselves and the world. It can feel like they can really miss out on choosing other things that matter in the world. Moreover, if a client is already somewhat disconnected from their values in the first place, it is hard to trust what matters most to them.

What often is missing in identifying values is looking at what has already happened in people’s lives, what has already been prioritized in life and how that feels for them. This is so important in our career endeavors because we generally work in environments where values are handed over to us. We are trained over time to demonstrate values that make us seem like a good fit or attractive candidates. As women, we can too often wait for our organizations to tell us what matters and even if it doesn’t fully click, if we want to keep working at an organization (for a number of reasons) the dissonance that occurs in our minds tends to quiet over time.

What does truffle hunting for values look like? I listen for the stories that women tell me about:

  • What they learned about work or what mattered about work in their childhood

  • Why they started this work

  • Where they get stuck or frustrated

  • What refuels them or replenishes them (at work, not outside of work)

  • What eats up all their attention or worry

  • What they wish they were doing at work rather than worrying

  • Their greatest achievements and biggest mistakes

What I learn about my clients is patterns of persistence, patterns of adaptation, processes in which they learned they could take bigger and bigger risks, learning to give difficult feedback with kindness, prioritizing learning and growing, focus on supporting others, carving out space to be innovative and keep an attitude of discovery, and so forth. The more we work together to describe in detail these values and how they show up in their lives, the more it feels like a direct line to their intuition. Some of the biggest experts in values tell us that while we may label them with words, but values are actually non-verbal, they are a feeling in our gut that propels us to act.

I believe that foraging for your values is an important investment to make in understanding who you are and what you want. When people are connected to their values at work, I’m convinced they are more connected to their purpose and intuition. These kinds of connections come with lots of good stuff like improved evaluation and prioritization of goals, setting better boundaries, feeling more confident in their decision making and prioritization skills, and feeling less isolated. For those kinds of benefits, I'm happy to be a truffle-hunting pig.

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