Chapter 7: Clarifying Our Values, Passions, and Desires

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If you’re not living your values, whose values are you living? (Michael Henderson)


Susan, Mike and Dion are preparing a seminar for people in the hospitality industry. They have spent several hours working through the content of the seminar, and all feel pleased with the information they will be presenting. But Susan is uneasy about one point. She’s not comfortable with Mike’s suggestion that they produce a photocopied, stapled set of notes, in what she considers to be a very bland form. Furthermore, the intention to use no visual aids in the presentation is disturbing her.

So Susan voices her concerns. A discussion develops over what form the notes should take and whether a Powerpoint display is worth producing.

While some of this debate relates to what makes communication effective, a significant part of Susan’s concern comes from the high value she places on aesthetics. How something looks is very important to her. Visit her house and you quickly recognise that Susan has invested a lot of effort in decorating and shaping her home. It has a distinctive ambience that visitors pick up as soon they enter. Furthermore, when Susan serves up a meal to guests she takes great delight in making the dishes a work of art. They taste great, but part of her personal satisfaction is presenting them in a visually appealing way.

Mike, on the other hand, places a high value on simplicity. He is very utilitarian when it comes to things. As long as they do the job, it doesn’t matter too much what they look like. No surprise then that he drives an old car which needs some serious panel work, and wears clothes that lack fashion sense! Mike’s focus is putting his time and money into what he considers the more important aspects of life – relationships, hospitality, generosity, and people matters generally.

Is the high value Susan places on aesthetics right or wrong, good or bad? Neither.

Is this value God-inspired? Absolutely.

Does the fact that God values it mean that all of us should also value it? Yes – and No. We may not have an aesthetic bone in our body – in which case we need feel no compulsion to strive for Susan’s flair – but we can certainly learn to appreciate how things look and feel, and thereby begin to value beauty as part of God’s touch in his world.

What do we mean by “values”?

The struggle Susan and Mike are experiencing is essentially a tussle between each of their personal values. Both have developed preferences and priorities according to how they see the world around them. To them certain ideals and concepts are of greater importance or value than others. All of us have values. Some things will be given greater weight or importance by one person than by another.


  • Feel important to you.

  • Help define your fundamental character.

  • Supply meaning to your work and life.

  • Influence the decisions you make.

  • Compel you to take a stand.

  • Provide an atmosphere in which you are most productive.

(From Lifekeys – see Resources at the end.)

Where do we get our values?

This brings us to an important question – where do our values come from? Are they part of inherited nature (or “fingerprint”)? Or are they largely formed as a result of the environment we grow up in and the experiences we have?

As with our personality, the answer is both. Some of our values are inherited. They are part of our hard-wiring and relate intimately to our personality, talents and motivations. But the culture, family, and faith environments we are immersed in also play a significant role. In fact, some values are more dominant in particular families, faith communities or cultures.

For example, in Western European culture, being punctual is highly valued. If the bus is due to depart at seven o’clock, then arriving at five past seven means you are inconveniencing thirty other passengers. They have lost 5 minutes each = 150 minutes wasted. However, in many other cultures time is viewed much more flexibly. People are ruled less by the clock and more by doing whatever seems most important for sustaining relationships. We’ll hold the bus till half past seven if necessary so that Mereana doesn’t miss out on coming with us.

In the same way, many of our values are shaped by our belief system or worldview. How we see the world and ourselves dictates what we feel is important.

Like our worldview, our values are regularly adjusting and changing. New experiences and relationships challenge our beliefs and priorities. So do different stages of life – both physical stages and spiritual ones (see Chapter 10). For example, the high value many people place on financial success in their twenties can often, through a combination of all of the above, change to a much lower value in their forties. Others might discover the hollowness of “success” through a failed marriage, causing them to reconsider their worldview and values.

Why is it important to identify our values?

Values play a crucial role in our SoulPurpose and in the quest to discover where we can best serve. They provide us with a clearer sense of who we are, and are part of the grid we develop for evaluating and deciding what we should do and how we might go about it.

But the truth is that many of us are out of touch with our real values. We may think we attach significance to something but often the way we live demonstrates otherwise. For example, our family, peer group or faith may cause us to think that relationships are of enormous importance – but if our lifestyle, work and behaviour don’t bear that out, then it will produce discord and confusion in our lives. This will likely show itself in the form of stress, demotivation and frustration.

It’s therefore critical that we learn to be scrupulously honest with ourselves about what is truly important to us. We must own our value system.

Such honesty may also lead us to change our priorities. It’s okay to say, “I have to be honest and admit that the way I’m living now shows that health and fitness is not a high value for me. But I’d like to change that.” To make this meaningful you would need to re-shape your lifestyle – something that you might need help to accomplish.

Ultimately, our values focus our attention and give shape to where we direct our energy, helping to steer the course of our lives. Deciding what really counts enables us to make an evaluation: Where am I putting my energy? How does that equate to my real priorities?

Identifying our values is also a key to finding energy and strength in our lives. Michael Henderson puts it this way: “The Latin root word for values is valor, meaning strength. It is our values that give meaning in life, and meaning in turn provides us with strength, motivation and willpower. In understanding our values, we equip ourselves with a perennial source of motivation, focus and strength to achieve those things that matter most to us.”[1]

Moral values or personal preferences?

It can be easy to become confused by the way we have written about values here. Are we talking about absolute moral values or just personal preferences? The answer is both, although the exercises we use in this chapter are geared more to exploring our personal preferences.

When it comes to clarifying what you consider very important, you need to recognise the interplay between your moral concerns and your personal preferences. We encourage you to consider both as you decide what really matters to you. And if at times you feel each pulls you in a different direction, then analysing the source of that internal conflict can give rise to some very important insights.

When you feel pressured to become someone different from the way you naturally are, it may be God trying to remind you of some important values you have neglected. But it can also be something else – often just the result of pressures to conform to others’ expectations and values, perhaps ones that God does not want you to embrace.

Working out our values

The process of clarifying what we value is not easy. There are many ideals that each of us believes are important. The first exercise in this chapter begins the process of clarifying what you really do value most. As you read the limited list of values we have identified, you will most likely warm to as many as twenty or thirty.

However, working out which are your primary values requires you to rank them in order of priority. The critical question is not “Do I value this?” but rather “How much do I value this – relative to other values of mine?”

So the process of clarifying our values is really one of establishing those values that are most important to us – the ones we would fight tooth and nail to live by if they were challenged. For it’s not until one value is put at risk by another that we discover which is more vital to us.

For example, Ian is experiencing a few difficulties in his relationship with his work colleague John. They mainly revolve around John’s loose patterns of company money and materials. To put it bluntly, Ian feels that John is wasting valuable resources unnecessarily. He seems to photocopy vast sheets of paper for little discernable purpose. This goes right against Ian’s own values of frugality and environmental concern.

Ian, who is so careful to minimise wastage, is frustrated and annoyed. However, he also values smooth, interpersonal relationships with his workmates. He and John work well together – there’s synergy, along with a good measure of humour and trust. In deciding what to do about his growing feelings of annoyance towards John, Ian must weigh up which he values more. Is it “standing against wastage” or is it “warm and trusting work relationships”. Both, after all, are important to him. But deciding which is the more valuable will determine whether he learns to suffer his colleague’s wastage, or puts at risk his good working relationship.

The pressure of having to choose which conflicting values to value highest can be a painful experience, but we are confronted with these situations all the time. Dealing with them is what causes us to develop a hierarchy of values.

Organisational fit

Not only do individuals have values, but so do groups, organisations, and indeed whole cultures. So it is clearly to our advantage (though not essential) if we can find places to serve where our own values are complementary to those of the group we’re part of. At the very least, we should seek to make ourselves familiar with the values of the organisation. This may not be as easy as it sounds. We should beware of the possible gap between what an organisation says it values and what it really does value. For example, a business might confidently announce that it is “family friendly”, but you might need to talk with staff to discover if this is a reality or just a nicely voiced sentiment. (In this sense, organisations are no different from the individuals who make up them. For all of us there is generally a gap between what we say and how we act!)

The idea of “organisational fit” is becoming increasingly more relevant in the world of business. Many organisations now evaluate people not only in terms of their fit to a task or role, but also on their fit to the organisational culture and values.

A warning. When you examine your work or career, you could well reach the point of wondering whether you are in the wrong job. Sometimes, of course, you may be. However, often you could be in the right type of work but in the wrong workplace or organisation. The disquiet and unease you are experiencing may largely be a result of a clash of values.

If you suspect that you are in the wrong place rather than in the wrong job (i.e. your values are out of alignment with those encouraged by the culture of the organisation), there are a number of options open to you, which we explore briefly in the Appendix to this chapter.


Closely linked to our values are our passions. Like all words, passion has its limitations – mainly because it is generally applied to the deep emotions of romance. Passionate lovers are supposed to show high levels of physical affection. However, the word has a much wider meaning. We use it here in its full sense, referring to the intense enthusiasm (enthusiasm = “with-God-ness”) that we may have for an activity or cause. It’s the great joy we experience when we are involved in something we feel we were made for.

Passion is what “gets me going”; what “turns me on”. It’s likely to produce the kind of response Eric Liddell had, in the movie Chariots of Fire, when he explained to his sister, “When I run I sense God’s pleasure in my running.” A kind of “I was born for this” feeling.

A good test as to whether some activity is a passion for us is whether or not we become so caught up in it that we lose a sense of time and self while doing it. It both extends and absorbs us. Pyschologist Mike Csikszentmilhalyi refers to this as the “state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”[2] We’ve all felt that way at some time in our lives.

When our passion is one with our sense of who we are and what we are here for (our SoulPurpose), it becomes a powerful force for good. This is where passion runs deeper than just the immense pleasure of doing something we love – such as playing football. What we’re talking about is the deep joy that results from engaging in a course of action much greater than ourselves. This is essentially what Frederick Buechner, the novelist, means when he writes about our “deep gladness”.

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.[3]

Rosa Parks exemplifies this type of passion. She is the black American who refused to give up her seat to a white bus passenger and went to jail for her stand, thus becoming a catalyst for the burgeoning civil rights movement. Her early experiences of injustice, along with her conviction that all were equal in the sight of God, grew a passion that even the hardship of prison could not extinguish. Her life demonstrates how often our personal struggles and sufferings can launch us into a wider sphere. Having been brought face to face with an issue in our own lives, we end up acting on behalf of others.

Perhaps it was Rosa that Robert Kennedy had in mind, when he said:

Each time a man (or woman) stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, s/he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.[4]

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or greater intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.

The courage Kennedy is referring to is generally only possible because of passion. It’s the driving force, the fuel that propels people to work for change.


Our values and passions are closely entwined with our desires.

According to the dictionary “desires” are strong feelings of wishing or wanting something. They are the emotion of yearning for – even craving for – things or goals.

This book is about life planning. But can we possibly choose directions on the basis of our desires? Wouldn’t that be a selfish way to look for God’s guidance? In fact, can our desires be trusted at all?

Where do desires come from?

The Bible has both positive and negative comment on this topic. Clearly there are good desires and bad desires. For example:


“Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

“Whoever desires to be an overseer, desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1 (NIV)


“Do not grant the wicked their desires, O Lord.” Psalm 140:8 (NIV)

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Ephesians 2:3 (NIV)

These verses indicate that our desires are a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, probably most a mixture of both – depending on their origin and how they are pursued.

Creation and the Fall

We are made in God’s image. God has desires and has created us with desires too. So desires are not bad in themselves.

Many desires are common to all people. For example, the desires for significance and meaning, for security, for service, for love (both received and given) … are all part of the very fabric of our humanity.

But how these desires are worked out in our lives is as different as we are unique. God has placed longings in us to help motivate us to find fulfilment and our SoulPurpose.

Like everything else in life, sin has impacted on our desires. Now it is a deeply flawed image of God’s character that shapes us. Our desires have been tainted and twisted.

This does not mean they are now all bad or wrong or evil. There is much that still reflects (even if sometimes opaquely) God’s crafting of who we are.

Distinguishing the good and the bad

We all easily understand the danger to our faith of pursuing every desire that crosses our minds. But the other extreme is an excessively self-conscious faith that robs us of enjoying the fulfilment of our heart’s desires. How do we find a way between these two errors?

Distinguishing between the helpful and unhelpful forces that tug on our lives is never easy. It requires wisdom to discern which desires really have been planted in us by God … and how much those longings are being subverted by our sinfulness. We need more wisdom to determine the right timing for pursuing our healthy desires. For example, God has given us sexual longings that look for fulfilment in a satisfying relationship. But this doesn’t mean that God is encouraging us to look for sexual satisfaction in every relationship as soon as possible. We are encouraged to exercise discernment and patience.

We may have an ambition to be a public speaker. In itself, this is a healthy desire that God has planted in us so that we can communicate effectively. However, it is also the kind of desire that, distorted by selfish ambition and indulged without restraint, can become excessively dependent on the buzz of the crowd and the thrill of gaining recognition. It can even lead to manipulating people. What started as a God-given desire can become corrupted.

The faith community we grow up in can also influence how we view some desires. For example, entrepreneurial business skills seem to be admired and prized by some parts of the Christian church – and viewed with suspicion by others. This usually depends on how business and capitalism are understood, rather than the skills themselves. So it is easy to elevate or despise certain desires according to other assumptions. Hence our need of discernment.

So where does this leave us?

Let’s put it all together:

  • There are desires placed in us by God that point to the work he has prepared us to do.

  • There are desires that are stimulated within us because of the things our culture promotes as important and makes us ambitious for.

  • There are desires that are aroused by the particular group we identify with.

  • There are desires that drive us and may become compulsions, even sometimes addictions, arising from hurt and unhealed parts of our being.

There is a difference between living as driven people and living as led people. Drivenness stems from unhealthy compulsions, and means that someone other than God is in control. But the deepest desires of our hearts have been placed there by God to motivate and guide us further into his purposes. Recognizing these desires is one way God leads us.

We need to discern our own motivation. Some of us need to guard against too negative a view of our desires. Others need to guard against too positive a view. The way we look on our desires tends to depend on which Christian tradition or community we have been raised in and shaped by.

Some of us have been taught to be deeply suspicious – even antagonistic toward our desires. We may have grown up with the belief that if you really enjoy doing something then it is probably not what God would want you to do. “The heart of man is deceitful and wicked above all things!” (Too dismissive of our desires)

Others may have been taught to be overly optimistic and uncritical with our desires. Under the mantra “Do what you enjoy doing”, we may have assumed that just because we desire it, it is good. (Too trusting of our desires)

So the question becomes:

How much of my desire is a reflection of God’s image in me, and how much is a result of the Fall and in need of transformation?

If only there was a simple way of answering that question for each situation we find ourselves in! But of course that is what walking with Jesus is all about. The more closely we follow him, the more he transforms our desires, bringing them into alignment with his own. They change and grow as we learn more about what life with Jesus is about, and as we refine more clearly our SoulPurpose in company with him.

In summary…

  • God created desires in us.

  • The Fall has twisted and deformed them.

  • Nevertheless, the roots of our desires are healthy and God-formed.

  • Some of us need to trust our desires more. Others need to be more discerning.

  • The more we walk with Jesus the more he will bring our desires into alignment with his purposes.

The message of Psalm 37:4 is an important part of discovering your SoulPurpose: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Exercises and Resources for Clarifying our Values, Passions, and Desires

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Clarifying Our Values, Passions And Desires

Together, values, passions and desires are closely related to our SoulPurpose. They are essential pieces of the puzzle that is you. The exercises that follow are a selection of some of the more helpful ways we have found to discover them.

Exercise 1 aims to help clarify what your most important values are.

Exercise 2 asks some questions to assist you in checking how well your stated values are aligned to the way you are currently living.

Exercise 3 considers Schein’s “Career Anchors” as a way of clarifying what is of paramount importance to you in your day-by-day work.

Exercise 4 outlines some questions you can ask in order to help identify your passions.

Exercise 5 lists several more questions to reflect on if you want to explore further what your primary values, passions and desires are.


Take a look at the following list of values. This list is by no means exhaustive, so feel free to add others that you may have identified. Divide the values into the following categories:

  1. This is very important to me

  2. This is of some importance to me

  3. This is of little importance to me

  4. This is not something I value at all

Accuracy: Paying attention to ensure correct details.

Achievement: Reaching a goal, completing something.

Activity: Lots going on in your life at a fast pace.

Advancement: Proceeding up a career ladder to seniority.

Adventure: Looking for challenging opportunities; may include an element of risk.

Aesthetics: An appreciation of beauty in natural and human-created surroundings.

Authenticity: Being on the outside what you are on the inside.

Autonomy: The freedom to act as you decide – self-reliance and independence.

Balance: Giving appropriate amounts of attention to each aspect of your life.

Challenge: The desire for demanding projects and tasks that stretch your abilities.

Change: Comfort with ambiguity and unpredictability, less attached to routine.

Competence: Able to meet requirements in an effective and efficient manner.

Competition: Desire to win and match your talents against another.

Conformity: Preferring not to stand out, but to align yourself with others.

Connection: Making deep, lasting relationships with others, and maintaining these.

Co-operation: Working with others in a way that makes and preserves good relationships.

Creativity: Finding novel ways of accomplishing tasks – thinking outside the box.

Duty: The willingness to do what is right regardless of personal cost.

Economic Success: To reach a satisfactory economic position through effective management.

Economic Security: To achieve an economic position for your needs, with low risk.

Education: To learn and/or achieve qualifications for a desired position, influence or status.

Efficiency: Completing a task in an accurate and timely way.

Equality: A conviction that all people have the same rights regardless of gender, race, age, etc.

Faith: To practice and nurture a belief system, and all that this implies in daily life.

Family: Giving time and attention to family relationships and the well-being of your family members.

Flexibility: An openness to new information and ways of doing things.

Friendship: Giving time and attention to friends and caring about their well-being.

Happiness: Finding satisfaction and contentment.

Health: Establishing and maintaining physical and mental well-being.

Independence: Being able to accomplish things in the way you think is best.

Influence: To be able to affect a situation, or have impact on others.

Integrity: To act in a way that is true to your own beliefs, ethics, values.

Justice: The desire to see the right thing done for all – fairness and consistency.

Knowledge/learning: To acquire insight, understanding, and expertise.

Leisure: Pursuit of interests that aid enjoyment and relaxation.

Location: To live in a place that is conducive to your values and lifestyle.

Loyalty: To stick with others (people, organisations, ideas, traditions) through thick and thin.

Order/Organisation: Exercising control over time, methods and possessions in an orderly way.

Personal Development: The desire to reach your full potential.

Physical Fitness: Achieving good physical condition through exercise and sports.

Power: The opportunity to influence, or direct an operation, person, or group of people.

Recognition: To be known for an achievement and receive deserved credit.

Responsibility: To be accountable for a task/person, to be reliable.

Self-Respect: An awareness and appreciation of personal identity.

Service: A desire to help others according to their best interests.

Stability: The consistency over time in people, routine, or actions.

Simplicity: The desire to cut down extra stimulation, possessions and activity to the basics.

Status: Achieving respect and renown for one’s position, possessions, or associations with others.

Tolerance: Openness to the viewpoints of others, without judging them.

Tradition: An appreciation for the ways things have always been done – continuity and stability.

Unity: The willingness to come together and co-operate regardless of differences.

Variety: The enjoyment of unpredictability and different tasks, people and routines.



Once you have established a list of your most important values, it is important to begin evaluating whether your life is actually reflecting those values. If not, some re-alignment may be necessary. Here are some questions to begin that process:

  1. Ask someone who knows you well to read through the list and suggest what they see as your top ten values – examine whether this matches your own list in any way.
  2. You may want to ask people from different aspects of your life to suggest what they think your top ten values are; e.g. family, friends, work or community affiliations. Again, examine how much their list of what they would see as your top ten values matches your own.
  3. Think about the things you put most effort into – do these reflect your values?
  4. Think about how you spend your time – does your use of time reflect your values?
  5. Think about the organisations you are involved in (family, employment, community, etc.). What are the values and priorities in these organisations? How much of a match is there between your values and those of these groups?
  6. What are the trade-offs you make in your life? Which of these are you prepared to continue to live with. What other alternatives might there be?
  7. In what ways might you consider working in a way that is more in line with your values?


One exercise that many people doing our courses have found helpful is based on Edgar Schein’s work on “career anchors”. This involves exploring what motivates and directs your work.

This approach is built on the understanding that people work for different reasons and are motivated by different ambitions. Some people need constant excitement and change to enjoy their work while others like routine and peace. Some need to feel that their work is part of creating a better world, while others just enjoy responding to a challenge.

While we will stick with Schein’s phrase – career anchors – this can be misleading when talking about SoulPurpose. The word “career” tends to be used only for paid employment. You may prefer to use the term “work anchors”, as more appropriate to your role in life.

The eight main career anchors Schein identifies are:

  • Technical/Functional Competence
  • General Managerial Competence
  • Autonomy/Independence
  • Security/Stability
  • Entrepreneurial Creativity
  • Service/Dedication to a Cause
  • Pure Challenge
  • Lifestyle

NOTE: Everyone is likely to identify to some degree with all of these categories. But the label “career anchor” suggests that one is likely to recur as a more fundamental overriding description of you at each stage of your life because it is more closely tied to your self-image.

So … your aim is to discern which of these categories is of paramount importance to you.

Look at the statements under each heading below. Which set of statements resonates with you most strongly? If it is not immediately obvious, you might like to rate each statement from 1-5 from “never true for me” to “always true for me”. Add up the total for each category to see which scores most highly. Then see if it sounds most like you.

1. Technical/Functional Competence

  • I love using my special skills at work (these don’t have to be technical skills – they can be people or practical skills).
  • Being valued for my expertise is more important than becoming general manager.
  • I want to be recognised as very competent in what I do.
  • I like providing expert advice.
  • I would rather leave than change roles away from my area of expertise.

2. General Managerial Competence

  • I like authority and responsibility and dream of being in charge of a significant organisation.
  • I love managing and supervising other people.
  • I enjoy training and directing the work of others.
  • I have a good combination of analytical, interpersonal and emotional competence.
  • I would feel frustrated and probably leave if I felt I couldn’t rise to a significant management position.

3. Autonomy / Independence

  • I want to be recognised for my own achievements.
  • Freedom is more important to me than security. I dream of being free to do my own thing.
  • I like the freedom to do things in my own way and in my own time.
  • I get frustrated by other people’s rules and procedures.
  • I would rather leave than accept a role that limited my freedom.

4. Security / Stability

  • I like structures that maintain predictability and calm.
  • I like completing tasks properly.
  • Security and stability are very important to me.
  • I don’t like taking risks.
  • I dream of a stable job that offers financial security.

5. Entrepreneurial Creativity

  • I love the challenge of starting new enterprises.
  • I have lots of interests and energy.
  • I enjoy having a number of projects on the go at once.
  • I get most satisfaction building something from my own ideas and effort.
  • I dream about building my own business.

6. Service / Dedication to a Cause

  • I need to feel that I am making a worthwhile contribution to society.
  • I find satisfaction using my talents in the service of others.
  • Feeling that I am helping to make the world a better place to live in is the most important thing to me.
  • I would rather leave than accept a role that would undermine my ability to serve others.
  • I dream of having a career that makes a real difference to humanity.

7. Pure Challenge

  • I love work that engages my problem solving or competitive skills.
  • I would rather work on problems that are almost unsolvable than complete an ordinary job or rise to a high position.
  • I find satisfaction in confronting and overcoming very difficult challenges.
  • My strongest desire is to conquer obstacles.
  • I am a very single minded individual when it comes to facing testing circumstances.

8. Lifestyle

  • I want to enjoy work, but it is only one of many parts of my life.
  • I “work to live” rather than “live to work”.
  • I am concerned that work fits (in a balanced way) into the rest of my life.
  • I want work that minimises interference with personal and family concerns.
  • Balancing personal and professional concerns is more important than. rising to a high position or being the best.

How career anchors apply to specific work

When it comes to looking at specific work and roles, career anchors apply more to the kinds of roles you are likely to be attracted to and find fulfilment in.

The anchor doesn’t involve the content or specific field of your work so much as the context, the framework in which you are most likely to flourish.

This is recognition that individuals value and enjoy different aspects of work. Certain aspects are regarded as rewarding or unrewarding. As a result two people might be attracted to the same field of work, but for quite different reasons.

According to Schein…

  • All of us will have one factor that resonates more than any other and which we will constantly search for in whatever work we do.
  • This factor must be present for us to gain any long term satisfaction.
  • It will be the last element we would choose to give away if forced to.
  • If it is taken away, nothing will compensate us for that loss.
  • It is non-negotiable.
  • This is our career anchor.

Below is a brief summary of what we can say about the type of work that is attractive to each career anchor.

1. Technical/Functional Competence

  • Views the content of the work as more important than the context.
  • Satisfaction lies with gaining expertise.
  • Boredom results when there is no challenge.
  • Teaching and mentoring offer an opportunity to demonstrate expertise.
  • Recognition from professional colleagues and peers is rewarding.

2. General Managerial Competence

  • Satisfied when controlling a complete operation or process.
  • Not afraid of stress, in fact often stimulated by an emotionally demanding environment.
  • Looks for high levels of responsibility.
  • Expects promotion on basis of merit and results.
  • Expects financial recognition.

3. Autonomy / Independence

  • Looks for work that offers freedom and keeps options open.
  • Will be frustrated by external constraints.
  • Often highly creative and productive but thrives on independent role; e.g. consultant, contractor, freelance professional. Also independent tradesperson or businessperson.
  • Can work in larger organisations if given freedom.
  • Promotion means more autonomy and rewards appreciated include recognition through awards, testimonials, and prizes.

4. Security / Stability

  • Less concerned about the content of work than continuity and the work environment and relationships.
  • A secure position with steady progress, gradually gathering experience and advancement according to seniority, mark ideal job.
  • Grade and rank system that rewards loyalty is preferred along with pay and benefits and improvements in the work environment.

5. Entrepreneurial Creativity

  • Needs to be involved in creating something new and will get bored quickly if there is not this opportunity.
  • Restless unless opportunity to continually be engaged in creative challenges.
  • Ownership is the most important issue.
  • Looks for the power and freedom to move into roles that are felt to be key ones, with rewards measured in terms of growing enterprises, accumulating wealth and public recognition.

6. Service / Dedication to a Cause

  • Motivated more by involvement that reflects the importance of certain core values rather than the work itself.
  • Looks for work that reflects values such as working with people, serving humanity, caring for the planet, and peacemaking.
  • Wants fair pay, but money is not central.
  • Views recognition and support from the public and peers as reward.

7. Pure Challenge

  • Enjoys careers where competition is primary, either in problem-solving, interpersonal or physical challenges.
  • Rewarded by being encouraged and supported to face new challenges.
  • Will throw away stability and all sorts of other rewards for the opportunity to confront new challenges.

8. Lifestyle

  • Looks for flexibility.
  • Career needs to be integrated with the rest of life.
  • Looks for organisations that demonstrate respect for personal and family concerns.
  • May not want to move geographically.
  • Finds rewarding: flexible working hours, part-time work, maternity leave, sabbaticals, day care options and other signs of organisations accommodating concerns beyond employment.


  • What’s the topic of conversation that will keep you talking into the wee small hours of the morning?
  • What is it that you would be prepared to pay for rather than necessarily be paid for in return?
  • What are the topics of books that dominate your bookshelf?
  • What activity do you do where you lose all sense of time?
  • What is the project you can’t wait to get up in the morning to do?
  • What is the cause you find yourself most drawn to?

Now attempt to write down what your passion(s) are:

Take the time to ask two people who know you well what they think your passions are.


If you are having difficulty defining your values, passions and desires, use the following questions to prompt you – the answer to each may not refer to a value or passion, but by reviewing your answers you may find there are themes associated with a particular one:

  • What are the qualities you prize most in others?
  • What are the things you have stood up for or against in the past?
  • What are the aspects of your life that give you the greatest satisfaction?
  • What are the most important things for us to pass on to the next generation?
  • What would you most like to be remembered for?

Feedback From Friends: Personal Reflections In A Small Group

In the exercises above we have suggested several times that you look for the insight of others regarding your values, desires and passion(s). Use your group meeting for this purpose. Here is a suggested format:

Invite each member of the group to work individually through some or all of the exercises above, and then to select one area to submit to the group. As each member describes his/her personal discoveries, allow opportunity for the group to affirm or enlarge on (and perhaps sometimes to question) those understandings.

Depending on how fully your group wishes to explore these issues, you may choose to allot more than one session to this topic.



Edgar Schein, Career Anchors: Discovering Your Real Values (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer – workbook edition, 1985)

Jane Kise, David Stark and Sandra Krebs Hirsh, Life Keys (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996)

Michael Henderson, Finding True North (Auckland: HarperCollins, 2003)


A more recent update of Schein’s work on Career Anchors can be found on the Internet at

Appendix: What Do I Do If My Values Don’t Fit With Those Of The Organisation I Belong To?

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When you spend time examining your work/career, it is possible that so many issues arise for you that you reach a point where you wonder if you are in the wrong job. Sometimes that may well be the case. However, often people who feel uncomfortable are in the right job but in the wrong place. The disquiet and unease they are experiencing is mainly a result of a clash of values.

If you suspect this is the case for you (i.e. your values are out of alignment with those encouraged by the company or group) there are a number of options open to you:

  1. Try to find out more information. This should be along the lines of what the official organisational stance is on a particular issue, and also what flexibility (if any) there is in the organisation for you to influence change.

  1. If there is an obvious difference between the values you hold and those of the organisation you are involved in, and there seems to be little tolerance for change, it may be best to consider looking elsewhere for employment or involvement. This may be more easily said than done, but even if you are unable to leave your organisation for some time there are things you can do to survive while retaining your sense of values and identity. These include meeting for mutual encouragement with others within or outside your workplace who share similar values. Or making use of what limited opportunities there may be to express your values without rocking the boat; e.g. how you dress, how you decorate your workspace, what style of leadership you select and so on. Don’t automatically assume that you have to leave the organisation if your values don’t match. Sometimes people are able to initiate worthwhile changes from within.

  2. If your organisation differs from you on a number of important issues, but you are confident there is some room for negotiation – then go for it. Work respectfully to present a viable alternative. Engage others in negotiating for change. Collective action both within the organisation (again respectful to those who may feel differently to you), and outside the organisation may be possible to bring about change.

For example, Sylvia was concerned when she found that her department had scheduled their planning meeting on a Saturday, when she had commitments as coach of her daughter’s netball team. At the same time, it was difficult to oppose the timing as the others in her department did not have children yet, and did not have an appreciation of the conflict she felt. So Sylvia went to her team leader with an alternative – could the team meet instead for several breakfast meetings to cover the material? She explained her own conflict with the original time, and pointed out that even though she was the only one affected, many other employees would possibly be in the same position in a few years. It would be beneficial for them if they realised that the organisation valued their family commitments enough to ensure that weekends were left free.

  1. Decide to stay within the organisation, and decide that your values don’t matter too much. This will cost you your integrity, and doesn’t really represent a healthy alternative. Unfortunately it’s one that many people take because they fear exploring and pursuing any of the former three options.