Working Within Your Values

If you have never had to refuse service to a client because of your values, you are lucky. So very often, people are under the huge misconception that small business owners and creatives are so strapped for business or cash that they will do just about anything to pay the bills. And while there is nothing wrong with taking a job that isn’t perfectly ideal (rule bending vs. rule breaking, ya’ll) to keep booked in the meantime, sticking to a set of values that you hold is not only beneficial to you, but also your client. Please understand that I know how hard it is to walk away from someone with a fist full of cash to give you, but working within your values as a small business owner keeps you grounded in what you are doing. And this can be damn hard.

If you have never had to refuse service to a client because of your values, you are lucky. So very often, people are under the huge misconception that small business owners and creatives are so strapped for business or cash that they will do just about anything to pay the bills. And while there is nothing wrong with taking a job that isn’t perfectly ideal (rule bending vs. rule breaking, ya’ll) to keep booked in the meantime, sticking to a set of values that you hold is not only beneficial to you, but also your client.

Luckily, there are ways to manage and even prevent value related issues from arising in your business. Today I’m sharing both with you, but let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (name that tune.)

First Things First

Do you know your values?

Stop for a moment. Go back and read that a couple more times. Ask yourself the question. Knowing your values is the foundation of being able to work within them. I heard at least one eye roll on that one, but for some reason, we often forget that we need to clearly define what our values are before we can start working or even living within them.

Values can come from a variety of places:

  • Your upbringing
  • Organized religion
  • Your environment
  • Spirituality
  • Instinct
  • Any mixture of the above

With the exception of some extreme personality types, most people have a moral compass that guides them through life and guides them on how they go about the world. Their moral compass may not point due north, but the expectation of their lifestyle, how they interact with people, and how they conduct themselves even when no one else is looking is a fundamental part of them. This is the values I’ve been talking about.

And while society has expectations and rules (laws) we are expected to follow, personal values are less stringent and, in this lady’s humble opinion, far more fluid. As we grow and change, our values do as well. Sometimes we let go of old values that are no longer serving our lives and develop new ones that are going to serve us better in the future.

So even if you have a good idea, getting really, really clear on what you are and are not good with it super important. For the rest of this post, I’m going to use some language that I was exposed to in Jay Pryor’s book Lean Inside, mostly because when it comes to values, the integrity that we expect ourselves to have it extraordinary. So when you see me say, “Are/are not in integrity” I didn’t come up with it and I’m not trying to jack anyone’s ideas.

Prevent Value Issues

How in the damn hell am I supposed to do that?

Simmer down, boss. There is a way. Promise.

You know how they say that awareness is usually 9/10ths of the battle? Well the same can be said for preventing issues about your values. The number way to prevent value issues from ever coming up is to share your values early and often. Draw that line in the sand for the whole wide world to see. Anyone who that doesn’t jive with won’t reach out to you and you won’t have to tell them that you aren’t a good fit.

Also by sharing early and often, you have a precedent set. If there are questions that arise later, you have public posts to reference back to when you say that these are your values and you’re not comfortable with some part of whathaveyou. By showing them existing evidence of something, there can’t ever be that claim of playing favorites or worse, discrimination that you don’t intend to be there based on anyone’s civil rights. And let’s be real here. A little mindfulness goes a long way too. No excuses for people to feel uncomfortable.

Manage Value Issues

Let’s be really honest here. We all think we have a decent judge of character and most of the time that may be correct. But holy mother of pearl do we remember those times that our character judging capabilities failed us. Now this can happen for several reasons that I’m not feeling great about getting into here because of my own small touches of PTSD (not a joke) around the whole topic, but it’s not always pretty. For whatever reasons, we thought someone was a lot more hip to our jive then they were and it happens. Oh, and add insult to injury, saying no to someone with a fistful of cash to give you hurts. Like physically. Especially when you need it.

The important things to remember here are that not every client or customer is awesome. Some are just ok. But the ok ones bring just as much value as the awesome ones.

Managing these issues really boils down to the conversation. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen people make is making the other person wrong. What I mean by this is taking your values and making the other person wrong for not holding the same ones.

I’ve got a very personal example here. I am capable of Photoshopping on a not-butcher-Sarah-Jessica-Parker level. I could easily apply to the many magazines that have a base here in the Chicago area, but I have no interest in working for them because what they would want me to do is go against my values. See one of my very, very firm lines in the sand is that I will not edit a beautiful man or woman image to make them more “beautiful” according to the standards that society has set. There is beauty in everyone and I perpetuate that mindset through my own work.

But here is the biggest thing about this. I won’t hold it against someone who does this. I don’t understand it. I don’t condone it. I don’t want to be a part of it. But if someone makes their living editing photos of people in a way that I disagree with, I am not going to judge their decision. I may try to understand what they think about it and have a conversation, but never judge.

This is what I mean by making someone else wrong.

There are a few different ways that you can approach the conversation if you need to have it:

  1. I’m sorry, but I‘m not comfortable doing that.

  2. Because of where I stand on that personally, I don’t think this is a good fit.

  3. I know someone who can absolutely help you with that.

  4. Thank you for considering me, but I’m not going to be able to work with you on this.

  5. I’m really honored that you want to work with me, but this project just isn’t the right fit.

Final Thoughts

It really is ok to not compromise on your values. This is a very personal thing and while you may be comfortable with something and not with another, you don’t owe anyone anything when it comes to your values. If you have integrity with yourself, the rest tends to fall in where you want it to.


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