cave entrance with light streaming through

It has happened every time. While each of Brené Brown’s books builds upon her earlier ones, and much information is repeated, each successive volume has brought me a great new gift. Each has brought me old gifts: reminders of the secrets I learned previously and perhaps lost sight of, or left unintegrated into my current life. And they bring me new gifts: truths I had not realized before, about human nature and about myself.

I would like to share the best new gift I received from reading Brown’s most recent book, Dare to Lead. It’s a research-based lesson about values, including instructions on figuring out what your own values are. Here’s some information that Brown shares about values:

“We have only one set of values. We don’t shift our values based on context. . . . The research participants who demonstrated the most willingness to rumble with vulnerability and practice courage tethered their behavior to one or two values, not ten.”*

One or two?! That’s not very many. Can you name your one or two core values, off the top of your head? I couldn’t. Sure, I could come up with ten or twenty values that I hold dear; but I had no idea which one or two of them I prioritized—or should prioritize, if I want to stay true to myself.

So Brown’s next move was helpful for me. She provides a list of dozens of values and encourages the reader to circle those to which he or she feels a particularly strong personal connection. I circled 17 of them. Then, she says, force yourself to select the one or two of these that are most essential to who you are. To my surprise, I immediately knew which two they were. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Brown has posted her list of values online here. I invite you to take these steps for yourself, right now, before reading the rest of this blog post. (She welcomes you to write in your own values if you think of some you like better than the ones listed.)

Did you do it? Did you learn something about yourself? Here’s what Brown says she learned about herself upon doing the exercise (she always does what she asks her readers to do):

“My two central values are faith and courage. I hated not circling ‘family.’ But as I dug in, I realized that while my family is the most important thing in my life, my commitment to them is fueled by my faith and courage.”

Something similar happened to me. My two core values are truth and wisdom. I hated not circling “creativity.” But I realized that, for me, being creative is not an end in itself. I don’t engage in creative writing for its own sake, but in the service of truth and wisdom. (Another creative writer might feel differently about this, and that’s okay!) I also hated not circling “curiosity”—but again, my curiosity is due to my search for truth and wisdom, not the other way around.

It was also a profound experience to think about the difference between truth and wisdom. I truly could not choose one or the other of these values; for me, they are intertwined like yin and yang. Seeking the truth can be a lonely—even toxic—endeavor, if not tempered by wisdom. And seeking wisdom can lead one astray, if not tempered by truth. Truth is facts; wisdom is knowing how to act in light of those facts.

At this point in Dare to Lead, Brown provides further information about values, as well as more exercises for the reader to do. Her goal is to help the reader not only identify his or her one or two core values, but also act in ways that are consistent with those values. I found all of this immensely useful, as well: do check it out if you get a chance.

What are your one or two core values? Tell me which ones you selected, if you feel comfortable sharing them. I’m so curious to know which ones you chose!


*Rumble with vulnerability is Brené Brown-speak for having hard conversations in which you put yourself out there and express yourself honestly, while being openhearted and generous with your interlocutor(s).