Can “Negative” Values Be Positive Influences?

I’ve been thinking about values a lot over the last year. Well, rethinking values. My values. I’ve been working with a few professional and personal development groups, and each of them asked us to articulate our values and how they show up in our lives and work.

There are lots of activities you can do to think about your own values, as I talk about in this earlier post (here’s one good list for a quick exercise, and here is another for a more in-depth look).

Honestly, doing the values exercises is always frustrating for me. Because it makes me confront the fact that the majority of my values are associated with success, excellence, being the best, achievement, etc. As much as I want to be able to say things like integrity and happiness and community are my core values, that would be a stretch There’s some shame associated with that, to be so externally motivated.

But I wouldn’t be surprised to find that other hardcore academics might feel the same way. It’s trained into us, even if it wasn’t part of our natural disposition pre-academy.

When the values activities became part of the homework for my personal development group, I was reluctant to do it yet again and see what I already know about myself. After explaining the exercise, the facilitator asked if there were any questions, and after a second of hesitation, I asked, “So what if your values are the problem?” One of the other members laughed aloud because she had been thinking the same thing. The leader smiled and asked us to just lean into that uncomfortable thought and see what happens. Yes, I rolled my eyes (internally) at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that I didn’t like what my values said about me because I was thinking about them as all externally motivated. And in the past, they were.

As I’ve been working on understanding myself better, I realized that my impulses to excellence and achievement are tied to being useful and contributing to a community. If I could define excellence and success for myself, instead of looking for outside validation, those values can be strengths. I could finally say to myself that I had accomplished everything I wanted to as a faculty member and that I was really ready to take the first step into a new career (more about that soon).

So, I encourage you to think about your core values – Can you define them? Can you identify them? How do you feel about the values that rise to the top? How do those values motivate you? Can you turn seemingly “negative” values into positives? Give it a try.

Published by


I am a faculty teaching and learning specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning at Georgia Tech and have 17 years of experience teaching professional writing and rhetoric to undergraduates. From a faculty development lens, I care about helping faculty create vital careers through meaningful productivity, powerful teaching, and life-long curiosity. My book, Agile Faculty: Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching (2017), is available from the University of Chicago Press, and my co-edited collection, Redesigning Liberal Education, will be available from Johns Hopkins University Press July 2020. @RPR_Agile on Twitter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s