How do you balance your personal values with the expectations of others?

14 Jun ‘23
9 min
Finding purpose
Lisanne Buisman

Values play a vital role in allowing you to be your authentic self. They indicate what you find important in life, helping you set direction and make choices in the hectic ‘here and now,’ which can ultimately help to bring you happiness and fulfilment.


But while our values are entirely personal, we are also social beings. Family,  friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances have a strong influence on us.


What happens when our personal values contradict those of the people around us? How do you maintain balance in a way that keeps you true to yourself but also connected to those around you?


In this article, we explore practical steps for dealing with the expectations of others.


The value of living by your values


Your values offer you a unique perspective of what is important in life. Think of them as your inner compass: they help you set your course and make choices that suit you. In short, values help you live a life in which you can be your authentic self.


Living according to your values has two main benefits; (1) it gives you a sense of fulfilment, meaning, and happiness in life, and (2) it helps you feel less defeated when challenges, adversity or difficult situations arise.


Conversely, research shows that not living according to your values can lead to internal conflict and contribute to stress, tension, burnout, and even a higher risk of depression.


According to Psychology Today, other benefits of living by your values include:

✅ You are better at making decisions and also experience enhanced problem-solving: a study that had participants write down their values before making a choice under stress showed that their problem-solving ability and creativity increased.


✅ With every choice you make that matches your values, you build more self-confidence and self-esteem.


✅ You don’t let yourself get easily upset and respond more resiliently to challenges, unexpected turns, disappointment, and failure.


✅ You experience more willpower and intrinsic motivation when it comes to achieving goals, because they are closely aligned with your values.


✅ You are less sensitive to external influences and the opinions of others, because you have a clear focus on the direction you want to take.

Want to discover your values? 🧭 🗺️ Read more here: How to Live Your Values (and Learn More About Yourself in the Process)



Meeting the expectations of others


Factors such as your personality, your upbringing and the culture you grew up in affect and shape your values.


Therein lies the conflict we often experience: we are sensitive to the people around us. On the one hand,our choices in life are guided by our values, yet on the one hand, we are influenced by the expectations of those around us. And those expectations may not necessarily match our values.


It is not surprising that we want to adhere to our own values, but also social norms. As psychologist Paul Hessels puts it: “Humans are social beings. It is one of our basic needs to ‘belong’: by not falling outside the group, we increase our chance of survival.” And some people are more sensitive to external expectations than others. 


Adapting your choices to the norms and expectations of those around you is known as conformity.


Paul explains: “This doesn’t even have to be the overt influence of others – someone saying  ‘you should do this or that’ – but can also manifest as a subconscious, more subtle influence on your beliefs and choices.” For example: you see many peers and friends working full-time for one boss or looking to buy a house, and adopt that as a life goal – while your own values may lie more in flexibility, adventure, and independence.



The difference between values and goals


Do you ever feel that you are only concerned with achieving milestones in life? Society’s expectations often consist of goals rather than values, for example, finding a well-paying job, owning a nice house, looking good, and being in a happy relationship. 


Goals are about things you want to achieve in the future, the ‘output.’ And they depend not only on yourself, but also on your circumstances, opportunities, and others.


On the contrary, values lie with yourself and exist in the here and now: they are the ‘input’ for your behaviour and choices.


“Many people learn from their upbringing and environment that a happy life consists of achieving a number of fixed goals. Only you don’t achieve a long-term sense of fulfilment in life by achieving goals, but rather by acting on your values over and over again,” says Paul. 


“That doesn’t mean you should stop setting goals. Goals are motivating and can be very satisfying if you achieve them. But once you choose goals in line with your values, you will find that in addition to the destination, you will also enjoy the road towards it more.”


 🎥 To see the difference between being goal-driven and value-driven in action? Watch this YouTube video: Values vs. Goals



Know that you are allowed to change course


Adapting to your environment can positively  connect you to peers, and help you feel accepted and protected.


 However, ask yourself whether the choices you make suit you, rather than adhering to the wishes of others.


Conforming can create internal conflict once you let other people’s expectations determine your choices in life, particularly if your personal values are far from the expectations of people around you. As Paul puts it: “Then it can feel like you are living someone else’s life, like you are passively living instead of actively living. You lack fulfilment and a sense of control.”


Are you more concerned with reaching your final destination than enjoying the journey? Or does it feel like the people around you don’t understand you?


Then it’s time to take a hard look at your values!👇


Below, we explore how to restore the balance between your values and the expectations of those around you.



6 practical steps  to help you live more by your values



1. Examine your values


The first step to living in accordance with your values is knowing what those values are. If you still need to list them, read our article on how to find out what is important to you in life.


  • When defining your values, keep in mind that they may vary by stage of life and by your primary focus (work, personal, social); so keep exploring your values and, if you find your values are different to those around you, practice getting better at choosing yourself.



2. Set a clear goal


To give your personal values more space in your life and to communicate them to the people around you, it helps to make a clear plan:


🧭 Which values do you not spend as much time on as you would like (perhaps because you are more concerned with your goals or the expectations of others)?


🧭 Choose one area of life that you think is most important right now. Set a concrete goal for how you want to express your values. 

For example, in your personal life: taking music lessons, trying a new sport, saving for a trip; at work work: taking a course, starting your own business; and in your social life: volunteering, meeting new people or spending more time with your family.


🧭 Consider what your daily life would look like if you made more space for those values.

How many hours per day or week do you want to devote? What tools or investments do you need? What will change in your schedule? What other things might you have to give up?



3. Add more personal values gradually


Living more according to your values is a gradual process. You don’t have to change your life overnight, because defining your personal values takes time and effort. Don’t rush the process, because a sudden turnaround can cause a clash in your schedule and affect your relationships with others. 


What you can do, however, is take small steps. Psychologist Paul says: “We face many choices and challenges every day, these are good times to put your values into practice. Start practicing by asking yourself “What do I want now?”, “What do I think is important? – even in everyday situations such as choosing whether to go for dinner or take time for yourself.”


Also interesting 🛑 Do you find it hard to say ‘no’? Here’s how to learn effective boundary-setting



4. Prepare for the pitfalls


Being less influenced by the expectations of others is trial and error. When your values do not match those around you, it is often easier to do or say what is the norm. 


And that’s okay. Just by realising that it takes practice, you lower the threshold to make choices that fit what you stand for more often.


So prepare yourself for the obstacles you may encounter while trying to live a more value-driven life:

  • Be aware of your pitfalls, e.g., having trouble saying ‘no’, setting boundaries, not wanting to disappoint people, insecure thoughts (‘I can’t do it’), embarrassment (‘what will others think?’), being prone to short-term thinking (‘I’ll do it next time’);


  • Try to imagine difficult situations in advance where it will be challenging to stand up for your values. For example, if your top values include being caring and making connections, but your colleagues gossip about others, what do you do? In a difficult situation, remind yourself of your goal to follow your values more, this will guide your response.


  • Do you get criticism, objections, or negative reactions from others when stating your values? If so, think in advance about an effective response. You can stand up for your values assertively without compromising your relationships with others. Try not to be influenced by someone’s negative reaction. Don’t take it personally, but see it for what it is: a different opinion.

5. Communicate respectfully when clashing with other people’s expectations


You may naturally clash with those around you when you indicate that you want to make different choices in your daily life. Perhaps your partner does not understand your desire to put more focus into a freelance project. Or your parents disagree with your choice to take a big trip overseas.


You cannot change the expectations of those around you, but you can control your reaction to them. 


So how do you effectively yet respectfully communicate your values?


  • Keep it personalised: state why you want something, using words like ‘I find, feel, experience.’
  • Keep your response short and sweet: Rather than seeming defensive with a long answer, keep to your point. For example, you could say: ‘Thanks for your advice, but it doesn’t suit me / I think x is important’.
  • Share your motivation: You can mention what you want to achieve with the change, and share your motivation for doing so.
  • Engage in active listening: listen attentively without judgement. Then acknowledge that you understand the other person’s perspective and respond with an open question such as “What do you think about that?” or “Why do you think that?
  • Emphasise all possibilities: what is still possible, what you will continue to do, or what will not change – this way you can focus on what connects you to the other person.
  • Want to have a face-to-face conversation? Ask if someone has time to talk and have the conversation at a later time if that suits them better.


Expecting an awkward conversation? 💬 Discover more tips for having a difficult conversation here



6. Seek support from people who accept you


If you want to make effective long-term change, the most crucial step is other people’s support. Find a safety net of people who support you unconditionally – even if you have different values, as long as you accept each other. With them, you can express your emotions reciprocally, and they can make you feel understood and motivated again.


Paul offers another tip: “Sometimes the values you want to live up to are not in line with those of your immediate environment. It can help to look for new friendships, who provide understanding and motivation to do continue living in alignment with your values.’’


After all, you don’t have to take the first steps towards a better life alone!



Keep practising and celebrate your progress


Finally, remember to start small and regularly look back at how far you have come. Be proud of every step you take towards a life that fits what you value. 


And remind yourself why you want to make changes: to ultimately live life with a greater sense of direction and fulfilment.


Want professional guidance on living according to your values? Attend one of our live group sessions on values or setting boundaries, or book a consultation with a psychologist.


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