Paradoxical values

Cover image by Nick-m-a on DeviantArt

Lately, my coaching has been pretty focused on Values. Today, I read this passage in the Co-Active Coaching book:

Values are intangible. They are not something we do or have. Money, for example, is not a value, although money as a resource could lead to honoring values such as fun, creativity, achievement, peace of mind, service to others. Travel is not a value. Gardening is not a value. But both are examples of cherished activities that honor certain values, including adventure, learning, nature, spirituality. (Page 122)

It’s been a while since I reevaluated my values, so I thought I’d do it again. For context, here’s how we do values in co-active coaching:

Because our language is imprecise, it’s often easier to cluster values than to try to invest all the meaning in a single word. Thus, we might separate a series of value attributes with slash marks to indicate a grouping of value words that communicates a composite sense. For example, freedom/ risk taking/adventure is different from freedom/independence/choice.

– Coyote / wild dancer / mischief maker
– Luminous / chenille / lavender
– Standing ovation / going for it / buzzer beater

(Page 122)

So this afternoon I opened my notebook and scribbled down all the values I’ve mentally accumulated since I started coaching.

I noticed that some of my values contradicted others, so I reorganized them… and now I have this:

Light / easy / fun / Legolas / sprinter 1 Lush / overflowing / energy / alive / saturate / rich
10 Individual freedom / TEHO – to each his own / radical acceptance / Atticus TKAM / Walk Two Moons / infinite story 2 Connection / love / intimacy / overlapping / melting pot / synchrony / vulnerable
Learning / understanding / getting it / puzzles / figure it out Mastery / skills / fine technique / Coach Han / flip turns / yoga / hone
Reset button / new / change / instability / rock the boat / surprise / clean slate / square one / ALL the things / novelty / variety / sampling Physical safety / home / comfort / luxuries / cushions / fabric / curtains / stuffed animals / relax / massage
Experiment / putt putting around / in beta / dabble / resourceful / adapt / opportunity Integrity / solid / Ramson steel rod / trust / anchor


  • The numbers refer to where the values rank overall, 1 being the most important to me, 10 being the least. I had difficulty ranking all of them.
  • The bolded words are the most representative of the value as a whole

Thoughts that came out of this exercise


The words light and deep more or less encompass the yin and yang of the values. They don’t oppose each other necessarily, but they do often clash in practice. I think the key here is balance.

I’m delighted to find, in my values, yet another example to support my theory that everything important in life can be understood as a paradox (a post on this later).

I’m also calmly (for now) acknowledging that my past and future frustrations at my life choices are a result of honoring certain values at the expense of others. Examples:

  • Choosing to move a lot throughout my life – Honored Reset button/sampling at the expense of Home/comfort; Melting pot (old friends)
  • Ending perfectly good 5+ year relationship (It was mutual!) – Honored Reset button/sampling at the expense of Love; Home/comfort; and Integrity
  • Generally being quick to change course when an opportunity arises – Honoring Resourcefulness at the expense of Integrity

Clearly one half of my values is easier to honor than the other. Ha! Well, at least now I know where to shift the balance.


Your Inner Crew of Champions and Committee of Saboteurs

Sometimes I feel like I can conquer anything, and sometimes I’m convinced I am destined for mediocrity.

It took me years to realize that neither of these states is “the real me” or “the fake me.” They’re just different versions of me taking the helm at different times.

Co-Active coaches use a technique that involves personifying these versions of ourselves, e.g.:

  • The “I’m awesome!” Inner Leader
  • The “I’m no good” Inner Critic
  • The “Why bother?” Inner Existentialist
  • The “I should” Inner Nag
  • The “Everything is so wonderful” Inner Appreciator
  • … and many more

Personifying and putting a name to each of these voices makes it almost trivially easy to spot and then manage that voice.

Whenever you feel motivated, it’s a sign that your Inner Leader or one of her Crew of Champions is in charge.

Petone Rowing Club, 1961

Look at that sheer power and alignment! This is how you feel whenever your Crew is cranking.

On the other hand, whenever you feel a sort of ick, an old fogey on your Committee of Saboteurs is in charge.

Still from the film 12 Angry Men, one of my favorite movies

Look at that inertia! These are the guys running the show when you procrastinate, hesitate, or give up.

I’ll talk more about the Crew and the Committee — how to recognize, interpret, and manage them — in the next blog post. For now, see if you can spot members of either group as you go through your day.