Live Your Values Part I: How Music Entrepreneurs Make Smart Career Choices


“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same but you leave ’em over everything that you do.”

Elvis Presley

fingerprintsValues are your qualities of intrinsic worth and the principles that run your life. Core values help to define who you are and what is truly important to you. In the words of one musician:

“Values will help you to create your identity.”

For musicians, arts leaders and other artists, it is critical to know your values since so much of your work is wrapped up in expressing what is important to you. As one of my students said:

“Art is such a mess because it’s both a job and something very personal. Values are a big part of the puzzle.”

Therefore, knowing your values can help you to sort through the “mess” and come up with your own personal code of values which can help you to be that much more authentic, confident and powerful.

Taking a page from the late great Elvis Presley, values are at the heart of who you are AND everyone has different values.

So let’s sort out the “mess” and explore how you can find your personal set of values that can be the code that runs your life.


1. The Importance of Values in an Artistic Career

Values are important because the more you shape your life in alignment with your values, the better your quality of life and the more motivated you will be to pursue your goals.

There are no “right or wrong values” for musicians and values can range from relationships to personal growth to leadership and creativity, joy, passion, autonomy, security, authenticity, service or community. For example, musicians who value their autonomy may feel very comfortable with a freelance lifestyle, versus those who value security and may instead want to pursue a more predictable career.

Knowing your values can help you in many ways since they

• Provide direction in your career and personal life
• Help you make important decisions
• Enable you to feel more engaged in your work

When you align your life with your values, you can cut through the swirl of confusion and make decisions that feel right to you. You feel happier. You save time because you don’t worry as much or second-guess yourself.

As one of my students observed, knowing your values can help you to “cross things off your list”, which is very hard for musicians to do since many feel that they need to keep their options open.

The flip side is that when you ignore your top values, you may find yourself questioning your decisions and feeling that something is “off”. That is why knowing your values are so important in your musical career.

Here is how values helped one musician with his career choices:

As he was preparing for orchestral auditions, one musician found himself avoiding his practicing.  After he identified his 5 top values,  he realized that orchestral performing was not in alignment with his values of creativity and self-expression.  Rather, those two values were manifested in his passions were solo and chamber music performance on multiple instruments, as well as new music.  He also placed a high value of life-long learning and was constantly on the lookout for new opportunities.  Knowing his values helped him to decide not to pursue an orchestral career and instead to channel his energies to creating solo and chamber performance opportunities, as well as to embrace being a musician with multiple facets of his career.

2. How to Find Your Values: Take A Values Assessment

So how do you find your values?

One way to is to review the list of values on the values assessment and select your top 5 values.

It is important to be honest and to select your values, not someone else’s. In addition, your values should be the principles that you believe in, not that you think you should have or that you wished you had.

Finally, be sure to narrow down your list to your top 5 or 6 values since this will give you a code to guide you when you need to make an important decision. If you have too many values on your list, it is hard to know what you stand for.

How To Narrow Down Your Values

While the values assessment is a long list, often the words you select can mean the same thing.  Here is a guide to help you narrow down your values:

Relationships:  Family, Friends, Romance Intimacy, Loyalty, Generosity, Integrity, and Community

Learning:  Wisdom, Knowledge, Creativity, Excitement, Challenge, Adventure




Personal Growth/Self-Realization/Self-Actualization

Authenticity:  Whatever it takes for you to be your best and most honest self

3. Stories of Anger and Joy

Another way to find values is through stories of anger and stories of joy.

First, think of a time when you were really frustrated or angry about something. The missing ingredient can often tell you what your values are.

A number of my students were frustrated and angry when other people did not honor their commitments. For example, one student felt very upset when he made plans with a group of his friends for a Saturday night engagement and a number of people did not show up.

Another musician felt angry when fellow musicians failed to appear at a rehearsal that the two of them had worked hard to schedule.

It turned out that some fundamental values were not being respected:

• Trust and Integrity
• Honesty
• Relationships
• Community
• Security
• Professionalism.

Stories of Anger

Here is how you can derive values from your stories of anger:

What is the most frustrating experience you have ever had?

What was not right in that situation?

What is important to you that was not being honored?

What values were not present in that situation?

Another way to find values is to reflect on a time when you were incredibly happy and joyful.

One musician who is doing more conducting these days finds that conducting allows her to express herself through her body and in so many other ways that she cannot as a performer. She feels completely free and unrestrained. Conducting enables her to live her top values of

• Passion
• Freedom and
• Leadership

Another musician who loves “making great music with great people” had a wonderful time at a video music conference that he attended with a group of friends. This experience enabled him to live his values of

• Friendship
• Creativity
• Excellence
• Kindness

Stories of Joy

Here is how you can derive values from your stories of joy:

What is the most joyful experience you have had?

What felt right about that situation?

What values were reflected in that situation?

You can then compile your list of values from both of these angles—stories of anger and stories of joy. Compare this with your list from the Values Assessment.

Finding your values means that you need to spend time looking inward. As one of my students observed,

“It can be scary but it’s the way to find answers.”

4. Share Your Values

I am always delighted when students and clients tell me that they share their values with their friends. Moreover, telling your stories of joy and anger is a powerful way to also let other people into your world and deepen your ties. When we discussed values in my coaching groups, students enjoyed listening to each other’s stories. One student remarked:

“It’s nice to talk about things that don’t come up in a professional context. It’s great to hear the other stories. I feel a sense of relief and it calms me down.”

So think about the people with whom you are involved and spend some time deepening your relationships by sharing stories and values. If you are in a serious committed relationship with someone, compare values so that you can see how compatible you are. Also, when your values differ, it is important to see how you can each respect each other’s values.

The same thing holds true for ensembles and other musical partnerships. If your group is committed over the long haul, spend some time comparing values and making sure that you respect each other’s values.

5. How to Bring Values into your Life

Here are a few suggestions to help you align your life with your values:

  1. Take a values assessment and identify your 5 top core values.
  2. Reflect on your stories of joy and anger.
  3. Share your values and your stories with your friends, professional colleagues and loved ones.
  4. Review your major life decisions. How well did they align with your values?
  5. What can you do right now to bring your life into closer alignment with your values?
  6. When you have a decision to make, thing about what values are at stake. When you make the decision, reflect on what values you were honoring. If the decision does not feel quite right, consider what values you may have been ignoring.