Words on a Page

When working on my last post, and reflecting on ‘lists’ and on what I would miss, the following memory was provoked.

Many years ago, I was asked to select ten words, out of 100 listed, that I believed named what was most important to me. “A personal values assessment,” I said aloud. The examiner was unamused that I had so quickly predicted something that she had wished to reveal much more slowly.

Despite being given that ‘test’ more than 20 years ago, I remember the majority of words that I chose as if I had selected them yesterday. Although I have gone through many personal changes since that time, I believe that I would still choose most, if not all, of the same ten words today. That seems so strange and yet quite comforting at the same time. My life is much simpler in retirement, and hey, wasn’t I supposed to gain deeper wisdom as I advanced in age?

While I believe that the majority of my core values have remained the same, I know that many of them are now manifested quite differently. For example, diligence is a word that defines a large part of me, but how I now choose to apply that diligence is quite distinct from what it had been in my work life (including many of the benefactors). ‘Acceptance,’ ‘accomplishment,’ ‘acknowledgement,’ ‘challenge;’ are all secondary pillars for me (not my top ten, yet still important). These aspects of me have significantly altered in my retired life and now seem more personal and less extrinsically centered than ever before.

I did a search on-line to see if I could find the same (or nearly the same) assessment that I had taken those many years ago. Although I didn’t find the exact one, I did find others. The first one cited below is closest to the test that I had taken—although this version is much longer and comes with accompanying pages on eliciting and prioritizing your values, etc. , etc. (values1, values2, values3).

What do you think? Have you noticed a significant change in what you now value most from what you did previously? For those of you who are retired, do you see noticeable value differences as you simplify your life?

Photo Credit:  NB – Words listed on the sample photo are not all my “personal words” (although some of them are included).  Rather, this picture shows a  broad sampling of words that are often included on Personal Values Assessments.

8 thoughts on “Words on a Page”

  1. I think many of the chosen words are the same, but the meanings people give them reflect more depth of experience. I think we get “empathy” better at 40 than 20, or in my case, after having kids. 🙂 Ditto for community, and compassion.


  2. When I first read your list I was not sure if they were in any order, then I realized they were alphabetical, so that gave me a better reflection knowing you thirty years ago!
    I think retirement allows you to step back and relax some of the urgency you felt about things that were most important to us when we were struggling through “life” thirty years ago. It is so much easier to forgive now and to laugh and enjoy things that would have been upsetting because of you expectations back then.


    1. Hi, Gerry – Thanks for commenting and thanks for helping me to clarify. The sample list in the picture is not my list (I would never choose ‘affluence’ as my top ten…and I would never choose ‘Fame’ even if I could choose 100 words). But most of my ten words are on the sample. I totally agree that retirement allows you to step back from some of the urgency, “to forgive, relax and enjoy”. Very, very well said!


  3. Donna, as part of my self-reflection in early retirement I spent time thinking about my values. One of the best discussions on core values for me was in the book What Color is your Parachute in Retirement. I liked the model that they used – it places values on 2 primary vectors — one is Risk versus Stability and the other Self versus Others. These are fundamental psychological vectors in so many writings. That model had about 12-14 core values “concepts” with different language to articulate them.

    I looked at the three sites you linked us to… the one has 418 words! OMG – that is too many for me to try and choose….it borders on paralysis with that many choices.

    I’ve recently been reading about “spiritual strengths” which are similar in many ways to values – Humility, Wisdom, Courage, Empathy, etc. This reading builds on self-reflection to discuss the possible “negative” side of a specific strength/value. For example, one of wisdom’s potential negative’s is perfectionism. This has been very interesting!

    I don’t think my core values have changed too much over time. I do think how I activate them in retirement versus full-time employment has been a learning experience. One of the elements of my choosing activities to engage in has been – do they link to (support/bring to life) my values! The happiness research indicates that you will be happiest if activities/pursuits are linked to your interests + strengths + values. (I’m pretty sure I wrote a blog on that topic!) So when I’m looking into new things, having my values (and strengths and interests) articulated has helped.


    1. Hi, Pat – We definitely have many of the same interests! I just read (and loved) your post of ‘Happiness By Design’ (
      I have also spent much time reading current happiness research. I totally agree in the importance (and deep satisfaction achieved) in linking our actions to our values.
      I look forward to reading ‘What Color is Your Parachute in Retirement’. I will let you know what I think!
      Thanks for your very thoughtful comments.


  4. I typically shy away from these sort of values and personality assessments – I had more than my share while I was employed. I would think that a list of words that I’d choose would change over the years as my life focus changed, or, at least, the meaning of the words would shift. Freedom at age six might mean staying up later; at 18, it could mean moving out; at 30, maybe running your own business; at 58 – for me anyway – it meant retiring. Same word, same importance, very different outcomes (I like my current one best!). 😄


    1. Hi, Janis. I love your example of how the meaning of a single word can change throughout the different stages of our lives. Thanks for sharing this.


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