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Where do values come from?


Katrina Kibben's Weekly Letter

February 26 · Issue #143 · View online

Every week, I'll write you a letter. A letter about anything, really. My goal is just to make you think.

Earlier this week, I took an afternoon off to go for a hike. The weather report said it would be 60° that afternoon. “I’ll be adventurous,” I thought. “I’ll go hiking on a weekday.” It was weird for me. I haven’t done that in the last 8+ years of working from home. 
I was a remote employee long before the pandemic, and I worked like someone in an office with something to prove. I barely got up from my desk, and I didn’t have the random interruptions from passing coworkers or celebrations. I was just zoned in and working all the time.
When I did take an afternoon off, or even an hour, I would feel tremendous guilt. It was like being 16 again and expecting to “get caught.”  I assumed someone would scold me for taking the time. It didn’t matter what I was doing. I didn’t have permission to take a break or use my time differently.
I followed the same rigor when I started my company. In fact, I probably worked a lot more than I ever did for other companies. For the first two years, I swear some part of my brain believed that an afternoon off would make everything fall apart. I would be able to blame time off for my failure if things didn’t work out. Corporate accountability was my ghost. It haunted me and tried to make me believe that I had to follow all those rules. 
That’s what hard work is, right? Working past your limits. Prioritizing work over everything else. That’s how it’s pictured on TV and described by most. How can you have hard work as one of your values and take breaks? 
It seems crazy when I say it out loud, right? So why do we do it? 
The reality is that there is no handbook for running a company. There are no rules. You don’t have to adopt patterns that don’t work, ideologies that don’t serve new experiences, and rigor that doesn’t create results. We have to operate on our values, not get lost in our attempt to mimic corporate style and success.
That’s your only truly unique advantage in this world. See, if I’ve only learned one thing running this company - it’s this. 
Who you are matters. How you do it matters. There’s (almost) nothing we will do that’s never been done before. Ideas are rarely unique and special. It’s how we act on them that makes them distinctly ours. It’s our stories that make them unique. There’s no use in copying what everyone else does unless it’s tax law or something. Please follow the rulebook regarding tax law, but don’t follow the rules for creating things to inspire people. 
I think this lesson applies to what we create and the values we share with our teams. Or don’t. 
I don’t think you need company values. Unpopular opinion from someone who has been paid to write values plenty of times.
That’s kind of the problem. I mean, where do values come from anyway - some contractor? I wanted to do something more personal, more transparent, more concise. This week’s blog is what I came up with for my team. I wrote about why I created promises, not values, and how they can help my team understand our commitment to each other while allowing them to be who they are. 
I hope you’ll read it. See you here next week. 

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