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Dara Carrillo went to college when she was 18 because “the world told me that’s the box I needed to check,” she says. “I didn’t really think about what was right for me.” She dropped out after a year but eventually felt a yearning to finish the degree she had started. The second time around, however, she focused on something different — what values truly motivated her.

When she discovered the Organizational Communication degree (now named Organizational Change and Leadership) at St. Edward’s University, “everything clicked and I finally felt I was where I was meant to be,” she says. As co-founder of personal branding business Muse Stream, Carrillo helps others identify their core values — and how those values can drive positive professional and personal changes in their lives.

Here, she talks with me about how personal values can shape your search for a college, a career and your life’s work.

Lori Eggleston Thorp: What are the benefits of identifying your personal values?

Dara Carrillo: When you uncover what your values are, you begin to see how they motivate your behaviors and decisions. Many people have an “Aha!” moment when they realize that some of the choices they have made in their lives don’t align with their values. That misalignment is often the root of feelings of professional or personal discontent. But once you know your values, you can realign your strengths and skills to support them and ultimately redefine your life’s mission or vision.  

LT: How can you identify your values?

DC: Start by listing ten or 20 values that you think inform how you show up each day in all of the various areas of your life, such as work, home, recreation, etc. Then narrow those down to the five you think represent you most strongly. Once you have your top five, consider how you activate them in the different areas. This will help you gain clarity where your values are most active and where they need to be strengthened. For example, my top-level values are achievement, benevolence and self-direction. I see those as driving my decision to start a business that takes people on a journey to define their authentic personal brand.

LT: How can understanding your values inform your college selection process?

DC: Once you know what values motivate you, you can develop an academic action plan around them. As you explore different colleges and programs, make connections between your values and those of the institutions. Read their mission statements and strategic plans. Talk to professors and students. Explore what opportunities exist that will allow you to activate and apply your values outside of the classroom, too, like student organizations or groups. Where you find shared values, you are more likely to easily relate to the academic community, discover your place in it and be successful.

LT: How can your values guide the selection of a major?

DC: Mentally go back to a time when you felt professionally or personally confident and fulfilled. Think about the characteristics of that job, project or situation, and try to match those characteristics to your interests and the possible roles you could see yourself thriving in. Go out and connect with other professionals in those roles. Learn about what majors would suit you and set you up for a future position. When your values match what you are doing academically, you become a motivated learner. You are grateful, driven and committed — you are working toward your vision, not just checking off a box.

New College at St. Edward’s University creates academic experiences tailored to adult learners. Our programs are built around quality, convenience, and flexibility, with a commitment to exceptional support and career-focused services. New College provides both a liberal arts and career education.

Lori Eggleston Thorp is director of New College Support Services at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She has taught and advised adult students for more than seven years and has an M.Ed. from Texas State University. Lori has also presented at the Association for Continuing Higher Education International Conference, the Region 7 National Academic Advisors Conference and the Texas Academic Advising Network.

Read more articles like this from St. Edward’s University.