How values help us grow

How many times have you made misguided choices and weren’t even sure why, and then felt frustrated with yourself afterwards? We all experience this on a regular basis. We’re all subject to unconscious programming that controls our behaviour in ways we can’t even see.

The only way to escape our unconscious programming and live more consciously and congruently is to clearly define our values, and then strive to live in accordance with them. 

I define values as, ‘A virtue or value is a quality that, when cultivated, creates long-term connection, trust and harmony within us and in the environment or groups we live and work in.’ 

I emphasise long-term because sometimes following a value in the short term can be quite stressful. But if we follow it repeatedly, over time it develops deep trust and congruence within us. Ultimately, it gets us what we want, which is internal harmony as well as harmony in our families, teams, organisations and communities. Values help us achieve our highest potential.

Avinash Potnis, Managing Director for the Pharma division of Novartis in Turkey, shared a powerful personal story of how developing his value of authenticity has been a huge factor in his rise to success. He said, ‘I came from a very small village in India. I was able to get a degree and enter the corporate world, but that wasn’t enough. I was always trying to hide my humble roots and pretend to be someone I was not. This manifested as arrogance, though it was in fact deep insecurity. I was not really connecting with people, and I didn’t understand why. 

‘My inauthenticity caught up with me in the summer of 1999, when I was at the pinnacle of my arrogance. I was called in to interview for a global position at Novartis. I had 16 interviews in two days. I felt confident that the position was mine — until my last interview, with the department head. Within five minutes of our interview he told me, “You’re not going to be part of my team.”

‘ “Why?” I asked. “You haven’t even interviewed me.”

‘He answered directly. “I read the summary of each of your previous interviews. I fear that your internal growth is not where it should be in order to become a global leader.”

‘I came back to India shattered. I had no idea what had gone wrong. I was in complete denial, and I stayed in denial for at least six months. To drive it all home, in December of that year I was fired from Novartis. My wife wasn’t working and our child was a year and a half old. We had five days to vacate our apartment, which Novartis had been paying for. It was brutal. 

‘During this time I attended a seminar where the speaker did an exercise that ignited something in me. He showed us a clear glass of water and said, “This is your state of mind when you’re born.” He then put a drop of ink in the water, which became murky. He said, “This is the state of your mind now. All the open curiosity you had when you were born has now become preconceived ideas and the mask you wear for the world. The data in your mind is murkier still.” 

‘To complete the exercise, he then added water one drop at a time and with each drop the water became clearer. “What this represents,” he told us, “is that you have to deliberately work with your mind. You have to keep putting awareness (clear water) into it in order to clear your murky thoughts and beliefs.”

‘For the next two years I listened to thousands of audiotapes and read a couple of hundred books. About 18 months into the process, I started noticing how much my mind was opening up. My insecurities began disappearing and I began to live much more authentically than I was ever able to before. I realised that the world has space for everybody, and I don’t have to be insecure at all. The moment that happened, I became a better contributor. I was okay within my skin, with my accent, my thoughts. 

‘Between 2002 and 2005 I was a project manager for a company in India. Our small team was able to accomplish amazing things. In 2005 Novartis called me back and rehired me. My first job was in the Philippines. Then, within just a couple of months, the regional head came to visit me from Germany and asked me to be the country head for the Philippines.

‘Almost overnight I went from being a small project manager to a country head. This was all the result of the growth that came as I strived to become more authentic over the course of years.’

As Avinash shows, consciously choosing values and striving to align our behaviours with them is the key to personal growth.