Why You’ll Never Outrun Your Values

I’ve discovered that half the battle of getting things done is just getting them down. Grabbing a swirling list of things to do out of my head and ordering them in a prioritized list helps me relax. But even more important is prioritizing—highlighting the tasks on the list that really matter. Imagine making daily decisions without a sense of what’s important. Do I work on my new book, or answer e-mail? Do I plan my wife’s birthday or work on a blog post? Do I do my taxes or fix the plumbing problem?

To be truly productive, every day is made up of many decisions based on what’s really important. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most unsuccessful people are unsuccessful because they either can’t or won’t decide on the important priorities in their lives.

Priorities Are Driven by Values

In writing my book: “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do,” I learned that the secret to understanding your priorities are values. Values are the bumpers on the bowling alley of life. They determine our boundaries—how far we’ll go on questionable issues. Knowing what matters—what you value—is absolutely key to living a life of meaning and purpose.

Values determine what’s important and help determine your daily decisions. And while values influence the big choices—your chances of cheating on your spouse, robbing a bank, or killing your neighbor—they also govern a million small decisions we make every day.

Personal leadership is the process of keeping your vision and values before you and aligning your life to be congruent with them.
—Stephen Covey, leadership consultant and writer

The problem really isn’t having values; the problem is living them out. Sure we all value honesty, integrity, and forgiveness, but when pressed, do we really live them out? And what about when it costs us? Are we willing to be honest when it’s so easy to change our tax return? Or tell the truth when it comes to helping a coworker get the raise you want? Supporting your spouse when he or she is driving you crazy or not paying attention to you?

Pursuing a life of value can be costly. It comes with a price. But what we exchange for that price is the ability to hold our head high during the day and sleep well at night. Perhaps just as importantly, it allows us to relax. The mental toll of cheating, lying, or stealing is draining. Trying to remember the lie you told your boss the last time, so today’s lie will match up can literally wear you out.

Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.
—C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia

Values matter. They’re the map on the journey of self-discovery that leads to discovering your purpose in life. Discovering that purpose without a sense of values is like being unable to make a decision about which turn to make. In many ways our culture has lost its sense of values; I worry about a generation that’s been brought up afraid to make choices for fear of offending someone. We’ve become a culture afraid to make judgments and proscribe values to anything because of our overwhelming fear of offending. But something inside knows that’s not true. Some choices are better than others. Some decisions make sense and others don’t.

Your ability to change your life is directly connected to your ability to make choices and to take responsibility for those choices. In other words, your daily decisions determine your destiny. The point is that your career and your life needs to be aligned with your values. Whatever you choose to do can’t contradict or conflict with your basic principles.

The foundation of your life is what gives you the confidence to make strong decisions, and that foundation is ultimately created from what you value.

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