Values And Purpose

Once you find it, your true purpose does not change. The things that are important to you may change over time and so will your values. Knowing your core values and staying true to them helps you stay on track with purpose.
values and purpose

The Businessman And The Fisherman

A management consultant was on vacation in a little Mexican village on the coast. He was walking along the small dock one morning when he saw a fishing boat come in. Seeing the fish were of high quality, he asked the fisherman how long it had taken him to catch them.

“Just a few hours,” the fisherman answered.

“Then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” the consultant inquired.

“Well,” the fisherman said, “this is enough to get the money to meet my family’s needs.”

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, spend time with my wife, and play with my children. In the afternoon, I take a nap under a palm tree. In the evening, I go out with my friends. We have a few beers, play music, sing, and laugh.”

The consultant said, “Look, I have an MBA from a prestigious business school and I think I can help you. You start by fishing longer every day. Then you can sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money you make, you can buy a bigger boat. The bigger boat will allow you to catch even more fish. That will bring in more money, and you can buy a second boat, then a third, and so on till you have a fleet of fishing boats. With that many fish, you can cut out the middleman and negotiate directly with the processing plant, maybe even open your own plant. With all the money you’ll be making, you can leave this little village and move to the city, maybe even the States, where you can direct your huge enterprise.”

The fisherman was in awe. “How long would that take?” he asked.

“Oh, ten, maybe twenty years,” replied the consultant.

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

“Oh, that’s when things get really interesting!” laughed the consultant. “When your business gets really big, you start selling shares in your company and make millions!”

“Millions?!? And then what?”

“Well, then, you’ll be able to retire and move to a small village by the sea. You can sleep late, fish a little, spend time with your wife and children. In the afternoon, you can take a nap under a palm tree. And in the evening, you can go out with friends, have a few beers, play music, sing, and laugh . . .” [1]

Aligning Values and Purpose

It might be said that both the businessman and the fisherman had the same purpose in mind, but far different values. Purpose is the reason we do what we do. Matthew Kelly writes, “The first principle is simply this: you are here to become the-best-possible-version-of-yourself.” [Kelly] This we might call the Universal Purpose – we all have this as our overall aim. Another way to state it is that our Purpose is to give our best in Service to the world.

But the way we do this is as varied as the people we are. My service is different than yours. This is our unique purpose. And the ways we choose to live out that purpose change as we grow and change.

If purpose is about why we do what we do, then values are how we achieve our purpose. [Fridman]

“When you know what’s important to you, you can live in alignment with those values. This leads to greater fulfillment, clarity and self-awareness. This self-awareness allows you to discover your purpose. Your life purpose is who you are at your core. Identifying your core values brings you back to your center.” [Dowches-Wheeler]

What Are Values?

Values are principles or qualities we deem as worthy or desirable. When your life is in congruence with your core values — the principles you deem as important and desirable — you feel in harmony and balanced.

Marcus Neo, writing in his blog post “What Are Personal Values?“, says this: “Values can be said to be internal compasses. They are the judgment about how important something is to us. There are principles that are held internally regardless of external circumstances.” [Neo]

Values matter in that they represent an intrinsic motivator, motivation that comes from within us. “In modern society, you may find yourself in a constant struggle to stick to your values,” says Neo, “as opposed to sacrifice them for an extrinsic result.” [Neo] This is why it is necessary to define your core values.

“Core values are the fundamental beliefs you have about your life,” says Jessica Dowches-Wheeler. “Values remind you of who you are and who you’re meant to be.” [Dowches-Wheeler] Who you are and who you’re meant to be — that is, your purpose.

“Many people think that values are ethics or morals; they’re not. Values are what is important to us, what we ‘value’, and what gives us purpose. . . Each person’s values are unique to that person; even if two people happen to pick the same value word, such as integrity, each person will demonstrate it differently in her daily actions and language.” [Loehr]

What Are Your Values?

“We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs.” ~ Gloria Steinem

If you haven’t defined your own core values, a way to get started is to take a sheet of paper and write down “what you will and will not accept in your life. This can range from business decisions, relationship values to all other areas of your life.” [Neo]

If you want to explore your values in-depth, you could use The Valid Values Excelerator. This Excelerator walks you through the process of selecting your values, then refining them down to the top 4 – your core, or Valid Values. Then, if you choose to use them, there are exercises to help you determine where you are and are not expressing your core values and to think about ways to better incorporate them into all aspects of your life. It isn’t a quick process, but it can lead you to some important insights about how you are or are not expressing your most important values.

The Parts Of Purpose

Writing in How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen tells us: “The type of person you want to become – what the purpose of your life is . . . needs to be deliberately conceived, chosen, and managed.” [Christensen]

Christensen specifies three parts of purpose. [Christensen]

  1. Likeness = the person you want to become. We’ve defined the Universal Purpose to be using our talents, skills, and abilities in Service to the world. Likeness may refer to your unique purpose – how will you perform your unique service?
  2. Becoming committed = to your values and purpose such that they guide you day by day, “to drive what you will do, and what you will not do” as you seek to answer the question “who do I truly want to become?” [Christensen]
  3. Finding the right metric = “How will you measure your life?” The metrics that truly matter are the people you have helped, one by one, to become better people, to be “a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had”, and to have used your gifts in Service to the world. These are the metrics that matter when you measure your life to determine if you are living on purpose. [Christensen]

How Values Help You Live On Purpose

Once you find it, your true purpose does not change. The things that are important to you may change over time and so will your values. Therefore, the way you live out your purpose can and will change if you are growing and changing.

Knowing your core values and staying true to them helps you stay on track with purpose. Jessica Dowches-Wheeler likens them to “gentle guide rails to keep us on our path and help us choose actions that are aligned with what we really want.”

If you feel you’re off track, stop and ask yourself, “What truly matters? What is truly important?” Check in to be sure you are living true to your core values and that your actions are aligned with your unique purpose.

Putting Values In Action

With your values and purpose aligned, it’s time to start acting on them and having them inform your actions. Here’s an idea from Anne Loehr, writing in the Huffington Post blog. [Loehr]

Before you make a big decision, do this.

  1. Look at your 4 or 5 core or Valid Values. Select the top value.
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, rate how well the perceived outcome of your decision or the opportunity aligns with your top value. Give it a numeric score and write it down.
  3. Follow this process for each of your Valid Values.
  4. You should have a list of 4 or 5 numbers. Add them up and then divide by the number of Valid Values you have.
  5. This gives the decision or opportunity a score. You should shoot for an average score of 7 or higher. If the score is below 7, this decision or opportunity may not be well-aligned with your values.

Another idea is to write down your values to keep them top of mind and to embed them in your subconsciousness. I do this during my morning journaling. You could, too. Don’t do morning journaling? Find some time early in the day to list out your Valid Values.

Check in from time to time to evaluate how well you are living out your values. You could do this as you drive home from work. Or do a weekly review. This helps you be intentional about honoring the values that are important to you.

What Truly Matters?

“What truly matters?” This is one of the five essential life questions James E. Ryan explores in the book, Wait, What? If you are still looking to discover your purpose or identify your values, this would be a good question to ask. As Ryan writes: “It forces you to the heart of issues at work or school, and to the heart of your own convictions, beliefs, and goals in life. It’s the question that can help you separate the truly important from the trivial and can help you maneuver through the minutiae in pursuit of the momentous.” [Ryan]

Ask this question of yourself and answer it “honestly and fearlessly. If you do, this question won’t just help you get to the bottom of an issue or a problem. It will also help you get to the heart of your life.” [Ryan]

When you can answer this question for yourself, you are prepared and able to live your values and your purpose. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life™!

Excelerated Values™ – defining and living your Valid Values – is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


[1] I adapted this from a story on the BusinessBalls website. See Resources.


Christensen, Clayton M. How Will You Measure Your Life? New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2012.

Dowches-Wheeler, Jessica. “How Core Values Help You Find Your Purpose.” The Bright Space Blog. Bright Space Coaching, LLC, May 10, 2020. Web. January 30, 2021.

Fridman, Adam. “Four Essential Habits to Align Purpose and Values With Actions.” Inc. Mansueto Ventures, June 15, 2017. Web. January 30, 2021.,reflects%20our%20purpose%20and%20values.

Kelly, Matthew. Off Balance: Getting Beyond The Work-Life Balance Myth To Personal And Professional Satisfaction. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2011.

Loehr, Anne. “How to Live With Purpose, Identify Your Values and Improve Your Leadership.” HuffPost. Verizon Media, December 06, 2017. Web. January 30, 2021.

Neo, Marcus. “What Are Personal Values? – Develop Integrity and Purpose.” www.MarcusNeo.Com. High Flying Ventures, January 14, 2021. Web. January 30, 2021.

Ryan, James E. Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2017.

“The Businessman And The Fisherman.” Businessballs. Businessballs,. Web. January 17, 2021.

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