What are your anchors in times of uncertainty and vulnerability?

Sean Kennedy
6 min readDec 5, 2018


For the past few months I’ve been using Blinkist to quickly capture the key ideas from great non-fiction books. I could write a whole story on how I validated that they do a good job with their “blinks” and how it has improved my life, but that is not what I want to focus on today.

Today, I want to talk about an idea I heard while listening to the blinks for “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown that made me stop the audio (running at 2X speed, of course) and start thinking. And more than thinking, introspecting and reflecting on past actions and situations. I considered how I’ve behaved, at my best and worst; how I’ve seen others act, both those I admire and those I avoid; and who I think the best version of me is.

I found this to be such a powerful, empowering, inspiring, and energizing process that I shared it with my sons (14 and 7) and will encourage them to go through the effort too. Similarly, I’m writing this story so that I can share it with friends and acquaintances — and strangers too. I also want to have it in “black and white” for future re-reflection and personal accountability. Please indulge yourself in my storytelling — I’ve been told it’s good — and also embark on identifying your own anchors.

Stopped me in my track

As I mentioned, I’ve been loving listening to books on Blinkist for months. Generally, I’ll lie down in bed, close my eyes, and start listening to the audio with my full mind engaged. This really works for me as a way of learning, but every now and then, there’s something in the Blinkist summary (the “blinks”) that inspires me to do something with the idea, Right Now.

So was the case two nights ago.

In blink number 4 for “Dare to Lead”, Core values anchor and guide daring leadership, I had to stop the audio track and just start thinking about its meaning and application in my life. Every part of the blink had meaning and relevance, and the whole idea built in strength like a boulder rolling downhill.

Here are some key points (with commentary) from it:

Our values inform our judgments about what is most important in our lives. The most courageous leaders … were those who had the most clarity about what their values were. During times of uncertainty and vulnerability, their values were an important support to them, a ‘North Star’ that helped guide them through periods of darkness.

For whatever reason, my experience has been such that I am deeply aware of how the words and actions of people in the “good times” often don’t reflect their behavior in a “crisis”. This runs both ways, I’ve been surprised for both good and ill, but, unfortunately, the pain of the bad experiences can easily dominate our thoughts far more than the pleasant revelations. (Hey, I think that might be another jumping off point for a story about letting go of resentment, rejecting victimhood, and taking ownership of your future by focusing on the things you can control… anyway.)

Making a list of things that are highly important to us might be a straightforward exercise. When we whittle our list down to just two things, though, it really becomes useful. The author, for example, narrowed hers down to the key values of courage and faith. Why two? The author’s research, derived from hundreds of interviews with global executive leaders, has found that most leaders identify ten or more core values. The leaders most willing to experience vulnerability and demonstrate courage, on the other hand, anchored themselves to no more than two.

Two values are actionable — we can hold them in our conscious mind and we can rely on our subconscious to anchor to them and apply them even in when our conscious is consumed by stress or other thoughts. We can hold ourselves accountable for acting in accordance with our anchor values. With more than two, we’ll have nothing more than “a meaningless list of words that make [us] feel good.”

Thinking, introspecting, reflecting…

That night I didn’t find any answers but just fell asleep with these ideas on my mind. I often let my subconscious mind loose on problems like this… “sleeping on it” is a practice I’ve come to rely on :-)

The next night, last night, I put my conscious mind to it again and came up with two core values: “straightforwardness” and “respect for others”.

I knew they weren’t quite baked. I was onto something and headed down the right path, but I hadn’t yet found the words that resonated.

Still, I was far enough along that I wrote down what I had and shared it with a close friend. I also wrote a note to my sons, for them to find in the morning (this is something I do with them sometimes), exposing them to the idea and encouraging them to think of their own core values. And then, I, you guessed it … slept on it.

Digging it

I woke up about two hours after falling asleep and my unconscious had revealed a new thread to pull on.

More than respect

“Respect for others” was too shallow. It didn’t capture all the ways I new I wanted to live and interact with others. But it was also something that I didn’t believe I could live up to — there are times when people lose my respect, what am I supposed to do then? How can I live this value in those situations?

So what was at the core of the idea I was scratching? What was it deep in my belief system that I was trying to describe with “respect for others”? Almost as soon as I had asked this question, I had an answer: The Golden Rule.

I know, it is kind of cliché, and that it seems juvenile as a core value. Shouldn’t there be some smarter, more mature, less naïve, explanation of this value to which I anchor myself? That kind of thinking is probably why I needed my unconscious to figure it out. However you put it, “do unto others as you would have done to you”, “treat others as you would like to be treated”, “love your neighbor as yourself”… this is what is in my heart and how I want to live. Its simplicity and lack of nuance makes it challenging to live — as I think a core value should be — and it is a fountain of wise guidance accessible and applicable to any situation.

Then what else is down there?

Having identified The Golden Rule as my first anchoring core value, it was obvious that “straightforwardness” was one of those traits that can come from the “fountain of wise guidance”. Which, of course, leads to the question of what is my second anchoring core value?

I didn’t just drop “straightforwardness”, however. There was some reason it had originally surfaced among the other things that could have “bubbled” out of the direction I get from The Golden Rule. So, what else was it that was being pointed to by “straightforwardness”?

My subconscious must have been at work here too, as it didn’t take long for me to connect “straightforwardness” to the “confronting the brutal facts” part of The Stockdale Paradox.

I had been exposed to The Stockdale Paradox while studying “Good to Great” by Jim Collins in a leadership course I took many years ago. The instructor in that class always worked to draw lines between approaches for business success and those for personal success. The Stockdale Paradox, which I internalized as “you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality while never losing faith that things will turn out in the end”, has often guided me in challenging times. And that is just what I was looking for as an anchoring core value.

My Precious… do you know yours?

As I said, this process, and the firm knowledge I now have about myself, was so empowering, inspiring, and energizing that I felt a need to share it. Having “unearthed” and articulated The Golden Rule and The Stockdale Paradox as my anchoring core values, I feel like I’ve found some precious gems. I’m happy to have these principles identified to evaluate myself against in the future, and also to know that I found them deep inside of me already operating to try to guide my actions.

Similarly, repeating where I began, I hope you enjoyed my story and that you’re inspired to find your own anchoring core values to help you become the best version of yourself.



Sean Kennedy

Freedom-lover, software-maker, risk-taker, contrarian, Canadian, man. Working @Globant. Responsible for my words & actions.