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What Happens When You Live According to Your Core Values

The following is adapted from A Fool’s Errand by Roy Cook.

I couldn’t sleep. I was having panic attacks several times per week. Often, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, thinking I was dying. My wife (Bernice) and I lived in a high-rise in San Francisco, and many nights after having panic attacks, I’d run to the window to get fresh air. This scared the hell out of me and Bernice.

After visiting different types of doctors to find out what was wrong with me and enduring an all-night sleep lab, I finally went to see a psychiatrist. After explaining my present job and an unethical request, he knew immediately what the problem was — integrity.

I was a partner in a New York–based marketing company. After eighteen years, they asked me to lie on a deposition so they could avoid a potential court trial. I knew my choice was to lie or change jobs.

I was hesitant to leave my current company because I was earning a lot of money. I had drivers take me everywhere, flew first class, stayed in the best hotels, and ate in the best restaurants in the largest US cities. Frankly, I was spoiled.

It was then that I discovered Hyrum Smith and Stephen R. Covey. I read their books. Their words spoke to me. They introduced me to the concept of core values. For the first time, I understood that everyone is different and has different values. I also knew that I had no idea what my core values were. My journey to discover them changed everything.

What Are Core Values?

So, what are core values? I’ve never seen a better definition than the following, by Dawn Barclay, a personal trainer and coach:

Deeply rooted fundamental beliefs. Guides that dictate your behavior and actions. The foundations of what is driving your decisions. Ingrained principles that help you declare who you are and what you stand for.

When I first read this many years ago, it hit me right between the eyes. With this definition, I was able to discover my eleven core values — spiritual, family, health, integrity, value-based life, community, freedom, accomplishment, learning and teaching, resoluteness, and renewal.

I then decided it was time to apply my core values to everything I did. My ethical dilemma at work would be a good first test on how living a life founded on core values would impact my health, happiness, and fulfillment.

Living by My Core Values

To make sure I was living by my core values, I created a spreadsheet. In the first column, I entered my eleven core values. At the top of the next two columns, I wrote down my current job and another possibility — starting my own company with a wonderful partner, Vince Cucci.

I wrote a number between one and ten in each box as to how well my current job or starting a new company would honor that particular core value, with ten being the highest score. Then I added up the eleven numbers in the two columns. The result made my choice easy.

I would become an entrepreneur.

Specifically, I would start a company in an industry that I knew well, fulfilling what I saw as a big unmet need by the major US packaged-goods companies like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Frito-Lay, Kraft, etc. These companies did not have a reliable and inexpensive way to deliver free samples of a new product to their target audience. Free samples are very effective for a new and superior brand.

As I reflected back on my thirty years of experience in business (1963–93), I noticed that all of it was in this rather narrow area of marketing. So I may have known as much about this as anybody. I clearly could see the need and noticed that no other company was filling that need. And I had a partner who was a terrific guy and very knowledgeable about this area as well.

How Everything Changed

I had a core value of integrity, and it conflicted directly with what my New York bosses asked me to do. Leaving was not a difficult decision. The spreadsheet and my nighttime panic attacks made that clear.

So, my partner and I started our company in 1993. I began making every career and life decision based upon how well they honored one or more of my core values.

Did I make the right move?

The panic attacks disappeared over time, and our company sales exceeded eight figures within five years. Six years later, at sixty-two, I retired, having exceeded my lifetime financial goals. So yes, I’d say it was the right move.

Living from my core values brought fulfillment, and peace of mind, that I had never experienced before. Next to marrying Bernice and developing a spiritual life, it was the best decision of my life.

For more advice on core values, you can find A Fool’s Errand on Amazon.

Roy Cook’s educational background is in mathematics and engineering physics, but he spent his early career as a marketing manager for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. He later became an entrepreneur and ran a national marketing company that dealt with top 50 Blue Chip Companies. Roy’s professional life has undergone many evolutions, but he has retained a long-standing interest in how individuals can best achieve fulfillment and peace of mind. The principles that he’s developed helped him retire just eleven years after starting his own company. Now, Roy lives in a small town in Northern California with his wife and three cats.

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