Life as Art: Values

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul, is a rare achievement. Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

In 1974 I walked out of an alcohol treatment center after 30 days of tough love, self-examination, and the most profound spiritual experience of my life. I will never forget the painful feedback from the staff, the love and acceptance of my fellow patients, and sharing my sins with a Catholic priest. I had fallen away from and was out of touch with much of what was most important to me during my years of active alcoholism. I got back in touch with myself in treatment, and I knew as I walked into the sunlight that day that my existence depended on an authentic and value-driven life.

Eighteen years later, I again thought deeply about my values. I wrote in Life as Art: Vision of spending two years creating a vision for my life as I prepared to leave the corporate world. I also thought long and hard during those two years about the values that would provide me with strength and guidance as I embarked on a new journey in my life.

My values are the core, internal principles by which I live my life. They distinguish good and bad and right and wrong for me. They are a deep statement of what matters to me.

Values provide my inner compass and are never more important than in the chaotic times in which we live when traditional norms often collapse, political correctness often rules, mediocrity is often the norm, and conformity is widely demanded. My values drive my ethics, my actions, and my search for excellence. Values bring passion, commitment, and perseverance to what I do. I feel alive when I live my values — and I must act on them with purpose for them to be real. My sense of self provides an anchor when I feel buffeted by the waves of constant change.

I sometimes fall short of living true to one of my values. When I do, I strive to acknowledge my imperfection, make my amends, and move on.

We live in difficult times — a time that calls us to live true to our values. I found as a leader in an organization and as a consultant to leaders as well as a citizen that living and standing up for my values is not easy, not painless, not glamorous, and often I must pay a price — sometimes a painful price—for doing so. Being value-driven is easy when the choices are easy — the pressures small. My tests in life come with difficult choices and when the pressures on me are great.

I believe that true and enduring excellence is always value-driven. I worked with true excellence in the U.S. Secret Service many years ago. The men I worked with would give their lives for their fellow agents, for the people they protected, and for justice. They were an inspiration to a young man, they taught me how to be a professional — and they still inspire me today, many years later. My greatest leadership experience in nine management positions over almost 18 years at the Star Tribune newspaper was leading a 4,500 employee business unit that committed itself to value driven leadership and achieved phenomenal business results.

I cannot create a good life, an authentic life, or a spiritual life without deep commitment to the ideals that matter to me.

3 thoughts on “Life as Art: Values

  1. What a great piece! I am still struggling with what some of my values are. I think knowing one’s values and then living an authentic life is very challenging. Margaret Eubank

  2. I’m with you 150% on this one, Tom!
    Thanks for sharing some more about your path to this self-discovery.
    In my own life, finding my personal values has been/is one of my most important acts… and I continue to review them periodically (as a form of New Year’s Resolution) because over time I have changed and my CORE values have shifted somewhat.
    I live with a small group of cohousing colleagues and together we have developed values for the community (and we revisit these once a year). We say we aspire to these values; there are times when we may fall short, but at least we have the agreement among us that we can be called on our short-falling, if necessary — and each one has the responsibility to be honest about this and speak up if we feel the value(s) not being honored.
    For me, this means I not only have my own conscience to guide me in my daily actions, I also have some collectively-agreed-upon guidelines against which to check my behavior toward my colleagues, and into the wider world as part of our values extend farther afield into ever-widening circles of connection.

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