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Most would have found it hard to call Steve anything but a failure.

He was divorced, his two kids were living with his ex-wife, and he was living out of his Ford Tempo. A struggling stand-up comic in the late 1980′s, he made a measly $75 a week.

He was barely making it. And he lived like this for 3 years.

Before reading on, ask yourself: if Steve were your friend, what would you advise him to do at this point? If you were in Steve’s shoes, what would you do?

Would you tell him to get his act together for the sake of his kids and get a “real” job? Or would you encourage him to hold fast to the dream, hoping that big break would eventually materialize?

I read about Steve in a recent issue of People magazine. Of his time living out of his car he says, “It was so disheartening. It was rock bottom. But even in my darkest days I had faith it would turn around.”

And just like in the movies, things did.

The Steve of this story is the now famous comic Steve Harvey, and his big break came in 1993 with a gig on Showtime at the Apollo. Since then he’s become the host of game shows, talk shows, and published a best-selling book that was later adapted into a blockbuster film.

Impressed? Me too. What Harvey did wasn’t easy. We all like a hero story and we all like to see sacrifice repaid.

But for every story like Steve Harvey’s, there are probably ten or more that don’t produce a happy ending. Stories that peter out with a broken heart or a loss of confidence.

We don’t talk about those stories very much because they scare us. But what if the secret to success isn’t achievement, but character?

What do you really value?

What I really admire about Harvey’s story is the level of dedication and persistence he demonstrates.

Think about the hardest thing you’ve ever done and ask yourself if you came remotely close to the level of risk for your dream that Harvey does. I sure haven’t. I’m not suggesting that such sacrifices are always necessary or even desirable, although according to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath, they may be.

The point I’m making is that Harvey was willing to endure those sacrifices and that says a lot about who he is as a person. He nursed a level of optimism few of us can muster in the face of long odds and no guarantees.

It’s Harvey’s character that’s so incredible to me, not his millions. Even if his big break had never happened, I’d still admire him. Talk about an amazing person to learn from.

Of course Harvey’s story wouldn’t be in People magazine if he hadn’t “made it” and made it big.

The fact that people are not held up as role models for success until they have those kinds of achievements under their Gucci belts sends a clear message about what society values and what it does not.

But what if we reframed our image of inspiration so that it wasn’t dependent on the outcome? What if we afforded ourselves that kind of character admiration? How might our lives change?

How to predict regret

Now let’s go back to Steve Harvey’s situation before the big break. Do we advise him to stay the course or go find another line of work?

What we’re really wrestling with here is: which option has the least chance of producing regret?

We think we’re afraid of failure, but most of us know, at least rationally, that we can handle that. But regret? Whew. That’s a tough one. Regret is rooted in shame. It stalks you and beats up your confidence in the corner of your mind when you’re not looking.

We think there’s no way to predict which decision we’ll regret more or less. But in fact, there is a way–and it turns out to be quite simple.

It’s called core values.

Most of you are probably familiar with corporate core values. Maybe you’ve sat around a table, brainstormed a list of words that sound impressive, watched them get plastered on posters around the office, only to later be completely ignored.

I know there’s a lot of hype out there, a lot of big promises about what a program, much less a single exercise, can really do for you. But I’ve done this with enough people that I know it can be a small miracle. I previously wrote about one client’s experience with defining core values, a story that still moves me deeply. I helped another couple understand that the source of many of their arguments were due to conflicting core values. They didn’t need a divorce–they just needed to figure out how to resolve this one mismatch.

Core values are ideally something you use nearly every day. They are the compass for your heart, a counter balance to your brain and its ego. They give you confidence in your decisions and prevent you from making mistakes you probably don’t even realize you’re making.

Without a set of concrete core values to guide you, your life is likely to be inconsistent at best and wildly off track at worst. Used regularly, they create a kind of momentum you can probably hardly imagine now.

For example, you may have wrestled with questions like this:

  • Should I focus on making more money or enjoying my work?
  • Am I hurting my relationships by spending so much time at the office?
  • Should I share my ideas for improvement or keep my mouth shut?
  • Should I clean the house or go to the gym?
  • Should I ask him/her out?

Core values are what you need to answer those questions intelligently. But first you have know what they are.

Today I’m going to show you how to discover and define your core values. This is one of the most popular exercises from my No Regrets Career Academy. It’s incredibly powerful, it only takes a couple of hours to complete, and when done correctly, changes how you view success forever.

As an added bonus, I’m going to host a free webinar on January 14th for anyone who wants to walk through their answers to the exercise, get some feedback from me, and learn some tricks for aligning your life to your values once you have them. The worst thing you can do is come up with a list of core values and then never think about them again. I want to help you make these real.

Register for the webinar (and get your FREE Core Values exercise) here  

If you’d like me to use your core values as an example in the webinar, just post whatever you come up with in the comments section prior to January 10. I’ll work through the examples live in the webinar and you’ll have a chance to ask questions/make comments as we polish them up.

Core values are foundational for success. They are the seeds for a life of clarity and confidence. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!

Happy holidays everyone–from the heart.

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11 Responses to Core Values: How to Predict (and Avoid) Regret

  1. I love the thought behind the concept that our success is not the achievement we seek but the character we demonstrate. That is a very powerful perspective to take, but so very true. It’s the journey.

    BTW – I’m about 100 pages into David and Goliath and agree with you, he makes quite the argument for sacrifices.

    I look forward to the exercise link!

  2. Jen, I really like the image of core values as a compass, guiding one’s daily decisions. As I read, I realized that I’ve been trying to honor competing sets of values, and thereby giving myself unnecessary stress. If I took a long weekday afternoon break to talk with a friend, I’d berate myself for not working harder … and if I chose to work more, I’d berate myself for not nurturing relationships. (Clearly, some core value clarification is in order.)

    Revisiting this exercise has been so helpful that I’ve set a reminder on my calendar to review and potentially revise the list each month. :)

    Here’s the current list:

    1. Love & Authenticity – Nurture vital relationships (including God as I understand Him/Her, self & marriage, friendships & family). Be present to beloved people. Give and receive from my real self.

    2. Energy & Active Health – Honor my body by getting good sleep, eating real, nourishing food, exercising, and dressing warmly and nicely each day.

    3. Create & Encourage – Write every day, and share my best work in essays and books. Encourage a growing group of enthusiastic readers to choose love, lose fear, and find home.

    4. Grow & Develop – Nurture blog readership, speaking engagements, & copywriting business with integrity, mindfulness, and gratitude.

  3. Hi Jen,

    I think it’s important to revisit them every year so this is a good reminder :) It’s easy to forget what drives us and get overrun by social expectations.

    • Yes, that’s really true! So happy to have you as part of the group!

    • On
    • December 18, 2013 at 5:26 am
    • Mandira
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    I signed up for the webinar, but haven’t got a link to the Core Values exercise. Have I missed something?

    • So the way this is supposed to work is that after you sign up, you’re taken to a Thank You page that has a big yellow button where you can download the exercise. Did you not get taken to the Thank You page? We’ll send out a link to the exercise via email to everyone who’s signed up, just in case there are others like you. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Look forward to having you on the webinar. Sorry about the mix-up!

        • On
        • December 18, 2013 at 10:28 am
        • Mandira
        • Said...

        Thank you! It is quite possible that I closed the window before I noticed it. Looking forward to the exercise and the webinar. :)

  4. the thing about steve is that, while he wasn’t making any money early on and he was living out of his car, he was doing work that he was passionate about—performing and practicing his trade. that’s what sustained him. and when people are as passionate about their craft as steve, then only good things will come of it. i really admire people like him. i wish i had that kind of confidence and belief in myself.

  5. People like Steve are unique. That’s what makes them do the things they do and achieve the things they do.

    Sometimes, it also includes a big dollop of obsession to do it too. Honed correctly, obsession can work for you. But how often is it honed correctly?

    Not many people talk about this when talking about Success.

    • Great points, Tom. I agree. Obsession is rarely honed correctly. I think I might write about that. Thanks for the great idea!

  6. You’re welcome Jennifer. People can also obsess about why they can’t do something, as well as obsessing about a particular goal.

    Holding on to why they’ll never do X can become as much an obsession for some as it is for others who put everything they’ve got into achieving Y.

    Cheers!