Prepare for the Journey: Values and Beliefs Determine Who You Are

How do you know you’ve found your real purpose?

It is impossible to capture a complete and realistic picture of your past. Your view of your past is, to a high degree, coloured by your values and beliefs. You may ask your family and friends for “objective” feedback but keep in mind that their views will be coloured as well. Everybody has a different set of values and beliefs, and therefore, everybody has a different perception of reality.

Your values and beliefs emerged from the environment you grew up in. Social and cultural influences will have shaped your identity. Therefore, it can be a challenge to find out what your real purpose in life is.

How do you know that you have found your “real” purpose, and not a “conditioned” purpose that you inherited from the past?


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You may even think you have found your real purpose and discover, at a later stage, in your leadership journey, that your unconscious beliefs have misled you.

The answer to this question can be partly found in your most emotional and life defining moments. Not only the most joyful moments but also the most painful moments shape who we are.

The meaning you give to events in your life is what counts, not the events itself.

Be careful to make a clear distinction between the events themselves and how you experienced them. The meaning you give to events in your life is what counts, not the events itself. The same event can be joyful for you and absolutely painful for others.

The most important experiences are the ones in which you were completely alive, fully focused, energised and when everything else became irrelevant. In positive psychology, this is known as “flow” and it is defined as completely focused motivation.

This is not a new concept, it has been around for thousands of years, even Confucius (551 to 479 B.C.) talked about this phenomenon: “So involved and forgotten his meals; so enjoyed and forgotten his worries. So engaged and forgotten the passage of time and not even aware that one is ageing.”

Your core values and beliefs that you captured earlier, are your guiding principles and indicate what is important to you today. They describe what you stand for, what you believe, what you care for, and the meaning you give to what happens in your life.

Whatever leadership path you take, your core values will keep guiding you as you grow as a leader. Every decision you make at every crossroad in your life will be influenced by your beliefs.

This doesn’t mean that beliefs and values are set in concrete and that you have to live with them for the rest of your life. Some values and beliefs may hold you back, the so called self-limiting beliefs. These are beliefs that are often associated with fear and it takes courage to overcome them.

Changing your beliefs can be one of the most empowering experiences. But before we focus on change, we first want to capture what we have discovered so far. That gives us a good baseline to work from.

Changing your beliefs can be one of the most empowering experiences.

You already captured your life defining moments in an earlier activity. In the next activity, you will formulate a first draft of your core purpose. There are two components of your core purpose:

1) a short purpose statement; and
2) the values and beliefs that guide you.

The first part describes why you exist, or why you are here, and the second part describes your guiding principles. This still may seem a little abstract, so let’s start with an example. Walt Disney instilled his purpose and beliefs into a company with the same name.

Walt Disney’s core purpose: “To make people happy”.
Walt Disney’s values (1955):

  • No cynicism allowed;
  • Fanatical attention to consistency and detail;
  • Continuous progress via creativity, dreams and imagination;
  • Fanatical control and preservation of Disney’s “magic” image; and
  • “To bring happiness to millions” and to celebrate, nurture, and promulgate “wholesome American values.”

The core purpose is very clear and succinct and is not likely to change over time. It describes why we are here. Values and beliefs provide principles that guide us within the context of the core purpose. Walt Disney went into media networks, parks and resorts, consumer products, studios and interactive media.

All for one purpose – “To make people happy”.

Nelson Mandela’s core purpose was justice and freedom for every individual. His speech at the Ravonia Trail in 1964, before his imprisonment, illustrates his commitment to his core values:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

After 22 years in prison, under very harsh circumstances, he refused an offer from the then State President of South Africa, P.W. Botha to be released. The reason was that Botha’s offer was conditional and violated Mandela’s core values and beliefs.

It required Mandela to abandon everything he had stood for and retire in silence. As a result, he spent another five years in prison before he walked out of prison in 1990. This event was broadcasted all over the world and signified the start of a legendary chapter in the pursuit of justice in South Africa.

In the following activity, write down your core purpose, or what you “believe” is your core purpose. At this stage, it will be a rough draft based on what you have discovered from your past and who you are today. You may not be able to come up with a very succinct core purpose yet, and that’s fine. We will refine your core purpose as we move along.

Activity 3 Core purpose, values and beliefs

Purpose: Identify your core purpose and list your values and beliefs.

Your core purpose (why you are here)

Go over the results of Activity 1 and 2 and look again at the major themes throughout your life. Write down what inspired and energised you. Keep asking yourself WHY?

WHY you are here?
WHY do you do what you do?
WHY do you make certain decisions over and over again?
WHY are you reading this?

Your core values and beliefs (what guides you)

List the values you discovered in Activity 2 and go through them again. Think about decisions you made recently and assess whether these decisions were fuelled by your core values. Change your core values, or the description of your core values, to reflect the motivation for these decisions.

We have now captured all we need to start the journey.

There are two things left to do:

1) explore and discover where you want to go and your vision for the future; and
2) how to get there – your motivation, desire and drive and the things that keep you in motion.

In my next article, we will take a look at the future.

“Under all that we think lives all we believe, like the ultimate veil of our spirits.”
– Antonio Machado

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Leading the pack image courtesy Ulrik De Wachter@freeimages.com

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