Chapter 2 - Vision and Values

Chapter 2 - Vision and Values
Contributors (1)
Feb 28, 2019

Throughout human history, people have navigated using the stars.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Polaris serves as a guiding light. Polaris is mostly stationary in the night sky and is often bright. Navigators find Polaris at a point between the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and Cassiopeia, at the end of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor).1

One technique used for navigation consists of locating Polaris in the sky and mentally drawing a point straight down to a landmark in the distance.2

An advantage to Polaris (the North Star) as a navigation point is that everyone in the Northern Hemisphere can see Polaris. From Africa, to Northern Europe, to America –Polaris is part of the navigation toolkit.3

Another advantage is that the position of the North Star is not dependent upon the technologies that surround you. The US Navy, for instance, reinstated celestial navigation in 2016 as part of the training for Naval Officers.

Rear Admiral (ret.) Michael White, the former head of Navy's training programs, determined that the Navy had become too reliant upon GPSs and electronic navigation. This over-reliance on computers made the Navy less resilient in the face of increased jamming and hacking of GPS signals.

A string of US Navy accidents in 20174 , increasing reliance on computerized navigation systems in shipping, and the availability of spoofing applications has made it significantly easier to disrupt shipping. 5

Spending training time on celestial navigation provides Navy officers with tools to improve situational awareness and reduces reliance on computerized systems.6

Rear Admiral White notes, "If you don't have an understanding of north/south/east/west, or perhaps where you're going, it takes you to places you didn't intend to go."7

This is true – no matter what you are doing. Do you know where you are? Do you know where you are going? Do you know which direction you need to take from your current location?


I love the North Star as an analogy. Barring the acquisition of a rocket ship or death (depending upon your views about the afterlife or lack thereof), it’s a destination you will never reach. It’s an ideal.

Within that ideal is a series of destinations – some further than others, some clearer than others.

There are obstacles block the path in that direction, requiring the search for a way around or a less hazardous crossing.

The dark leaves certain hazards unseen, until you trip over it.

Trail markers left by others may lead you astray.

Occasionally, it gets cloudy and you need to find alternate ways to navigate based on your environment.

Consider the experience of some of the escaping slaves in the American South in the late 18th century through the mid-19th century.

Individuals and, occasionally, groups had to move through unfamiliar and hostile terrain.

The escapees could carry no maps. Maps would provide valuable information to the bounty hunters and federal marshals who captured escaped slaves for large financial and social rewards.

Those who had to travel on foot or by horseback relied on Polaris and the “Drinking Gourd” (the Big Dipper or Ursa Major) along with their knowledge of bird migration patterns and environmental markers such as moss growing on the north side of trees8.

Escapees and their supporters used other forms of communication as well to help slaves identify safe spaces and provide navigation instructions between the “stations.”9


The act of navigating on land following the north star strikes me as a good analogy for change.

The escapees knew they had to move towards safety. They knew they had to move North (especially after Florida joined the United States in 1845 – removing it as a safe-haven since it now became beholden to the Fugitive Slave Act). They knew it may be a multi-day trip before they would find assistance and that they would need alternate forms of direction to maintain their course – not just the north star. They understood the danger and uncertainty of the terrain and recognized the need for flexibility and agility to reach their destination – both the first milestone (the first station) and the “final” destination (freedom).

For most of us, our environment and circumstances are nowhere near as dangerous, physically fraught, and emotionally destructive as the slave experience. However, our brains still interpret what is happening in our world today with that same level of danger.

In today’s business jargon – we live in a VUCA world. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex (or Chaotic, depending upon your perspective), and Ambiguous.

For many of us – the dangers are internal.

Am I “good enough?” Do I belong here? Can I keep up? What happens if I don’t? Why did they say that and what does it mean? How does this impact my reputation?

This age of increased information and options only increases the sense that we are in danger – even if we are not actively being hunted.


James Gleick noted “As the role of information grows beyond anyone’s reckoning, it grows to be too much. ‘TMI,’ people now say. We have information fatigue, anxiety, and glut. We have met the Devil of Information Overload and his impish underlings, the computer virus, the busy signal, the dead link, and the PowerPoint presentation.”

It seems that all the information available in the world is now at our fingertips.

Technologies provide real-time communication over distance along with a way to store knowledge for future retrieval. Writing, whether pictographic or abstracted symbols, allowed for the separation of thought from the time, context, and tone of the individual speaking. Communication is no longer evanescent and local. “With words, we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow.”10

With writing, we can remember, manipulate, extend, reuse, and reorganize ideas. Writing also allows for deeper examination and analysis as we sit with the words of others – a luxury not permitted in unrecorded conversation.

Our communications infrastructure connects us to each other – no matter where we are. We can see for ourselves what is happening in the world, without having to rely on literate travelers to translate their observations for us and without having to leave our couch.

Today’s cloud-based social platforms encourage us to share and spread our thoughts without the gatekeepers, or editors. As a result, more people are now communicating more ideas. All this information is being stored, collected, and organized.

Furthermore, the information is not being replaced, it’s additive. We have more to look at, more to process, and more options. James Gleick, in 2011, observed “The information produced and consumed by humankind used to vanish – that was the norm, the default. The sights, the sounds, the songs, the spoken word just melted away…now expectations have been inverted. Everything may be recorded and preserved, at least potentially…”11

Elizabeth Eisenstein recognized, as early as 1963, that “It is not the onset of amnesia that accounts for present difficulties but a more complete recall than any prior generation has ever experienced. Steady recovery, not obliteration, accumulation, rather than loss, have led to the present impasse.”12

“When information is cheap, attention is expensive.”13

Unfortunately, our attention is quickly drawn to the loud and negative.

The late Hans Rosling calls this the “overdramatic worldview.”14 He noted that we are hard-wired to see the negative and not see how far we have come – almost despite the data.15

“We are interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which used to be the only source of news and useful information. We crave sugar and fat, which used to be life-saving sources of energy when food was scarce. We have many instincts that used to be useful thousands of years ago, but we live in a very different world now.” (Factfulness, pg 15)

Rosling continues “…We need to learn to control our drama intake. Uncontrolled, our appetite for the dramatic goes too far, prevents us from seeing the world as it is, and leads us terribly astray.” (Factfulness, pg 15)

With so many people demanding our attention, so many vehicles for those demands, and fewer places to escape, it becomes critical to define what is important for yourself.

Important is NOT the same as urgent.

Furthermore, we are easily manipulated into compliance with someone else’s demands.

Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, spent his career studying compliance. Why do people do what others tell them to do, even if doing so is not in their best interest? What are the factors and techniques that cause one person to say “yes” to another person?16

Cialdini identified six principles that, when used deftly, can cause an individual to say “yes” to a request:

  • Reciprocation

  • Consistency

  • Social Proof

  • Liking

  • Authority

  • Scarcity

Think about the number of people taking up residence in your inbox right now. Take out the people you know - co-workers, clients, potential clients, and people contacting you for help.

If your inbox is anything like mine, what is left is a collection of people who asked for my email in exchange for information – a PDF, or video access, maybe even a book (Reciprocation).

They then use this email to send me more email – sometimes multiple times a day (Consistency).

Occasionally, they will send a testimonial about their work and how awesome they are (Social Proof).

Most of them write in a friendly, conversational tone (Liking).

Many of them will have letters behind their names or may have held important jobs at prestigious organizations. Barring that, they will share brand-name organizations and important individuals they have worked with (Authority).

These emails contain a call to action that expires at a random time to encourage me … strongly … to ACT NOW!!!! (Scarcity).

This dynamic occurs regularly in daily life.

  • Have you ever performed a favor that you don’t want to do to Reciprocate for something they did for you in the past?

  • Did you ever do a task because the requestor Consistently hounded you about it?

  • Have you ever found yourself chanting at a sporting event, rally, or all-hands meeting (Social Proof)?

  • Have you ever done something for someone simply because they asked, and you like them (Likability)?

  • Do you have a boss that leverages Authority to get you to participate in a project you have no interest in?

  • Have you ever scrambled to get a report done because a client set a tight deadline (Scarcity), then that same person didn’t even look at your deliverable until 2 weeks later (if at all)?

Managers, salespeople, and anyone else in a position where they need to influence people to behave in ways they may not necessarily want use these tactics – often to great effect.

Cialdini observed that these techniques tend to trigger automatic behavior patterns in people. These patterns, Cialdini noted, “tend to be learned rather than inborn, more flexible than the lock-step patterns of the lower animals, and responsive to a larger number of triggers.”17

We have these automatic patterns because we are looking for the shortcut.

“You and I exist in an extraordinarily complicated environment, easily the most rapidly moving and complex that has ever existed on this planet. To deal with it, we NEED shortcuts (emphasis his). We can’t be expected to recognize and analyze all the aspects in each person, event, and situation we encounter in even one day. We haven’t the time, energy or capacity for it. Instead, we must very often use our stereotypes, our rules of thumb, to classify things according to a few key features and then to respond without thinking when one or another of these trigger features is present.”18

Others who are clear on their intention can leverage this to their own benefit. The amount of information noise we grapple with makes us less likely to have both the desire and the ability to analyze information or requests very carefully.19

Skillful manipulators know that we are working in an environment of information overload, and often help to CREATE that overload. That overload reduces our desire and ability to discern what is important to us and whether what is being asked of us is in our best interest.

The best way to fight back is to define for ourselves our vision and values.


It’s too easy to allow others to move us in the direction THEY want us to go.

Our systems are set up to support the handoff of responsibility to others.

Furthermore, changing these systems requires significant energy and effort.

Barry Oshry started running the Power Lab back in the 1970s. Using anthropological observation techniques, he identified the system that we find ourselves operating within – and how it becomes dysfunctional. He defines two dynamics – Tops and Bottoms, and End-Middle-End. I personally see it as one big dynamic – with the “Tops” and “Bottoms” serving as ends.

Tops (End) – Tops are burdened by overwhelming complexity and responsibility. They feel unsupported, isolated and out of touch. Conflicts in this area become personalized and irreparable.

Middles – Middles are torn by conflicting needs and isolated from each other as well as from the Tops and Bottoms. Middles often receive little positive feedback. In response, many middles internalize criticism or (on good days) neglect and begin questioning their own competence. Many respond by further isolating from others.

Bottoms (End) – Bottoms feel oppressed and unseen in the system. The behavior of the Tops and Middles seem random and of little positive value. Bottoms don’t have the big picture. They begin to join towards a common enemy (“Them”) and will shun those who break ranks.

Ends push responsibility to the Middle. The Middle is expected to be responsible for moving the agenda ahead. This results in the Middle taking responsibility for things the ENDS should be doing.

“Ends and Middle are out of partnership, but as long as Middle continues to do a great job of meeting both Ends’ needs there may not be a problem.

But when Middle fails to deliver, we can see how Ends fall into being unsupported while Middle falls into being torn.

Even if Middle continues to deliver for both Ends, there is a gradual disabling of both parties, with Middle burning out while Ends grow increasingly incapable of handling their own issues.”20

I think that as we evolve from top/down hierarchies to networks, we find ourselves in that middle space more frequently.

Oshry speaks to how our inability to make everyone happy feels like a personal failing.

It’s a failure of the system. A system we have set up. A system that is failing us more frequently.

Oshry’s solution is to create partnership. To start, he asks questions about responsibility.

Where should responsibility lie? Are you pulling it up to yourself when it should be with those that have the issue or are close to the problem? Are you taking on ALL responsibility for resolving issues and problems and for delivery when some should be left with the Ends? Are you shifting responsibility to someone else that should be yours?

To me, the first step for all of us is getting clear on what is legitimately our responsibility. The second step is starting the uncomfortable process of changing the dance.


The late Sir John Whitmore sees personal responsibility as being crucial to performance.

“When you truly accept, choose, or take responsibility for your thoughts and your actions, your commitment to them rise and so does your performance. When you are ordered to be responsible, told to be, expected to be, or even given responsibility if you do not fully accept it, your performance does not rise.”21

What IS your responsibility?

I hear many opinions on what you should be responsible for.

One school of thought has you take responsibility for everything that happens around you. Failing? – Your fault, work harder. Sad? – Your fault, think positive or you will attract more negative things. Sick? – Your fault, you didn’t do the “right” things to avoid it.

Another school of though blames everything else – your environment, the society, the structures.

We need to have a more nuanced conversation around nature (our environment) and nurture (who we are and who we want to be).


American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr provides useful guidance around what is our responsibility and what isn’t. You may recognize it as the Serenity Prayer:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

Using this guidance as my framework, I approached this work holding the following assumptions:

  1. I can only “control” my thoughts and behaviors.

  2. I can work to create and maintain positive relationships with others through my interactions.

  3. I cannot control what others think and do.

  4. I can work to get an accurate understanding of my immediate environment, then make decisions on how to work within this environment or change locations, if necessary.

  5. I cannot control whether I successfully inspire change in others and in the immediate environment.

  6. I can only inspire change by being consistent with my values and by having my behavior reflect those values.

  7. Finding a more supportive environment is always an option. Even my raspberry bush migrated to find a place where it could thrive. If my plants can do it – so can I.

These assumptions reflect my understanding of what I can change and what I can’t.


It’s easier to function when we are in environments that support us. It’s easier to create change when we are in an environment that supports that change.

One area of responsibility is to find a way to get into an environment that supports who you want to be.

We don’t have control over how the environment changes or whether the environment is as it appears at first glance.

We may go into a new job with promises of a healthy workplace, only to find ourselves knee-deep in dysfunction. First impressions may be inaccurate, but you don’t make that discovery until after it’s difficult to extricate yourself. Unexpected events may change your environment so dramatically that it is unrecognizable.

Things happen.

The environment serves as the context in which we work. The environment provides the feedback mechanism to tell you whether what you are doing serves the environment. The environment rewards those who fit the environment and rejects those that don’t.

The environment does not (and cannot) tell you whether what you are doing serves YOU.


At times, it is appropriate to take responsibility for creating an environment that supports what you wish others to experience.

At other times, it is more appropriate to find an environment that is more conducive to your needs.

It depends upon environmental expectations and your acceptance of those expectations.

It depends upon whether the environment contains the fundamental components of what you need to thrive and the required level of effort to inspire that environment to adjust.

Can you work with what is around you right now? Are there supporters around you? Do you need to find a new group of companions? Do you need to change locations?

Your decision to stay or go is your responsibility. Whether the environment or individuals change is not.

How you work with your current environment is your responsibility. How others work within that environment is not. All you can do is create space for the other to thrive through your interactions.

We won’t know if we can thrive within an environment if we aren’t clear on who we are or what we want.

Without that clarity, we will struggle to determine what we are truly responsible for and have difficulty creating and maintaining boundaries.


Beginning with the end in mind

Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, defined his second habit as “Begin with the end in mind.”

What do you want to accomplish? What does it look like?

Backwards design is a design principle that has you begin with the end in mind.

There are 3 steps to this method:

  1. Determine your desired results

  2. Determine how you will know that you are on the path towards those desired results.

  3. Figure out the knowledge, skills, and experiences that will move you towards those desired results22

There are many places where we can define “the end.”

At the end of my life (whenever that may be), have I done everything I set out to do and done so in a way where I have managed to cultivate loving relationships and been of service?

Or, as Brendon Burchard so elegantly states, “Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?”


Your Eulogy

This life is one big learning experience. For all of us, death is the end. (Note: Barring some change in technology.)

I’m going to make a few assumptions about you:

  • Most of us reading this book will live to anywhere between 50 and 90 years old.23

  • The target audience for this book is between 30-60 years old – so we have already used up a significant portion of our allotted lifespan.

  • We are currently in decent health and of sound mind – so we can still make changes if we aren’t happy with our trajectory.

  • None of the people reading this book are trying to rush the process between now and death. 24

The scope of this inquiry is THIS life, on this planet, in this dimension, on this timeframe. I don’t want to make any assumptions about the existence of reincarnation or past lives or heaven/hell/purgatory or parallel universes. For the purposes of this inquiry, I am going to assume these things don’t exist. My personal belief is that if these things DO exist, it’s “bonus time.”

Let’s maximize THIS life.

The Buddhists practice contemplating death. Buddhist philosophers use this contemplation to get closer to the nature of reality. Death, in this tradition, is the “great leveler.”

At the end of it all – what do you want people saying about you at your funeral?


Exercise: The Eulogies

You have lived your ideal life. One where you have no regrets. You have lived. You have loved. You have made a difference to the people you have encountered.

At your funeral, you will have 4 speakers:

  • A member of the family

    • Who is most likely to give your eulogy? Why?

    • If you had no say about who gave your eulogy from your family, who would step up? Who would your family choose?

  • A friend

    • Who do you WANT to give your eulogy? Why?

    • This is someone who knows you deeply. A best friend.

  • Someone from your work or profession

    • Which one of your colleagues do you want to give your eulogy? Why?

    • This should be someone you have directly worked with and who knows you and your working style.

  • Memorialist

    • Who would lead the funeral? What is your relationship with this individual?

    • This would be a priest, minister, or another person who would lead your funeral ritual.

For each speaker:

  • What theme would each speaker use to define your life?

  • What stories would each speaker tell?

  • What contributions and accomplishments would each speaker emphasize?

  • How would these stories reflect your character?

  • How did you make a difference in his or her life?25

(I have adapted this exercise from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (page 103) )


The Wisdom of the Elders

Let’s go to where we are still around, but we are at the end of our lives.

We’re telling stories, reviewing how we have spent our time over the years, and contemplating what we have and haven’t done.

Bronnie Ware, a former pallative care nurse, summarizes 5 common regrets as people on their deathbed came to peace with their lives. (

  • “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” (taking risks, leaning towards joy)

  • “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Or the corollary: “I wish I took better care of myself and spent more time doing things I enjoy.”

  • “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.”

  • “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Or the corollary: “I wish I spent more time with people I liked / loved.” (spend your time with people you enjoy)

  • “I wish I had let myself be happier.”26

I’ve been very fortunate. My family have provided amazing examples of life well lived. Though they may not necessarily be conscious of how they address these issues, each of them work on being able to say that they have no regrets at the end.

Who are your elders? Who models a life with no regrets for you?


Since I was in college, I imagined myself as an old lady (mid 90s), in a rocking chair, on a porch, surrounded by the neighbor kids, telling cool stories.

Not sure where this image came from – but this visual has guided much of my decision-making and has prevented me from doing rash things.

The vision encompasses two questions:

  • Will this result in a cool story or a cautionary tale? I want more cool stories, fewer cautionary tales.

  • How does this impact my ability to be an old lady? Admittedly, we have limited control over how long we are in this lifetime. This question is a matter of calculating the risk.

Within our Underground Railroad analogy, I see this vision of my old age as my “North” or “Canada.”

Where’s your “North”?


Our society devalues age.

As I write this, ageism is rampant. Our elders are shunted to nursing homes. Individuals who traditionally would have been at the prime of their careers (40-60s) are targeted for layoffs, struggling to find employment, and are passed over for promotions and learning opportunities.27

There is so much wisdom that can be gained from reflecting on our experience or from learning from others’ experiences.

Other cultures do a much better job of integrating the wisdom of the elders.


In 1992, the tribal council of the Flathead Indian Reservation wondered if it should allow mining on trib­al lands. Some argued that mineral exploration would bring in needed money for the western Montana reservation. As the proposal was being discussed, one important group doubted its wisdom – the tribal elders.

Speaking before the council, they made their opinion clear. “It is forbidden,” they said, using a Salish phrase that translates poorly into English, but implies much more than a command or threat. The elders meant that the project would go against their culture, be harmful to the land and have unseen conse­quences for the generations to come.28


Since that time – the Confederated Salish and Kootenai people have managed to

  • Work together with the Federal Highway administration, the Montana Department of Transportation, and developers to modernize a major highway that goes through their reservation while respecting the land, minimizing the environmental impact of the expansion, and increase the population of native flora.29

  • Win a multi-million dollar settlement from a major mining company for environmental damages as a result of nearby mining operations.30

  • Prevent the opening of new mines in the area and close all mining claims in the reservation.31

  • Purchase and operate a hydroelectric dam that provides water and power to the Reservation.32

Tribal elders were consulted each time.


So why are elders valued in some cultures and dispensable in others?

Pulitzer Prize winning author and UCLA professor Jared Diamond hypothesizes that the way societies treat their elderly reflects how that society values the knowledge they hold.

In societies that relied upon verbal transmission of knowledge and culture, the experience and wisdom of the elderly was highly cherished. The elders served as the society’s knowledge management system.

As knowledge becomes more easily accessible, particularly with our ability to go to the internet to find information, and as the technologies that our elders understood become outdated, their experience and wisdom becomes devalued.

Diamond observed that even in cultures with historically strong traditions around filial piety and respect, such as East Asia and Native American cultures, accessibility to modern technologies and exposure to other values has begun to break down the traditions that encouraged respect for older people and provided a place for them where they continued to provide value to society.33


American society particularly devalues aging and the elderly.

A 2013 study out of Princeton University fleshes out America’s distaste for aging and the aged even further.34

Researchers noted three main stereotypes around how younger Americans viewed their elders:

  • Succession – or the notion that older people should move aside to make way for younger people

  • Identity – the notion that older people shouldn’t attempt to act “younger than they are”

  • Consumption – the belief that older people shouldn’t consume so many scarce resources, such as health care.

If a younger person perceives the older person as violating these stereotypes, the older person becomes a target for their resentment.

Some of our most polarizing discussions between generations center around the issues of succession, identity and consumption.

Michael North, one of the authors of this study, noted

“It’s not hard to read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal and see that as the baby boomers are getting older, age-discrimination cases are on the rise and worries are growing about the long-term sustainability of Social Security and Medicare.”35

And we are seeing greater age discrimination – particularly in hiring.

According to AARP, workers over the age of 55 tend to be out of work longer than those under 55. In June 2012, the average length of time it took seniors to find a job was about 55 weeks. Those under age 55 averaged 35 weeks.

Though the job market has improved somewhat, in a 2017 AARP survey over 64% of people between 45 and 65 has experienced some form of age discrimination in the workplace. Furthermore, AARP noted that ageism is trickling down to younger ages. Some respondees are reporting evidence of age discrimination as young as in their 30s.


Commentators from across the political spectrum are also looking at the pressures put on the family. As American families become increasingly fragmented and isolated, the care of children and the elderly becomes the tiring and lonely task of one or two individuals. As a result, the generations that could appreciate the wisdom of older generations are too tired and stressed to listen.

Wrote William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois: “Because of the economic realities that discriminate against women and public policy that is constructed around an assumption of the practically nonexistent ‘typical’ family, the changing American family has become an unnatural disaster for millions, with far too few resources spread far too thin.”36

There are increasingly urgent calls to address these needs, to strengthen the family and have government address the needs of America in the 1990s. And if the nation wants to find mod­els to follow in the future, it may want to look to native Americans. While it, too, is feeling the pressures of change, traditional societies embody much of what America is now seeking.


So how do societies that value their elders differ?

Simon Looking Elk, a Lakota elder, defined an elder as “a man or woman, usually older than the others in the family and community, who, while not elected or appointed, is widely recognized and highly respected for their wisdom and spiritual leadership.”

The Lakotas, and most other Native American groups, believe that the wisdom of the past is of vital importance to living in the present. Younger Lakotas still seek specific individuals who have experience in a domain where they are looking for advice.

Elona Street-Stewart, a Delaware Nanticoke, further elaborated that Elder is a term of respect bestowed by the community; a recognition of that individual’s collective experience and reflection upon that experience.37

“All of our elders, because of their life experiences, their wisdom, are very valuable to us,” said Clarence Woodcock, director of the Salish Cultural Center on the Flathead Reservation. “The gifts they have been given—their knowl­edge of our culture, traditions, our general lifeways—are valu­able and because of that we honor them.”

The story of the proposed mining operation is only one example of the influence elders maintain in tribal issues, said Woodcock. “I could cite plenty of times when people heard the views of tribal elders and that was enough to change the direction of tribal administration.” (

Being an elder is not just given to you because of age. The title is earned and bestowed by the community. This recognition of the value of prior experience, and how that individual integrates that experience and applies it to current contexts, can be found throughout the cultures that still value their elders.

Our elders have a thing or two to teach us about enduring change and handling life’s adversity. They have witnessed great change in our society and culture. They possess a deeper understanding of human relationships and can think across wide-ranging disciplines. They are better strategists because they have experienced many cycles. And many wish to share what they’ve learned.

“If you want to get advice on complicated problems, ask someone who’s 70; don’t ask someone who’s 25.”38 We would be wise to ask and listen.


Exercise: At the end of your life…what stories do you want to tell?

Visualize, as best you can, yourself as an elder in your community.

  • How old are you?

  • How is your health? Are you active? What is the environment you are in?

  • Who are you talking to? Kids? Friends your age? Younger Neighbors?

  • What are you doing when you are talking? Walking? Knitting? Bungee jumping?

  • What are they asking you about? Where are they looking for your expertise? Your experience? Your wisdom?

Free write your answers. What surfaces?

What guiding questions come out of this visualization that you can use to make decisions?


Defining YOUR Values

Google the word “values” and you will find the following definitions:



plural noun: values

1.the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. "your support is of great value"

2.a person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life."they internalize their parents' rules and values"


3rd person present: values

1.estimate the monetary worth of (something)."his estate was valued at $45,000"

2.consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.

"she had come to value her privacy and independence"

Contemporary leadership and self-improvement literature speak regularly about values. Define the values you want to live by. Use them as the foundation for your career and leadership style.

Typically, they will define the values you should follow for you. Some will then encourage you to focus on how to get others to share those values.

Interestingly, I haven’t been in too many places where values are deeply discussed – beyond “You really ought to have these values.”

I don’t know how many people have deeply thought about the values they hold. Our society does not encourage time spent in deep reflection, nevermind about something as nebulous as “values.”

If they have thought about values, it’s more because someone has told them they should hold these values vs. questioning why they hold these values and whether the values they are holding (that they may have gotten from elsewhere) still work for them. Again, there is not much encouragement in our society for this level of reflection.

If they are confident in the values they hold, their environment (whether it is a workplace or not) is not a safe place to discuss these values. Especially if the values they hold contradict either the stated values or the behavioral values.

I’m thinking that helping to cultivate a safe environment for deeply reflecting on, then sharing, personal values is key.

To me, this looks like questioning, staying curious, and being open to the answer.

Most importantly, not trying to shift someone else’s values to look like mine.

More 1-1 time, being clear and open about the values I hold, and doing my best to deeply listen is part of it too.

  • What are the values you hold?

  • Why do you hold them?

  • What does a safe space for discussing values look like to you?


Sir John Whitmore defines Values as “The guiding principles you hold most dear and for which you are willing to stand.”39

Many of us are not conscious of what values we hold.

It can be tricky to separate out the values we have been trained to have from the values that deeply resonate with us. All humans adopt societal values as part of our development. We rely on our communities and the individuals around us to keep us safe – particularly in our early years. Sustenance, safety and belonging are fundamental human needs.40

For many of us in first-world countries, our basic physiological needs are met. I suspect that if you are reading this book, you also operate in a safe environment and a supportive network surrounds you at least somewhere in your life. This provides us with the luxury of exploring the values that have been provided to us by the society and whether these values still serve our growth.

As we grow, change, and have new experiences, our values shift. Some values become more important. Others fall away or no longer serve us.

Richard Barrett beautifully summarizes how our growth towards self-actualization maps to our changing values, “You have no way of knowing that your primary needs are linked to the stage of development you are at, and that at some point in the future when you have mastered the satisfaction of these needs, you will enter the next stage of your development where you seek to satisfy a different set of needs. You have no idea that this shift will affect your values and your motivations.”41

This growth includes a shift in how we interact with our environment. According to Robert Kegan and his Theory of Social Maturity, as we mature and grow, we become better able to see ourselves within an increasingly larger and wider social perspective. We become better able to appreciate things from many different perspectives. We are better able to see how we appear to others. We become better equipped to appreciate the complexity of our social world.42

To complicate matters, our environments support certain values that we may or may not hold. This environment shapes our development. Our fit with our immediate environment impacts our feeling of belonging and, potentially, our ability to survive.

Don Beck recognizes the importance of life conditions on our ability to evolve. Building on the work of Clare Graves, Beck noted that we tend to evolve or devolve in response to external conditions.

  • Where is the majority on the line of human development (time)?

  • What are the physical conditions, both natural and man-made, within the immediate perception of the individual or group (place)?

  • What problems face the individual or group (problems)?

  • What is the individual, group, and cultural placement within hierarchies of power, status, and influence (circumstance)?43

Many of us currently live and work in environments that value rules, roles, standardization, discipline, linear processes and rational thinking. A minority of us live and work in environments that take a more communitarian approach and recognize complexity. Each environment contains preferred, often unspoken, values and individuals working within that environment will be rewarded or punished based upon how well they align with those values.44

By knowing our personal values, and by having an awareness of the values of the environment, we can evaluate whether the choice or environment will support us.


The Inescapable Value

There is one value that we all hold, whether we consciously recognize it or not, whether we work to demonstrate it or not.


We expect integrity from others.

We get uncomfortable when we don’t demonstrate it ourselves.

We feel most challenged when faced with a decision that conflicts with our ability to maintain integrity.

“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul.” - Hermes Trismegistus45

If we are attempting to hold a value that doesn’t resonate with us, we struggle. We develop masks. We spend time and energy attempting to maintain a façade and our reputations.

“Values are the qualities of a life lived fully from the inside-out.”46

Our actions reflect our values whether we are conscious of it or not. When we are acting within our deeply held values, there is a feeling of rightness and congruency. When we are not, we feel internal tension and dissonance. If we are in an environment that doesn’t reflect our deeply held values, we disengage.

Henry and Karen Kimsey-House, along with their partners Phillip Sandhal and Laura Whitworth, observed that true fulfillment for their coachees resulted from their ability to act in ways that mirrored the values they hold.

“Because human beings are flexible and resilient, it is possible to absorb a tremendous amount of discord and keep going, but there is a very high price to pay – a sense of selling out on oneself – and the result is a life of toleration or betrayal rather than fulfillment…The discord can get so extreme, so jarring, that it can become physically unhealthy.”47

We can’t help but demonstrate the values we hold through our actions.

Surfacing what these values are can help us with decision-making and point us in the direction of greater fulfillment.


I grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs. If you look at the local job listings, a large percentage of these jobs require security clearances. Over the years, well-meaning family members and friends have encouraged me to get one of these clearances. I’ve served as a reference for a few friends who have gone through the process, so it wouldn’t be a huge deal. I figure the US Government already has most of my information and I don’t have anything to hide (not that I could – my entire life is on someone’s server somewhere).

A friend of mine works as an information analyst and holds a Top-Secret clearance. I asked him about the process. His response: “If you have any international friends and like to travel outside the US, expect your life to get a lot more complicated.”

My deeply held values include freedom of information and learning. A Top-Secret clearance, by its very nature, prohibits freedom of information.

I’m also blessed to have many international friends and cherish what I learn when I talk to them. I enjoy traveling to other countries. I knew that I wasn’t willing to limit who I could be friends with because of their nationality and I wasn’t willing to limit where I could travel because of national politics. I would rather choose my friends and my vacation destinations for myself.

That conversation allowed me to take the option of “get clearance” off the table. The pursuit of the clearance and the subsequent work would have conflicted with my values. I would have struggled to maintain integrity.

My friend has other deeply held values which includes protection. For him, the life of a Top-Secret information analyst maps to his deeply held values. This is the way he chooses to serve the greater good. He is more easily able to maintain his integrity in this environment than I would have.


We are constantly surrounded by noise telling us which values we need to hold. Society constantly judges which values are “good” and which values are “bad.” Schools, businesses, self-help gurus, and organizational leaders focus on how you can better fit in with THEM.

Let’s flip the question.

Instead, let’s ask: Will participating with these people in this endeavor support my values?

Do the values reflected by the individuals in this environment (by behavior, not platitudes) match my most deeply held values?

It’s easier to demonstrate integrity when you are in an environment that supports your values. Much harder when you are working against your values every day.

By knowing and accepting your most deeply held values, which may be separate from the ones you were programmed to have or the ones that are held by your immediate environment, you can start making decisions among the wide array of options.


Exercise: Determining Your Values

Step 1 - Future: Within your vision for your future, and why you hold that vision, are your values.

Look at your vision and Why you want that vision. What values does that vision reflect?

Free write.

Try not to judge the “rightness” of that value or decide whether this is a value you “should” have.


Step 2 - Lived: Throughout your life, you have lived certain values. Think about the times in your life you have felt most content and at ease.

Write down the scenarios that pop into your mind.

For each scenario – what values did you demonstrate?

Free write. Again, try not to judge the “rightness” of that value.


Step 3 – Constant values: Pull out your lists of future values and lived values

As you look at your lists, are there any common values that appear?

Write these values down separately in a list called “constants.”

These values are likely the values you most deeply hold and will be the ones that you will most easily demonstrate as you move forward. If you are comfortable with this list – you can stop here.


Challenged Values.

I have found that reflecting on both what worked and what didn’t allows me to evaluate the ease with which I demonstrate certain values. Values, in and of themselves, can manifest in both productive/positive/helpful and unproductive/negative/harmful ways.

Let’s take the value of Service as an example.

Think of a positive manifestation of Service in your life - when you felt you truly served another (or others) in a way that was positive, productive, and helpful to both you and to the people you were serving.

Now think of another manifestation of Service where you either walked away feeling taken advantage of or the other party didn’t appreciate your actions. What did the other party say? What would you have done differently?

In this exercise, we are going to look more closely at some values that you might have struggled with or have mixed feelings about. I find that having awareness of some of these values, particularly when they are also part of your list of values for your future self, is a good way to take measure of how easy or hard it will be for you to live by these values.


Exercise: Challenged Values

Think about the times when you have felt most challenged or most uncomfortable.

What values did you demonstrate in your response?

What values do you feel needed to be demonstrated in that scenario?

How would you have responded differently? What values does that response illustrate?

The values you surface in this exercise are ones that you might find challenging to work with if they are important to your future self. This is not a bad thing. Addressing our challenges leads to growth. Let’s refine our list of values further.


Exercise: Value Refinement

You may find that you have few constant values between what you have demonstrated in the past and what you wish to demonstrate in the future. You may also find that what has surfaced makes you uncomfortable. Values can be demonstrated in both helpful and unhelpful ways. Let’s use these questions to drill deeper.

In your list of “lived values” – is there anything within that list you would like to let go of? Write them down.

For each value, ask the following:

  • What worked about this value in the past?

  • Why do you wish to let go of this value now?

In your list of “future values” – is there anything within that list that you have not demonstrated before that you would like to adopt. Write them down.

For each value, ask the following:

  • What about this value appeals to you?

  • Why do you wish to adopt this value?

Optional 2: If it seems like you have a huge list of values, I invite you to narrow your values list down further into your “ride or die” list.

“If you can take only 5 values with you into a strange and possibly dangerous territory, which are the ones you absolutely must have.”48

Start with the values that appeared in your Constant values list – the values that appeared in both your future values and your lived values. These will be the easiest values to maintain since you already practice them.

If you need to flesh this list out further, look at the future values.

What will be the easiest value for you to adopt?

How would you like to begin demonstrating this value in your daily life?


A map is not the actual territory. - Alfred Korzybski49

Now that we have your list of values, let’s look at each value through multiple perspectives.

We are going to start by getting clear about how these values tend to manifest in your life.

Each value has positive and negative manifestations.

For example – a positive manifestation of the value Service looks like volunteering at a food kitchen. A negative manifestation of the value Service is co-dependent behavior.

Each value will manifest within our own actions, how we engage with others, and how we respond to our environment.

Values may also combine in their manifestation. Volunteering at a food kitchen (Service) may allow you to learn about the lives of those you are serving (Connection).



Take the 5 values you have identified. For each value, answer the following:

  • Where has this value appeared in a positive manifestation in your life?

  • Where has this value appeared in a negative manifestation in your live?

  • How might this value appear in your actions?

  • How might this value appear in your interaction with others?

  • How does this value appear in response to your environment?

  • Which environments or situations are more likely to elicit a positive manifestation of this value?

  • Which environments or situations are more likely to elicit a negative manifestation of this value?

  • Have there been examples of where the values combined?


Values over Time, Altitude and Development

This is the start of determining how our values will map to our desired future. To do this, let’s look at how your values may manifest over the following dimensions:

  • Time - The now > today > this week > this month > this quarter > this year > this life phase > long-term

  • Altitude - What is right in front of me/the next step/the details to the very-high level/global/vision

  • Development - How you are growing, maturing and developing mastery vs. what the environment is supporting and how is it changing.

I feel we are being asked to develop the ability to look at ourselves, our goals, and our environment from multiple perspectives.

We need to learn how to refocus the lens-finder to ensure we stay on our path.

Each of us has a preferred perspective.

Some of us lean toward the right-here, right-now and working with minuscule details.

Others of us are visionaries with grand, long-term visions of a revolutionary future.

We're being asked to accommodate the entire spectrum.

Where do you want things to go long-term? What needs to happen in the short-term to get there? (Time)

What is happening now? How do your actions impact you? Your neighbors? Your locality? Your environment? Globally? (Altitude)

How are you coping with complexity? How do your systems accommodate complexity? What is your environment supporting? (Development)



“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Bill Gates

We can only act in the present moment.

We only have certainty right now.

We can only decide what to do next from where we currently stand.

We can base our decisions on where we want to go in the future.

If I take this next step - will this move me towards or away from my desired destination?

Clarity only exists in the immediate.

I only have certainty that I will perform the next task.

I can plan my to-do list for today. Whether I am successful in crossing anything off may be another story - and that's OK.

Slightly more challenging is figuring out what I need to get done this week. I can set time aside in my schedule and try to scope the work to fit the time I have. A lot can happen in a week that we don't expect.

Same thing with the month, the quarter, the year, and other, longer periods of time.

We lose clarity the farther out we go on the time scale.

That's OK.

More importantly is whether you are headed in the direction you desire and that you are clear on why you are headed in that direction.

As much as we wish that our dreams would manifest instantaneously - creation takes time. Often more time than we would wish.

Life happens, energy fluctuates, we make our estimates based on our best-case scenario with our current environment staying static.

This is the reason why we tend to over-estimate what we can accomplish in a year and under-estimate what we can accomplish in 10 years.

We feel we can get more "done" than we functionally can. We over-estimate our time and energy and under-estimate the amount of change in our immediate environment.

However, if we continue to move forward, weaving between the trees and finding the shallow spots in the creeks, we can find ourselves having accomplished more than we ever dreamed of.



I see altitude as scale and scope.

I > my immediate environment > my family and/or department > the organization > the neighborhood and/or market > the nation > the earth > the universe > ?????

We only have control of the I (and some days, for some of us, even THAT is dodgy).

We may influence our immediate relationships and environment.

Everything else, we need to observe and work with (or move on - if that is an option).

The small-scale and the large-scale influence each other.

Many of us are comfortable thinking at one particular level.

We're being invited to look at how our actions influence, and are influenced by, different scales of our environment.

A way to think about this is through the language of business.

Our tasks influence our projects. Our projects influence our programs. Our programs influence our portfolio. Our portfolios influence our business and how our business engages with the market and, therefore, with the world.

Meanwhile, what is going on in the world influences our chosen market. What we see in the market influences our enterprise business strategy. Our enterprise business strategy influences how we organize our portfolios and what we are trying to accomplish in these portfolios. Programs are then developed and projects get funded based on what we are trying to accomplish at the higher levels (in an ideal world).

Think about what is on your plate.

What is the influence on you?

How are your actions influencing your immediate environment?

What might be the impact locally? Globally?

Details disappear at higher altitudes.

The north star is seldom glimpsed in the forest.

Can you see your impact at a level that differs from the perspective you usually take?



Some of the most exciting research over the past 20 years has been in the field of adult development. I talked about this a bit in Chapters 1 and 2.

It’s important to remember that we each have the capacity to continue growing and developing well past our 20s.

What we've learned in the past 20 years:

  1. When we graduate high school/college/grad school that we don't quit learning or growing. Shocking, right?

  2. Adults have their own developmental path.

  3. Most adults stop growing voluntarily - often in reaction to their environment.

  4. Adults can leverage prior stages as necessary - again in reaction to their environment.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lachey summarized 30 years of this research in their book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organizations (Amazon link, non-affiliate).

Let me repeat: adults keep growing (and you can too)!

Understand that this is not the steady, rapid growth of childhood. Instead, adults go through periods of change with periods of relative stability in between. There may be elaborations and extensions within the system during these periods of stability, but the level of mental complexity and the general worldview stays stable.

Kegan and Lachey identified three plateaus adults may experience during their life:

  • The Socialized Mind - We are shaped and defined by our environment and by others' expectations of us. We identify ourselves based on our relationships with others and alignment with whatever we choose to align with - whether it is organizations, professions, ideologies, or other external forces.

  • The Self-Authoring Mind - We develop our own personal compass within which we view the world. This is the level of the leader learning to lead, driving agendas, the development of personal belief systems and codes, and setting boundaries.

  • The Self-Transforming Mind - We learn to learn, recognize the limits of our belief systems, reflect on ourselves and our environments, and learn to hold contradictions and paradoxes. Individuals at this level make space for feedback and modification as they gather information and feedback.

As time passes, the plateau period increases. At increasing levels of complexity, the number of adults who move to the next level shrinks.50

The definition of each level may vary based on the theorist - but the notion that there are further levels of growth, that adults are capable of developing through each level (no skipping!), and that there are periods of plateau (hence the early notion that adults quit developing mentally after their early 20s - many actually do) remain constant across the theorists.

Many adults quit at the Socialized Mind stage of development. And that's OK. Our environment encourages stopping here.

Carol Dweck and her research on Growth Mindset recognizes that a) We've all be trained with what she calls the "fixed mindset" if we are adults in the early 21st century and b) Each of us has areas where we are more inclined to be fixed.

Dweck believes that this fixed mindset is a result of the feedback we receive in our environment in our childhood. We then take this feedback as who we are and where we belong in the world.

There are areas in our lives where we are much more inclined to go along with the tribe. Belonging is a key rung in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.51 There is safety in the tribe and in the socialized mind.

What Kegan, Lachey, Dweck, and other adult developmental researchers invite us to do is continue our development.

We are not stuck with the values of our environments, or the beliefs from our childhood, or the decisions we made when we were forced to declare a major.

We do, however, need to evaluate our surroundings.


The Environment

Complex transformations— societal, technological and work-related—are having a profound impact on people’s lived experiences. A common theme is psychological stress related to a feeling of lack of control in the face of uncertainty. These issues deserve more attention: declining psychological and emotional well-being is a risk in itself—and one that also affects the wider global risks landscape, notably via impacts on social cohesion and politics. - Global Risks 2019, World Economic Forum52

Many of us have been taught to look to our environment for our center.

It's an important part of our development - fitting in to get our needs met, to find safety.

Those who risk working and thinking outside of environmental norms are punished - overtly or covertly.

There's an assumption that the environment CAN protect us, provide our needs, allow us to function.

Part of that environment is our cultural institutions. We have an expectation that these institutions will provide a center that we can use. We've moved responsibility for establishing that foundation to them.

In exchange for our labor, our energy, and our belief - the institutions provide the money for us to make a living, societal belonging, a framework of belief. For many of us, this has worked well.

The last couple of years has shown me that we may have leaned on these institutions a bit too heavily. Or, at least, I have.

A few years back, an entrepreneurial friend of mine asked if I really felt "secure" in my job. "Wendy, 'safety' is an illusion. If you are working for someone else, don't assume you are safe."

He didn't tell me to leave my job (though I ultimately did). His advice was to make sure I establish a foundation that is mine alone. He asked me to think about developing the skills, network, and personal infrastructure such that no matter what happens, I have something to fall back on.

As I've observed my more entrepreneurial friends over the years, I watched them close businesses, go in and out of jobs, and start new businesses.

For each of them, when they went into a job, they did so to help serve a mission that was important to them. When they get what they need out of the environment, and they have done as much as they can do towards the organization's mission, they return to their personal foundation.

The friends that are thriving right now are the ones who operate with a strong personal center. They are not relying on our institutions for sustenance, security, or belonging.

They understand that certainty is only found within.

They understand that we can only control ourselves.

They realize that our best chance at functioning in this complex world is through keeping a strong personal center, making decisions based on that center.53

The outward expression is the development of healthy, supportive, mutually fulfilling relationships with others in their immediate environment.

It may be just that simple.


“One of the many distinctions between the celebrity and the hero ... is that one lives only for self while the other acts to redeem society” - Bill Moyer, paraphrasing Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

How does your life influence your environment?

How does your life influence you?

How we view and engage the world influences how we influence the world.

This truth appears in the teaching of multiple religions and spiritual practices. I think it is the core of all these practices.

The idea is that these teaching provide the personal foundation for engagement by telling you "right" from "wrong." You are then expected to behave accordingly.

These external frameworks are often helpful. Individual interpretations of these frameworks might not be - but, as Joseph Campbell notes, there are common themes that appear throughout the religious and spiritual traditions.

  • Each of us is on a Hero's Journey - with its challenges and victories.

  • Each of us has a place in the world and an expectation to serve within that world.

  • Our purpose is to determine how we can best use our experience to serve.

  • Love thy neighbor.

Our current environment expands the definition of "neighbor."

It invites us to stand in different places to see differently.

"The shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric world view...seems to have removed man from the center - and the center seemed so important. Spiritually, however, the center is where sight is. Stand on a height and view the horizon. Stand on the moon and view the whole earth rising - even, by way of television, in your parlor." - Joseph Campbell, quoted by Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth

Campbell made that observation after observing the video from Apollo 11 in 1969.54

50 years later, we have more options around where we wish to stand. The Internet and technology allow for new perspectives. New ways of defining "neighbor." New options for determining what "local" means.

It is this wealth of options around where we can place our center that may be causing the anxiety and angst many of us are feeling.

It's hard to be agile if the floor we are dancing on is unstable.

Before, it was easier to know where you were dancing. There weren't as many options.

Now, we are forced to take responsibility for developing a strong center.

We can't rely on our institutions to provide that for us.55

Where are you standing right now?

How stable is it?

Who are your current neighbors?

What does your environment look like?

What is your center?

Is it stable enough to build on?


The Phases of Your Life

“What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.” ~Chuck Palahniuk56

I find identifying historical patterns helps to figure out where we are at and where we might be going.

This is the start of a personal inventory that will help you see what you are working with.

Maybe the hardest part of this exercise is approaching it with an attitude of discovery and inquiry vs. remorse and regret for all the things you have and haven’t done yet.

Your past does NOT equal your future.


  • The ideal start-up age is 40 – 60.57

  • The bulk of the work performed by Nobel Prize winners and great inventors started in their 30s and 40s58

  • Julia Childs did not become The French Chef until she was in her late 40s.59

I invite you to look for other examples.

Let’s look at your life phases to date.


Exercise: Defining your phases

This exercise might surface things that may be painful or disturbing. If that is a risk, I highly recommend working with a licensed therapist or mental health professional as you work through this exercise.

Take a few minutes to deeply reflect on your life to date.

Grabbing a pen and paper and free-writing (don’t think too hard), list the most transformational events of your life.

  • For each event, what age or year did the occur?

  • Are events clustered around certain years?

  • Is there a pattern around when events tend to appear in clusters?

Categorize each event.

Is it an educational event such as graduating high school, getting an important certification?

Is it relationship-based, such as marriage/divorce, having kids/empty nesting, establishing key friendships, group participation?

Is it work or job based such as changing employers, changing responsibilities, changing bosses, promotions, starting or closing a business or line of business?

Categorize the events in a way that is meaningful to you.

Do certain types of events appear most often in your list?60

As you look at your life, how do you want to define your phases?

Are you seeing any trends or obvious break points? (2 year cycles, 7 year cycles?)

Within those clusters – did an internal shift occur at that time?

Clusters of events either trigger an internal shift OR are a symptom of an internal shift.

This analysis might take some sleeping on. Feel free to return to this exercise a few times before continuing to Chapter 3.



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