If you want to live your life with meaning, you must reflect on the things that are important to you, and then act on what you discern. This goes for your professional life as well as your life overall. Every once in a while, put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and document your beliefs and values in a granular way. Periodically, go back and add, subtract and clarify as your life gives you feedback. As a check-in, implement the “lousy feeling in the pit of your stomach” test. When you’re feeling bad – I mean really bad, after an action you’ve taken or a result you’ve gotten in your life – ask yourself the following question: “Which of the beliefs or values I espouse am I violating?” The answer to that question will help you to get clear and reaffirm or refine your perspective. Never lower your expectations to accommodate your human frailty. Never concoct excuses or rationalize failure for underperformance. Do not – ever – whittle down your aspirations. Instead, raise your game to get you closer to your aspirations, and move your life away from your fears and incrementally toward being your best!

I’ve thought about this a lot. In an abbreviated version, a narrative of my governing beliefs and values follows:

I’ve never been satisfied “mailing-in” my life or operating on autopilot. I have explicit beliefs about what I want to stand for. I always fall short, but that’s not the point. The point is this: Not many things in life really matter. The few that do, matter completely. Most people lament the perceived wrongs that they feel the world has done to them, or how things should be a certain way and aren’t. They do not spend enough energy dedicated to “showing up” in the world in the way that they what to – no excuses. This stuff isn’t very popular or sexy today because it explains the world in terms of what we owe it, rather than what it owes us. It rejects victim-hood in favor of personal ownership. I believe that we have to stand for something, or we’ll do just about anything.

I believe in the virtues of integrity, loyalty, honesty, courage and valor, accountability for actions and results, discipline and perseverance, although I have failed miserably, many times, in each of those areas. The last two items on that list have always been over-sized challenges for me, because I grew up in a home in which people didn’t demonstrate those characteristics abundantly, so I had to find other role models. Truthfully, the virtues I embrace are all aspirations because I don’t measure up to my own expectations on any of them. When I’m tested, however, I use those character traits as checkpoints. In so doing, I often make decisions that don’t feel right at the time because doing what’s right doesn’t always feel comfortable or pleasurable, but I usually look back later and decide I made a good call.

Most people fill their lives with others who feel sorry for them, who over-sympathize with them, who validate them; people who pat them on the head and say, “There, there now, you did the best you could. The problem isn’t you; it’s the world.” They then go about making the same dumb decisions and taking the same, ineffective actions over, and over, and over again. They develop no wisdom and stay stuck. They are no better off than the guys 5,000 years ago who dragged their knuckles on the ground and wrote cryptic symbols on the walls of caves. I believe in surrounding myself with people who will set an example for me rather than people who will fuel my shortcomings with their own ineffective behavior, or with validation that does me no good. I want people in my life who challenge me to be my best and then support my effort.

In the same vein, many of us – and I’ve been guilty of this more often than I care to admit – select friends, business associates, spouses or significant others who give us only cowardly feedback. These well-meaning enablers make us feel good about where we are. I believe that real friends … true friends … courageous friends … put truth-telling above peacekeeping. They put the welfare of their friends above the survival of comfortable friendships.

I also frequently ask myself, especially in the midst of problem-solving or in the aftermath of an event, “What lesson is life trying to teach me right now?” Often the initial, most obvious, answer to that question is not the real answer, and I need to dig deeper or wait. Sometimes, the lesson takes years to percolate and surface – often too late to readdress the issue that provoked the lesson. The calendar that life uses to cultivate my wisdom is not synchronized with my patience.

In a reference letter that one of my CEO clients recently wrote about me to a peer at another company, he said the following: “When Rand opens his mouth, what comes out is the truth.” That’s the best complement I’ve ever gotten. I believe in pursuing the truth, even if it takes me to very uncomfortable places. I frequently find that MY truth represents reality as I want it to be rather than reality as it is, and I have to adjust my truth to accommodate the truth. I hate it when that happens!

I want meaning in my life. I’m speaking practically, not idealistically. As John Gardner once said, “In my experience, it’s a rare person who can go through life like a stray cat, living from day to day, taking its pleasures where it can and then dying unnoticed.” In my life, I want the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. I want it to build to a resounding crescendo of which I can be proud.

I believe that personal growth is our primary, lifelong mission. It gets easy, especially in later years, to become imprisoned by attitudes, preconceptions and resentments that have long outlived their productive use. We can stay vigorous, curious and changeable as long as we live, although those traits require increased rigor and tenacity as we get older. Someone once said, “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” We can’t change what we have done, but we can change ourselves to do it better the next time. Occasionally – not often, but occasionally – when we’re really lucky, we get a “do-over.” That’s God’s second chance, and we shouldn’t blow it.

I believe in the power of wisdom. Wisdom is imparted by experience, but not always. There is a huge difference between having ten years of experience, and one year of experience ten times. For experience to result in wisdom, reflection, judgment and permanent behavioral adjustments have to ensue. In recent years, our society has given “judgment” a bad rap. We are constantly admonished not to be judgmental, yet the highest performing people are constantly judging. When we decide whether to accept a job opportunity, we’re judging. When we select our friends, we’re judging. When we decide to drive to the office on a particular day rather than taking public transportation, we’re judging. When we choose to forgive someone who has harmed us, we’re judging. When judgment results in persecution … when it comes from a place of certitude … when it fuels our own moral superiority – it’s destructive. When it informs our own, productive spiritual evolution … when it promotes personal growth – it’s beneficial and can impart wisdom.

I believe that character is both forged and revealed by commitments we make and keep. I’m not talking here about our orientation to goal setting and achievement, although those are important components of commitment. I’m talking about inclination to predictably and fastidiously keep our word. When we make a promise … when we give our word … we should consider it a sacred trust, regardless of the size or type. When we say we will do something, we should actually do it. When we say we will be somewhere, we should be there – every time! In our culture, we regard commitments as something we make haphazardly and keep infrequently.

I believe that it’s never too late to find happiness, and that it’s worth a high price. One of life’s biggest challenges – maybe THE biggest – is figuring out which bridges to cross and which ones to burn in an effort to accomplish that, without doing too much damage to others along the way.

At times, I’ve regarded honor and happiness as mutually exclusive. I’ve perceived honor as “doing the right thing” and happiness as “doing the pleasurable thing,” and felt morally superior for choosing one course and overly guilty for selecting the other. With that perspective, neither is a winning choice; in that regard, I’ve been a slow learner with overly rigid boundaries. Conversely, when those two alternatives present an irreconcilable dichotomy that legitimately requires a choice, I find that choosing honor over happiness is more ennobling even if it isn’t as viscerally or immediately pleasing. That lesson has taken over 60 years to learn.

I’ve usually been a person that others can count on, and I relish that. I’ve frequently been the guy who rides in on the white horse to save the day. In a foxhole … when it hits the fan … I’ve been a “go-to guy.” At the end of the game, I want the ball, and I’m not afraid to take the final, decisive shot.

I’m grateful that I’m much better at all of this today than I was a decade … or two … or three ago. I’m still a work in progress, however. I DO find that as I get older, my character and my reputation are increasingly the things I value most, and I’ve learned through the pain of personal indiscretions that without exception, they are more easily protected and defended than they are recovered, once lost.

Now you know me! What do YOU believe, where do YOU stand, and how are YOU doing?

Copyright 2014 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com