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Have you ever stood at a crossroads in your life, wondering which path to take? I know that feeling all too well. A few years back, I found myself grappling with a life-changing decision. It pushed me to ask a deep, soul-searching question: “What makes life worth living?” Let me be clear, this question didn’t come from a place of despair. Instead, it was fueled by a genuine desire to dig deep and figure out how to live a life that’s truly fulfilling.

In this article, we’re going on a transformative journey together. We’ll explore how living intentionally—aligning your actions with your core values—can do more than just lift you out of life’s low points. It can catapult you into a life brimming with purpose and joy. As Viktor Frankl said in Man’s Search for Meaning, “The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”

This concept lit a fire inside me and set me on a quest that changed my life. It took me from a place of addiction and aimlessness to a life rich with purpose, meaning, and connection. So if you’re tired of just getting by and you’re hungry for a life that’s truly worth living, you’ve come to the right place.

The Benefits of a Value-Driven Life

Ever felt stuck, like you’re just going through the motions in a life that doesn’t feel like your own? I get it. I’ve been there. Back in 2019, I hit rock bottom, struggling with alcoholism and feeling lost. But with the support of a close friend and some serious soul-searching, I turned a corner. By May of that year, I was sober. But here’s the kicker: Sobriety wasn’t my finish line; it was my starting point. I didn’t just want to get by; I wanted a life that felt worth living.

I started digging deep, asking myself what really mattered to me. That’s when I had my “aha” moment. The answer was crystal clear: meaning and connection. These weren’t just buzzwords; they became my compass, guiding me toward choices that felt more authentically “me” than I’d felt in years. As Daniel H. Pink puts it in Drive, “Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.”

So what did this alignment look like in my day-to-day life? It meant diving into books that nourished my soul, hitting the gym not out of obligation but because it made me feel alive, and volunteering at a homeless shelter to connect with and serve my community. Each choice became a stepping stone on a path that felt not just good, but right.

Here’s the golden nugget: When you identify your core values, and those values drive your actions, something extraordinary happens. Your life doesn’t just get better; it transforms. You’re not merely surviving; you’re thriving. It’s as if you’ve been listening to life’s music on low volume, and suddenly someone cranks it up. You don’t just hear the beat; you feel it in your bones.

The Meaning of Value-Driven Life

Ever find yourself stuck in a routine, doing things just because that’s what you’ve always done? Wake up, go to work, and repeat. It’s a trap many of us fall into. But living with purpose? That’s a whole different story. It’s about making deliberate choices that align with your deepest beliefs. It’s not just about dodging life’s pitfalls or getting through the day; it’s about thriving, not just surviving.

After I got sober, my perspective shifted. I started asking myself, “What makes life worth living?” every single day. This wasn’t some gloomy question; it was a spark that ignited my curiosity. That’s when I discovered my core values: meaning and connection. As Emily Esfahani Smith says in The Power of Meaning, “When we devote ourselves to a difficult but worthwhile task—whether that means tending a rose or pursuing a noble purpose—our lives feel more significant.” These values became my guiding lights, influencing everything from the books I read to how I engage with people at work and in my community.

So how do you start this journey of intentional living? First, identify your core values. What really matters to you? For me, it was all about meaning and connection. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can start making choices that align with those values. It’s like having a built-in compass that always points you toward your true north.

And let me tell you, when you start living this way, you’ll feel the difference. It’s like your life suddenly shifts from black and white to full color. You’re not just going through the motions anymore; you’re living a life that’s rich, fulfilling, and deeply satisfying.

The Illusion of Value-Driven Living

The Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Ever heard someone try to justify bad behavior by wrapping it up in a pretty bow of “positive” meaning? Oh, I’ve been there, and it’s a tough pill to swallow. Take, for example, the guy who’s consistently mean to people—calling them names, belittling them, you name it. But when he’s called out, he spins it, saying he’s just offering some “tough love” to help them grow. It’s as if he’s saying his actions aren’t harmful; they’re actually a form of care. It’s enough to make you want to roll your eyes.

The problem with this kind of justification is that it’s a way to dodge responsibility. It’s a way to make actions that are clearly out of line seem okay, or even noble, by attaching them to some higher purpose after the fact. But let’s be real: This is not living intentionally. This is not aligning actions with core values. It’s more like a magic trick where the real action is hidden behind smoke and mirrors.

The truth is, it’s all too easy to slap a label of “meaning” onto our actions after we’ve already done them. But let’s be honest: That’s like putting the cart before the horse. It’s backward. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, says it best: “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives.” In other words, living intentionally isn’t about finding meaning after the fact; it’s about doing things that are genuinely meaningful from the start.

Here’s the real deal: Living with intention means you don’t have to justify your actions after the fact. Why? Because your actions align with your core values right from the get-go. It’s about making choices that you can stand by, not ones you have to explain away.

So, what’s the takeaway? Living intentionally demands a level of self-honesty that can be hard but is incredibly rewarding. It means being vigilant about your choices and asking yourself the tough questions. It’s not the easy route, but it’s the only way to build a life that’s truly worth living.

Identifying Your Core Values

So, you’re fired up to live a life that aligns with your deepest beliefs. But how do you even figure out what those are? For me, the journey began with sobriety and led me to two guiding lights: meaning and connection. As Emily Esfahani Smith says in The Power of Meaning, “When people explain what makes their lives meaningful, they describe connecting to and bonding with other people in positive ways. They discuss finding something worthwhile to do with their time.” These became my north stars, steering me through all kinds of choices, big and small.

Important: Hop over to Martin Seligman’s website at the University of Pennsylvania. From the dropdown, select Questionnaires –> VIA Survey of Character Strengths. After taking the survey, it will help you to see which values are core to who you are. Take the top five to eight, and filter it through the following five paragraphs: Meaning, Connection, Flow, Passion, and Fulfillment. After doing so, what remains are your Signature Strengths.

Meaning. It’s not just about doing stuff that feels important on the surface. It’s about diving into activities that really speak to your soul. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you lose track of time and feel like you’re part of something much bigger than just you. For me, that translated into devouring books that stretched my mind, hitting the gym to better myself, and volunteering to make a real impact in my community.

Connection. This isn’t about having a jam-packed social calendar or a long list of acquaintances. It’s about the quality, not the quantity, of your relationships. It’s those deep conversations, the belly laughs, and even the hard talks that make you feel truly seen and heard. For me, this sense of connection came alive in meaningful interactions at work, my volunteer time, and those precious moments when I was fully present with the people I care about.

Flow. Start by asking yourself what activities or experiences make time fly by. You know those moments when you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing that you lose all sense of time? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who wrote “Flow,” describes this state as being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The world falls away, and you’re fully ‘in the zone.’

Passion. Next, think about what lights you up. What are the things that make your heart race with excitement or fill you with a sense of peace? It could be anything from solving complex problems to helping a neighbor. These are not just activities; they’re reflections of what you deeply care about.

Fulfillment. Also, consider the moments when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re meant to be. Maybe it’s when you’re volunteering at a local shelter, or perhaps it’s those quiet moments when you’re reading to your child before bed. These are the instances where everything just clicks, where you feel a deep sense of alignment with what you’re doing.

These hints—these activities and moments that captivate you—are not random. They’re signposts pointing you toward your core values. Pay attention to them. Maybe even jot them down in a journal. Over time, you’ll start to see patterns, common threads that tie these various activities and moments together. Those commonalities? Those are your core values peeking through, waving at you and saying, “Hey, this is what matters to you. Pay attention.”

Once you’ve gathered these clues, take some time to reflect. Maybe even talk it out with someone you trust. Then, write down these core values. Keep them somewhere you’ll see them every day—maybe on your bathroom mirror or as a note in your phone. They’re your new compass, steering you toward a life that’s not just good, but authentically great.

Wrapping it Up

We’ve covered a lot of ground, haven’t we? From the transformative power of aligning your actions with your values to the pitfalls of misaligned intentions, we’ve delved deep into what it means to live intentionally. But remember, this isn’t just theory; it’s a roadmap to a life that’s rich, fulfilling, and deeply satisfying.

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: Your life is yours to shape. By identifying your core values and allowing those values to drive your choices, behaviors, and activities, you’re not just improving your life; you’re transforming it. You’re moving from a life of mere existence to one of true significance.

So, what’s your next step? Take some time to identify your core values. Write them down. Make them your mantra. And then, start living by them. It’s a journey, not a destination. And it’s a journey worth taking.

Nicholas Cardot

The transformation begins with you. Develop the leader inside you and become the driving influence your community is looking for.

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