Why Chasing Goals Is a Fool’s Errand
Nothing creates more stress than when our actions and behaviors aren’t congruent with our values.
— Darren Hardy, author, former publisher of SUCCESS magazine
I couldn’t sleep. I was having panic attacks several times per week. Often, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, thinking I was dying. My wife (Bernice) and I lived in a high-rise in San Francisco, and many nights after having panic attacks, I’d run to the window to get fresh air. This scared the hell out of me and Bernice.
After visiting different types of doctors to find out what was wrong with me and enduring an all-night sleep lab, I finally went to see a psychiatrist. After explaining my present job and an unethical request, he knew immediately what the problem was — integrity.
I was a partner in a New York–based marketing company. After eighteen years, they asked me to lie on a deposition so they could avoid a potential court trial. I knew my choice was to lie or change jobs.
I was hesitant to leave my current company because I was earning a lot of money. I had drivers take me everywhere, flew first class, stayed in the best hotels, and ate in the best restaurants in the largest US cities. Frankly, I was spoiled.
It was then that I discovered Hyrum Smith and Stephen R. Covey. I read their books. Their words spoke to me. They introduced me to the concept of core values. For the first time, I understood that everyone is different and has different values. I also knew that I had no idea what my core values are.
What Are Core Values?
So, what are core values? I’ve never seen a better definition than the following, by Dawn Barclay, a personal trainer and coach. (This is the definition I will use throughout this series of blogs on this subject.)
Deeply rooted fundamental beliefs. Guides that dictate your behavior and actions. The foundations of what is driving your decisions. Ingrained principles that help you declare who you are and what you stand for.
When I first read this many years ago, it hit me right between the eyes. I discovered my eleven core values and decided it was time to apply them to everything I did. My ethical dilemma at work would be a good first test on how living a life founded on core values would impact my health, happiness, and fulfillment.
First, I created a spreadsheet. In the first column, I entered my eleven core values. At the top of the next two columns, I wrote down my current job and another possibility — starting my own company with a wonderful partner, Vince Cucci.
I wrote a number between one and ten in each box as to how well my current job or starting a new company would honor that particular core value, with ten being the highest score. Then I added up the eleven numbers in the two columns. The result made my choice easy.
I would become an entrepreneur.
Specifically, I would start a company in an industry that I knew well, fulfilling what I saw as a big unmet need by the major US packaged-goods companies like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Frito-Lay, Kraft, etc. These companies did not have a reliable and inexpensive way to deliver free samples of a new product to their target audience. Free samples are very effective for a new and superior brand.
As I reflected back on my thirty years of experience in business (1963–93), I noticed that all of it was in this rather narrow area of marketing. So I may have known as much about this as anybody. I clearly could see the need and noticed that no other company was filling that need. And I had a partner who was a terrific guy and very knowledgeable about this area as well.
Living by My Core Value of Integrity Changed Everything
I had a core value of integrity, and it conflicted directly with what my New York bosses asked me to do. Leaving was not a difficult decision. The spreadsheet and my nighttime panic attacks made that clear.
So, my partner and I started our company in 1993. I began making every career and life decision based upon how well they honored one or more of my core values.
Did I make the right move?
The panic attacks disappeared over time, and our company sales exceeded eight figures within five years. Six years later, at sixty-two, I retired, having exceeded my lifetime financial goals.
Living from my core values brought fulfillment, and peace of mind, that I had never experienced before. Next to marrying Bernice and developing a spiritual life, it was the best decision of my life. (And God knows, as you’ll read later, I still had room for improvement!)
There are so many things that I credit to following my core values, including developing a strong spiritual life; being deeply involved in philanthropic efforts; creating a large, free mentoring group at a local college and teaching classes there; spending much of my time reading and learning; traveling throughout Europe while studying history and art; improving my health via yoga, long walks, and diet; and writing this book.
Fulfillment is more important than achievement. Values take care of all issues about how to spend your time.
An Unexpected Benefit of Living by Your Core Values: Financial Independence
I’m now in my second phase of life: retirement. But I haven’t stopped living. I can now focus on those things that are truly consistent with my core values.
This second phase of life has been even more rewarding than entrepreneurship. I don’t have deadlines and large financial obligations. I have no clients. No one works for me. Entrepreneurship was wonderful and challenging, but it does not compare to total freedom: freedom in time and finances.
Every decision that my wife (Bernice) and I make is now made without having to consider either time or money. I now only do things that I love. Like Steve Jobs recommends, I say “no” to everything else. I also do not associate with toxic people. None.
I now have spent twenty-six years basing every decision upon my core values, and I can’t express the fulfillment and peace of mind that come with only doing things that are close to my heart. Now, I want to share that freedom with others.
My question to you is: how could core values change your life?
You Should Always Focus on Values before Goals
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” 
— Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Focusing on core values has worked for others. In fact, how could it not work? If you make your decisions and actions consistent with your core values, those values that are closest to your heart, you cannot help but find fulfillment and joy.
Many people believe that simply having the right goals will bring them the fulfillment they desire. They ask, “Shouldn’t my goals make me happy?” In fact, almost everything I read and listen to that deals with self-help refers to the importance of goals. “Experts” launch into the best ways to achieve those goals: how much sleep to get; the importance of a morning plan; what one should do immediately before going to bed at night; why people should form good habits, meditate, and journal; and how to avoid pitfalls that can keep people from achieving their goals.
Much of this advice is very helpful, but all of it puts the cart before the horse. All the approaches in the world that help one be efficient and effective don’t help if the wrong goals are picked. Choosing the correct goals is critical. Not doing so is a potential disaster. And how do you choose the correct goals? By focusing first on your values.
Always start with values, then proceed to goals. Always.
So, if we must start with our core values, how do we find them?
I will address that in my next blogs. I can’t say what needs to be said in one or two blogs. It took a book. Hence, I am writing a series of blogs taken from my book to be published in January 2021 — A Fool’s Errand: Why Your Goals Are Falling Short and What You Can Do About It.
If you’d like me to email you the first chapter and notify you when the book is published, please add your email here: https://mailchi.mp/592c9a435a29/a-fools-errand. (Until then, I will share my blogs about core values with you 2–3 times per week. )
 Hardy, Darren, The Compound Effect. Philadelphia: Vanguard Press, 2010.
 Mejia, Zameena. “Steve Jobs: Here’s what most people get wrong about focus.” CNBC. October 2, 2018. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/02/steve-jobs-heres-what-most-people-get-wrong-about-focus.html.
 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press, 1989.