How to Create Life-changing Core Values in Your 20’s

Imagine yourself in the following situations:

  • My best friend’s girlfriend invites me to her graduation party. I get inside information that there will be lots of drugs and excessive drinking during the party. Should I still attend the party? I know my best friend will be very disappointed if I miss this special day.
  • Tomorrow is my final exam, and I’m completely unprepared. The grade of this exam will either break or make my opportunity to graduate as an Honors student. My friend suggests creating a “cheat sheet” to use during the exam. Do I engage in this behavior?
  • I compete in tennis tournament with an opponent I know whose skills are sub-par. Do I play with a mindset that I’m playing with my younger sister who doesn’t know how to play or do I take every game seriously?

These are several of the many similar ethical dilemmas I’ve faced in my 20’s. It seems rather easy to make the “right choice” by reading these examples. But we all know that it’s a lot harder when you are actually in these situations. Suddenly, things have become a lot more blurry. In these very moments, you are tested on what you stand for.

A looming epidemic that is sweeping twenty-somethings today is what I call the “CV Syndrome.”

The CV (Core Value) Syndrome is a serious lack of awareness on his/her core values that results in an inconsistent and inadequate life. The implications of not curing this disease is debilitating, resulting in a life rife with regrets and guilt.


Here are several pointers to help you create core values that will set the foundation to greater fulfillment in life:

1.    Reflect Life with a Helicopter View.

Don’t buy into the myth there will be plenty of time before you encounter the hard stop in life. Rather, start viewing life with a 30,000 ft big picture view, and find clues to how God is weaving your life story today. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • What values have been shared by my parents and family?
  • What cultural values have shaped my beliefs and worldview?
  • If you woke tomorrow morning and discovered you inherited $20 million, and had discovered you also had terminal disease with 10 years to live, what would be on your stop-doing list?
  • What will be written on my tombstone?
  • What legacy do I want to leave?

Write down these answers and see if there are any common threads that emerge from this process. Ask these questions to your family and best friends. They will enlighten you with fresh and objective feedback. Circle the top words that reflect your core values below.

 2.    Core values should be VERBS, not Nouns.

Your core values are action statements, or verbs, not nouns. It is the difference between “honesty” (noun) and “Strive to always tell the truth.” (verb). Or, instead of “innovation” you might use “look at the problem from a different angle.” This makes sense because as “honesty” or “innovation” can be a nebulous concept which leaves plenty of room for different interpretations. So, thank about which one compels you to act this way?

  3.   Make your core values punchy. Punchy is memorable. 

Punchy shows your uniqueness. This area a work in progress for me. Here’s an example of a punchy core value. Restaurants almost always have “customer service” as a core value. And they usually simply state those words as their core value.  Cactus Club, a BC based restaurant chain, has a core value “the house of yes”.   Which restaurant probably has a cooler culture? Which restaurant probably has better customer service? In fact, Cactus Club wins on both accounts (i.e., they are consistently voted one of the best companies to work for in BC)

 4.   Stay away from having too many core values.

Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos, a Great Place to Work company has built his company around their core values. He outlines 10 core values, but I would argue that while ten is a good number, people only remember 4, maybe 5. Choose the top five core values and think about how you can weave these values in the fabric of your life.

Here’s my top 5 core values:

  1. Be Rooted in the Word of God
  2. Live Life with Uncompromising Integrity  
  3. Strive for Excellence in Everything I do
  4. Be Intentional about Kingdom Impact
  5. The Tombstone will by My Diploma

Your core values cannot and should not stand alone. It needs to be aligned and integrated with your personal mission and vision statement. Read my post on “How to Develop a Mission Statement.”

Question: What are your core values?