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?

  • Great post! Having and following our core values are so essential. The time to establish our core values is before we are tested in them. A few of my core values include:

    Staying closely connected to God.
    Staying closely connected with family and friends.

    Serving and adding value to others.

    To grow and learn(Be a lifelong learner)

    • Absolutely, Dan. You are exemplifying these values every day. Thanks for doing that. When and how did you develop your core values?

      • Thank you Paul! It has been a process, don’t know how many years.

  • Time in errodes awareness of. That is a statement that we need to carry around with us 24/7 because you are correct when saying that we need to keep our core values with us which should derived from the Bible. Some of us create our own core values that are not aligned with God’s moral, providential or personal will for ourlives.

    • Yes, spot on Lincoln. This post was to merely highlight the process of creating core values. There will be another post on how we need to create values that are inspired by the Word of God, rooted in the our identity in Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. When we exhibit values that are consistent with the teachings of Jesus, we truly become fruitful, like the good soil Jesus talks about in one of his parables.

      I’d love to know what your top core values are brother.

  • DS

    Having core values as a person, and as an organization can help you and others make better decisions. It’s important to have these in a place to serve as a constant reminder as well.

    • Yes you’re right David, Better decisions. I’m curious – what are your core values and how did you develop them?

  • Mel Thompson

    Some terrific CV’s to keep close. Made me think and remember the CV’s JESUS gives in the Gospel of Luke: The upright (honorable, intrinsically good) man out of the good treasure [stored] in his heart PRODUCES what is upright (honorable and intrinsically good), and the evil man out of the evil storehouse brings forth that which is depraved (wicked and intrinsically evil); for out of the abundance (overflow) of the HEART his mouth speaks. ~ Luke 6:45 Amplified Bible. Our “core values” are who we are in Christ–or NOT!

    • Thanks Mel for your thoughts! You’re so right. I love your last sentence. “Our core values are who are in Christ — or NOT!” As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to emulate Him in every day. Thanks for a great reminder we are His.

  • Florence Achama

    Great post Paul! I have to admit that the term ‘core values’ isn’t something I would usually use in my everyday life, but I can see some real benefit to consciously thinking your values out as you have suggested. I have hard of core beliefs though, which is a term maybe similar to CVs, however core beliefs are often unconscious beliefs which shape the way we view the world and behave, most likely due to some of the things you pointed out in point 1.

    Ps. I loved point 2 – something to def. remember.

    • Thanks Florence for sharing your thoughts. You’re right, a lot of core values or core beliefs are unconscious. When we encounter situations where we must make BIG decisions, core values serve as a compass. This will help us live a more consistent and authentic life.

  • I really have never thought about core values being verbs instead of nouns. I loved this. I like how you talked about making our core values punchy too – not just cliches. And I really loved how you listed your own five core values. I agree that less is more. Thanks for sharing this. I also never thought about my tombstone being my diploma. LOL. Great stuff, Paul. I’m so glad I found your site. blessings, Amy

    • Thanks Amy for sharing your thoughts here. So often companies come up with core values that are just corporate talk. For instance, Enron’s core values—announced on banners throughout the corporation—were communication, respect, integrity and excellence. The rest is history. Core values matter only if it’s acted upon – to serve as a compass to making meaningful and authentic decisions.

  • Great article Paul, thanks for sharing. Maybe not enough verbs 🙂 but our company core values have helped me build this business

  • grace

    Which should come first? Creating your Core values or your mission-vision?