Writing Your Guiding Principles

The following excerpt from my book, The Hero’s Choice, tells the story of when Hal (main character) started thinking about his guiding principles. Donald, Hal’s coach and mentor had taken him up a mountain trail and left him with a task of pondering his life in an old, forgotten cemetery.

Wary, Hal stood alone amidst the gravestones, reading the inscriptions and wondering about the lives of the people who had settled these mountains and passed away so many years ago.

After a while, he sat on a large granite rock at the edge of the cemetery, his mind ricocheting from one thought to another until, gradually, it became quieter and calmer. He began to notice the sights and sounds of nature: the cloudy sky with patches of blue, birds circling high above, a stream flowing in the distance.

What is my life about? Why do I exist? From where he was sitting, he could see a tombstone:

Here lies

Jacob Scovil

b. August 28, 1851

d. July 31, 1906

A person who never quit.

Who was Jacob Scovil? What had he done to merit such an epitaph? It also got him wondering about himself, how he would be remembered. Hal, a person who… He thought about how he’d like people to finish that sentence.

Then a less pleasant thought intruded. How would they finish it today? He thought about Kathy (his wife). She’d say something like: Hal, a man wrapped up in himself, who put his business ahead of his family, who didn’t listen, disappeared when there was something unpleasant to deal with. He felt a tug of grief. She’d given him this feedback often throughout the years. But he’d deflected it by arguing and turning it back on her.

But surely she’d have something nice to say, he thought. A hard worker, a good provider. A rush of sadness flooded him as he came up short trying to think of anything more. At least about the “old” Hal.

His thoughts went to his father and their ill-fated breakfast a month back. No doubt, John would say that Hal was defensive, that he didn’t listen, took offense way too easily. And he’d be right, Hal admitted. He wondered why he felt so insecure. Why he was afraid of feedback. The thought certainly didn’t match up with who he wanted to be.

How would his business partners finish his epitaph? It wouldn’t be pretty, he told himself. Hal is arrogant. He wants to make all the decisions. He doesn’t value his partners.

The realizations stung. But surely, if I died today, people would put a positive spin on things, he reassured himself. The thought didn’t bring much consolation. He didn’t want people to just say nice things. He wanted them to believe them.

Hal’s experience was a wake-up call that caused him to ponder how he was living, particularly his relationships and influence on others. It prompted him to begin thinking about how he would like to be remembered, by the end of his life. If he were living from his highest self, what would his acquaintances and loved ones say about him at the end of his life.

I’ve found this an effective way of clarifying your guiding principles. Think about your epitaph. Jacob Scovil (tombstone inscription above) was remembered as “a person who never quit.” How would you like to be remembered by the people who matter most to you?  How would they describe you? “As a person who…” Come up with three to seven short phrases.

Let me refer back to the example I shared with you from my May 16th newsletter. My friend would have written:

I am a person who…

  1. Above all…loves! Loves others, loves myself, loves the life I create.
  2. Sees others as bigger than they see themselves.
  3. Dreams big, takes risks, takes action, and never gives up.
  4. Operates from a place of clear intention.
  5. Is grateful. Lives with an attitude of gratitude.

Let me invite you to give it a try. Take some time right now or over the next few days to ponder this question and then write down your thoughts. Then take some time to imagine yourself living from this place. What would you do? How would you act differently than you sometimes act today? Then commit to live by these principles. You won’t do so perfectly. That’s okay. It’s not about perfection. It is about direction.

Your principles can become, if you take them seriously, a powerful set of guideposts by which you’ll find greater meaning in your personal life as well as bless the lives of others.


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