What Really Matters


What Really Matters

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” — James Openheim

One of my former managers is going on their next adventure and we got to talking about how you know when you’re making the right moves and what really matters. It really comes down to just a few vital things that you can use to stay the course of life.

It’s easy to lose ourselves as we bend ourselves more and more to fit into this situation or that particular job or that particular place.  Eventually you can break yourself against your own values or lose your lust for life.  How do you get back to what really matters?  As your job changes under your feet or as the world around you changes in ways you didn’t expect, how do you find your way forward? … How do you get back “on path”? … or how do you get “on path” to begin with?  You need a simple mental model of your path.

Don’t Break Yourself Against Your Values

If you don’t have a simple mental model of your path, then you can lose yourself in the process of adapting to your world.  You stop spending time in the things that you enjoy from the inside out.  You take on more things that suck your life force out, while giving up the things that fuel your fire.  You start to change yourself in ways to fit the mold that break you against yourself … it’s a slippery slope and it can be tough to know what to hold on to, or what to let go.  Life’s a crazy game of Chutes and Ladders but with a twist … only you can decide how to respond and what success looks like for the life you want to lead.

A Simple Model for What Really Matters

I think the ultimate keys to a simple mental model are this:

  1. Who do you want to be?
  2. What experiences do you want to create?

From there, you can balance against a small set of inputs and drivers:

  1. Are you fulfilling your mission or purpose?  (What do you feel compelled to do or what puts the spring in your step?)
  2. Are you giving your best where you have your best to give?
  3. Are you living your values?
  4. Are you spending time in your strengths or your super skills?
  5. Are you spending more time on the things you want, and less time on the things you don’t?

Why Does This Model Help You Achieve More of What Matters

Let’s walkthrough why this model can help you achieve more of what counts:

  • By spending more time in your strengths (your natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing), you give yourself limitless energy and limitless capacity to carve a path forward in a bountiful way.  The opposite is also true, if you spend all your time in your weaknesses, then just like the game Gauntlet, you can actually feel your life force running out.
  • By giving your best where you have your best to give, you unleash your unique, competitive advantage in a Darwin world of survival of the fittest.  At the same time, you also unleash your unique contribution to the world in a way where you are the world’s number one candidate for that unique position.  This is a Blue Ocean strategy way of driving your day, instead of competing in the Red Ocean.
  • By living your values, you set the stage for more happiness and fulfillment in your life.  If you value adventure, then lead a life of adventure.  If you value family, then make your family a priority.  If you value learning, then lead a life of continuous learning.  The key here is to boil your set of values down to a handful of five that you prioritize the rest of your life with.  This is your personal recipe for getting fire in the belly.
  • By spending more time in the things you want, you spend your ultimate, unique, and priceless resource … your time.  Some say time is all we’ve got.  By finding ways to spend more time in your strengths and more time in your values, you automatically improve the quality of your time.  This doesn’t mean you have to chase after the wild blue yonder, but instead, you can grow happiness right under your feet.
  • By fulfilling your mission or purpose, you bring it all together in a compelling way forward.  As Covey might say, it becomes your “North Star” or your “internal compass.”

Stack the Deck in Your Favor for More Happiness

Here is one more key.  It’s the key to happiness.  You have two chances at happiness all the time.  One is how happy are you, in the moment.  The other is how happy are you with your life?  The first case is about how happy you feel in the moment.  The other is about fulfillment.  By spending more time in your strengths, values, and the experiences you want to create, the more often you’ll experience happiness in the moment.  The more you drive your purpose and give your best where you have your best to give, the more directly you’ll address fulfillment.

So that, my friends, is my story of what really matters.

If you want a step by step approach on building this simple mental model, see my free eBook, You 2.0.

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Photo by DaizyB.


  1. I loved doing You 2.0 and I so enjoyed reading this today….I thought of all the answers I wrote.

    I think the thing I am most proud of is that I live my values – passionately.

    I am very happy in this moment and with my life in general terms…When I feel unheard, I get too loud….I am happy I learned Nonviolent-compassionate communication skills because that work has assisted me so many times in having better connections and to me those connections are what make me happy.

  2. Hi J.D.,

    Your model questions are great jumping off points for making life changes that may at first seem impossible or overwhelming. As with anything, it’s about painting the big picture and then breaking it down to the small strokes so the large task seems more do-able. I love that you ended with the point about happiness, because it really does come down to a simple choice – it’s not a matter of waiting for the THING to happen to bring happiness, it’s being present and fully engaged/passionate in a purposeful life that, as you say, will bring more spontaneous moments of joy and a sense of fulfillment. Great post!

  3. ‘Are you spending more time on the things you want, and less time on the things you don’t?’
    How many people spend time on the things they SHOULD do, or HAVE to do, thinking those things they want to do are secondary to this? Probably way too many. That one really stuck out for me.
    Thanks JD!

  4. Happiness does begin under your feet. But also in the organization of thoughts. It starts here. And right now. I think when you know who you want to become. Work towards it and never cease to resist even when the wind of conformity pushed you back or calls for you to get a sweater, you begin to think and grow, Happily!

    Superb, post!

  5. Hi JD,
    you have a genius for breaking it down simply and powerfully. Defining exactly what we have to give and give entirely of ourselves to world is infinitely rewarding.

  6. I love how you focus on living your values. I think sometimes it is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day and lose track of what really matters. You gave us tips that can easily nudge us back to where we need to be. Well done! 🙂

  7. Well, Dear J.D., I guess my post tomorrow at 5:55 p.m. Central Time tells me I am becoming who I want to be — maybe already am. Creating an experience I long to. Whoo-hoo!! Have spent a lot of time on what I really want to do lately. Time IS making the difference for me!


  8. @ Patricia — It sounds like you have a lot of self-awareness and it’s serving you well. Living your values is a great way to be authentic and flow your passion, wherever you go, and whatever you do.

    @ Positively Present — Thank you. It’s a simple lens that goes a long way.

    @ Tisha — I like your metaphor of painting the picture from the big strokes to the small strokes, in an incremental way.

    @ Alik — It sounds like you’re 100% on track!

    @ Evan — I agree. Life is an unfolding process, that periodically needs sweeping and revisiting.

    @ Kate — I remember the first time one of my mentors asked me the cutting question — “What do you want to spend more time doing?” I was surprised by how it cut to the chase, and instantly clarified my priorities.

    @ Jonathan — I agree. Mental models set the stage for thinking the thoughts that serve you. At the end of the day, I think it’s an important switch that you have to flip and decide to drive from happiness.

    @ Rob — Thank you. I find that precision is empowering. It’s challenging to get to the essence, but it’s also rewarding.

    @ Clearly Composed — Thank you. I like the way you put it … nudging us back on track.

    @ Jannie — Thank you. I think you are in your element. You share smiles and songs with an amazing set of raving fans. You’ve truly found your flow.

    @ Steven — Thank you.

  9. Loved this post, but can’t help but thinking that there are obligations we have to meet, even if we don’t always want to. Supporting aging parents, giving back to our community, there are things that take from the time we would like to allocate to “me” goals, but personally I feel that if I don’t meet these obligations, I’m a jerk. Makes sense?

  10. J.D. Great thought provoking post. I had to kind of think my way through this and make sure I was being honest with my answers. Thanks for all the pointers in the right direction. I do think it is so important to live and know you are fulfilling your purpose.

  11. @ Vered — Thank you. Taking care of aging parents and giving back to our community is actually living your values. You value responsibility and service to others. To be for *you* … doesn’t mean it has to be *for you*.

    @ Sibyl — Thank you. I find it’s a continuous game of course correction. In fact, I think one of my mentors would say it’s about having your *waypoints* in place so you can always get back on track. I remember when her first told me *waypoints* I had to look it up, but I thought it was a perfect metaphor.

  12. Hi JD .. what really matters? As Vered says this can be difficult – & that I do find tricky .. I know I am doing what matters for my mother, and I am starting to get out and do things for me .. so I just need to relax and get on with things .. life is opening up & that is good.

    Thanks – Hilary

  13. @ Hilary — I think that’s the beauty of clarity. Once you are “on path”, even if it’s slow going, at least you are spiraling up. And that is way better than spiraling down 😉

    @ Vered — Beautiful. I think it was important to clarify since I bet a lot of folks were wondering the same thing.

  14. […] are trained in helping our clients to identify their values, but you can do much by yourself. J. D. Meier at Sources of Insight states two very important […]

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