What’s Your Why?

What’s Your Why?
When we start from first principles and ask ourselves why, we can better progress and move onto our how. It is possible for our why to change at various points in our weeks, months or over the course of our lives. It’s therefore important to know what we truly value, in order to adapt to the circumstances around us.


Personal and Corporate Core Values

Our values determine our actions because they denote the degree of importance we place on things we believe to be necessary for the way we live and work. They’re also the measures we use to tell ourselves if our lives are turning out the way we really want them to.

As a company (or individual), core values determine whether or not you are on the right path, and act as an unwavering guide in an environment of ever-changing variables. A company’s core values are often a reflection of the personal values of the founding team, making personal and corporate values inextricably linked.

Often, when you hear someone discuss why they fell in love with their other half, they will mention that it was because they share the same core values – internal beliefs that dictate how life should be lived. The difficulties in pinpointing our true motives and values lies in unpicking what we think we should want, versus what nourishes our soul.

What we think we should want tends to form as a result of outside influence or subconscious insecurity. It is therefore possible to have both positive and negative core values, if these dictate how we live our lives. Negative attitudes and values can be cultivated as a result of fear and enforced focus on survival in difficult circumstances.


Examples of Negative Personal Core Values

  • A belief that the world is a fundamentally brutal place and that only the strong or selfish survive

  • A belief that people are powerless to change their fates or personal situations

  • A belief that you are undeserving of good things or relationships in life

  • A belief that other people are fundamentally untrustworthy or unloving

  • A belief that life is meaningless

We tend to get back what we put out. Therefore if we do not stop to identify and question our core beliefs, we will find ourselves living through the lens of confirmation bias. Whilst it is important to acknowledge that there is always a Yin to the Yang, where we continually place our focus makes a difference to our overall perspective, and therefore behaviour.


Examples of Positive Personal Core Values

  • A belief that the world is full of small acts of kindness, and that co-operation is key to survival

  • A belief that people have the agency and will power to change their fates and situations, even when the circumstances may be different

  • A belief that you are deserving of good things and relationships in life

  • A belief that people are fundamentally trustworthy and loving, and have the potential to change

  • A belief that we can choose to create meaning out of the meaningless

Our out-dated model of Capitalism and societal values tends to reflect the former more than the latter. Making it necessary to embrace choosing to transition away from the view of ‘survival of the fittest’ and towards a survival of the fairestapproach.


Survival in difficult circumstances does cultivate or uncover some of the negative core values inherent in all of us. And striving to bring access to the basic levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for all, is something we should be continually aiming for, as a co-operative species.

We are indeed creatures of our environment, however the main purpose of authentic fundamental values is that they act as a guideline independent of circumstance. You will no doubt find people in high society who spend their surplus time being utterly miserable to each-other, whilst some of the poorest places on the planet still demonstrate every day acts of genuine kindness and generosity.

So I guess we all go through our own relative experiences as humans and come out taking away different things from them, at different points in time. Recognising that we are each a result of our background and experiences in life is part of cultivating understanding and compassion, not a part of labelling or categorising, for the purpose of stereotyping or judging.

Acknowledging our negative core values requires humility and acceptance. The paradox is often that any desire for change should be rooted in a place of acknowledgement of the truth, and acceptance of where we are right now. This ensures a positive approach focused on growth, as opposed to a punishing approach focused on lack.


Positive Corporate Core Values

Corporate core values determine how the company operates in business, while their mission statement determines how they can go beyond this to serve the community. At spaces like x+why, all companies sign a manifesto before joining, ensuring that they can unite, inspire and amplify a variety of purpose-driven businesses, brought together by a common mission – to keep making the world a better place for all.

Building positive core values into our enterprise, is a means of creating greater change in our economic and societal systems. As with the B Corporation movement, this is necessary to bring us all into a new paradigm of purpose and net positive value for the Triple Bottom Line – people, planet and profit, in tandem. Examples of these core values include:

  • A commitment to sustainability: companies like Patagonia have environmental sustainability as a core value. This is embodied by their mission statement to ‘save our home planet’.

  • A commitment to doing good for the whole: there’s no denying that Google has changed the way we access the internet forever, adopting the motto ‘don’t be evil’. However there are also modern versions such as Ecosia, who plant a tree for every search conducted, and DuckDuckGo who protect your privacy without tracking you.

  • A commitment to helping those less fortunate: the shoe company TOMS gives away one pair of shoes to someone in need, for every pair that it sells, in an effort to alleviate some of the effects of poverty.

  • A commitment to building strong communities: Start-up spaces like X+Why work with the local community to support local enterprise and bring value and opportunities to the area, through developing relationships.


Uncovering Your Core Values

The only sustainable values, are those that we inherently hold to be true, as an integral part of who we are, or are becoming, deep down. There are countless core values to choose from, and it’s natural to want to adopt a long list in order to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Whilst this is indeed noble, it is more effective to pin point just 2 or 3 authentic motives. This will allow you to better leverage these to focus on your mission in life, without being spread too thin, or becoming too distracted.

Some ideas for inspiration include: dependable, reliable, loyal, loving, committed, open-minded, consistent, honest, efficient, innovative, creative, good humoured, forgiving, grateful, compassionate, adventurous, motivated, optimistic, passionate, patient, respectful, curious, resilient, courageous, and generous.

Once you have identified a few that resonate with you, you can take a deeper look into some of these, and what is really required of them. Here are 10 examples:

  1. Courage: is doing what you believe needs to be done, not in the absence of fear, but in spite of it. It may be difficult but it will feel like ‘the right thing to do’. Courage requires that we step outside of our comfort zones, when something you know you have to do makes you feel sick inside, courage gives you the strength to do it anyway.

  2. Kindness and Compassion: is treating others the way we would wish to be treated. More than just holding our tongues when we feel triggered, it’s about actively looking for ways to lift others up, remind them that they’re not alone, and getting joy out of helping others remember their worth as a unique individual. Kindness and compassion are close relatives. We are more likely to act with the former, when the latter enables us to see a situation from the perspective of another, and give them the benefit of the doubt. It also helps us to understand the impact of what we take away from our experiences in life, which in turn helps us be kinder to ourselves.

  3. Patience: with yourself and others is about responding with kindness and respect. Sometimes your priorities have to change to make room for something or someone, that is likely to help you grow. Patient people are good at listening. They value input from others and invest time and energy into understanding their perspectives. They are able to let go of an ego-centric fear of being proven wrong, and recognise the inherent value in everyone and everything.

  4. Integrity: is about acting and speaking in accordance with your beliefs. Spaces like X+Why place a huge amount of importance on walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, via efforts such as their WhyB programme and B Corp certification. Though we may not always be fully conscious of our own hypocrisy, if we believe one thing, but act to the contrary, we are likely to subconsciously build up a growing sense of dissatisfaction and unease.

  5. Gratitude and Positivity: When gratitude is a core belief, you make time for it every day. You prioritise both feeling and expressing it, in your thoughts, words, attitudes and actions. You can better build this into your life by keeping a gratitude diary and incorporating a mindfulness practice. As well as showing your appreciation for others.

  6. Forgiveness: is about letting go of anger and resentment at the things or people that have hurt you. It’s not about saying that what happened was ok, or that you have to let these people back into your life, it’s about having the kindness to give yourself permission to move on in spite of it. This acknowledgement and acceptance gives you back your power and allows you to choose happiness and peace for yourself. We learn to be more forgiving, by forgiving more. A good way to cultivate this is to occasionally journal a list of people you forgive, adding something you appreciate about each of them.

  7. Love: sees the good in everyone, and wants good things for them. It accepts that it may not always know what is best for others, but ultimately wants to see them happy and help them grow. Love recognises that no one reaches adulthood with a character that is fixed and unchangeable, but sees that we are all a constant work in progress. Love is a constant that does not yearn for the past or have ambitions for the future, it says ‘you are enough – just as you are, today’. Love helps us to be selfless and giving, which when derived from a place of authenticity, and not pride or insecurity, can never be overdone.

  8. Growth: people that have growth as one of their core values look for opportunities that will help them expand and develop. They recognise that it’s not about the destination, but the process. This helps them recognise the value of collaboration and challenge, over comfort and security.

  9. Respect: people that are genuinely respectful don’t base their attitudes on titles, status, or superficial ranking systems. They treat people equally, regardless of their age, income or background. In making sure that others feel more respected, you feel more respected too.

  10. Vision: When a vision is not confined to our egos, it comes through us rather than from us, inspiring both ourselves and others. It is not self-serving, and does not consist of the lifestyle you want or the things you’ll have when you’re ‘successful’. But allows you to exist to co-operate with others in the creation of a community that benefits the world, lead by a silent intuition and inner wisdom.


If you are finding it hard to identify personal or corporate core values, it is important to asses your / a company’s actions, which can be complex. For example, Shell Oil Company donates millions of dollars to the university of Texas to improve student education and to match employee charitable donations. Whilst this is certainly a worthy move, and better than not doing this at all, they arguably still cause net harm to both people and planet, in the name of profit, by continuing to push fossil fuel extraction in the long run.

No company or individual will advertise negative core values, but you can asses what really lies at the heart of the matter by examining how they act when it counts. A core value is only true if it has an active influence and if the people or company manage to live by it, at least most of the time.

Changing negative core values requires becoming aware of them, and looking at the root causes and emotions behind our reactions to things. Reflecting in this way will allow us to think before we act, and choose to adopt a different perspective and approach. It takes motivation, patience and practice.

To get a better sense of what your innate core values are, ask yourself what activities bring you the most joy, or what you couldn’t live without. What gives your life meaning and what do you want to achieve (purpose)? Articulating these answers can help you identify a pattern that can be boiled down into a single concept, such as a consistently positive attitude, or using your creativity to make the world a better place.

And remember, the best things in life are free. (+VAT)