When, by virtue of curiosity and humility, you are in touch with the truth about the qualities at your core (good, bad or indifferent), you can look to the future and ask:
Who or how do I aspire to be (that is different from who or how I am today)?
Why do I care?
What are my concerns or reservations about whether this is possible?
What do I need to do in the future to grow in integrity?
What do I need to do to grow in credibility?
Spend time pondering these questions with whole-minded curiosity, and welcome the responses that percolate to the surface with wholehearted humility. Seek insight in your responses — that is, look for a shift in perception that gives you a better and fuller understanding of your core, the person you aspire to be, and why. Your insight will help you decide on priorities for your continued growth as a human being, as a citizen and as a leader in your community. Finally, commit yourself to a regular practice of behaving and acting in ways that will contribute to your being that person. It is this regular practice that leads to mastery — mastery of both your personal integrity and your credibility. The reward that you reap over time will be a life that has more and greater meaning — a life that enriches your spirits and those of the people around you.
When you say and do those things that are consistent with the principles and values that you hold most dear and aspire to in life, you are taking principle-guided action. Indeed, if your point of departure as you set out in pursuit of what you want (i.e., your goals, objectives, desires) is to reaffirm your commitment to your principles and values, and if, as a result, you do and say only those things that are consistent with your values and principles, then your actions are and will be principle guided.
Yet it will come as no surprise to you if I say: We live in a world where it is tempting (sometimes encouraged, supported, even required) to focus more on what we want to have, or accomplish or experience, and then to say or do whatever seems needed to make it happen. Ours is a world in which the ends often justify the means, or, in real terms, where profit or power (or both) often take precedence over principle.
Since, in the most real way, what we say and what we do defines us, the important question is: Are you being the person you want to be — the person you want to live with? The real work of creating a life of meaning is to be the self you want to live with, rather than being a self you end up having to live with or, worse, a self you cannot stand.
Excerpted and abridged from The Citizen Leader