Updated: Dec 7, 2020

"Private Santiago had no code; Private Santiago had no honour; and God was watching".

Lieutenant Kendrick, A Few Good Men

Classic Error

One battle we all face repeatedly is our instinct to do something in the near term, which conflicts with our fundamental set of values - which are partly the definition of who we actually are.

So here we mean something like, if you are fundamentally an honest person - one who doesn't tell lies; imagine if you are in a situation which requires you to lie. Here I don't mean a white lie; but an actual, big, ugly lie. Maybe you missed work and don't trust your boss to understand you were just brutally hung over in the right way. Maybe you are unhappy with your new role but don't feel empowered to say so, and pretend to be happy about it. So you feel like, sure I hate to lie normally; but in this instance, I kind of need to, and it is for the best.


That's a classic mistake.

Let's Break It Down

What you're actually doing there, is sacrificing long term success for short term comfort. Let's break it down:

In the first instance, you are in a certain situation, and your set of values is telling you what to do. You are honest, so it screams at you "don't lie". You are thorough, so it screams at you to check and double check. You are loyal, so it tells you to keep a confidence. It is screaming at you what to do, according to who you are.

Now, due to a set of circumstances, as contrived above, doing this is uncomfortable. For one reason or another, to do the "right" thing is to do the hard thing. Now, it is important to distinguish here - "right" in this context does not mean morally right - this is not a post about being Nelson Mandela - it is about being you. Ie, being "right" according to your set of values. But this is something that is extremely commonplace, where you know what to do, but there's an easier way out.

So you rationalise - in this case I can lie, because my boss just won't understand. I can lie, because I don't want to take career risk here.

But here's what you're really doing. When you act this way, first of all you create an internal dissonance - an honest person lying is inherently uncomfortable. This causes you internal disequilibrium, impairs your judgment and likely causes mistakes. Much more importantly, it causes damage. Although you're avoiding an argument, you're actually teaching your boss that you never go out and can be late for work. You're telling them you love your new role and they should give you more of it.

The Fundamental Rule

So, put in basic terms, what you're doing is teaching the universe to do what you don't want it to do. You're teaching those around you to ignore who you are; expect things of you they shouldn't expect; behave to you as if you're someone you're not.

Now, imagine the counterfactual - you do the hard thing, have the hard chat. There are two possible outcomes. One is, your boss reacts well, understands you better afterwards, accepts that you're entitled to an occasional hangover, or should be in a different role. Obviously, this is a much better outcome for you long term than keeping your counsel. The other is, your boss absolutely rejects your position and berates you. Not great - however, this is one more step towards you leaving an untenable situation for a tenable one. If your environment won't accept you as you are, you must change, or leave. You must agree your boss is right and try to change; or agree he's wrong and seek to leave. Because other wise, you're boxing yourself in to a future of unhappiness.

So, in all outcomes, behaving according to your values will lead you to a better, more harmonious and more successful place in the long term. Short term it can cause discomfort and some bad outcomes. But even then, those are the path to longer term happiness. And, the opposite behaviour is a sure path to long term unhappiness.

So this is an absolutely fundamental rule, not intuitive but logically cast-iron important.

Stick to your values; they're your best friend.