Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard how important it is to set goals, you have probably also heard a million different life hacks to help you reach them–get more sleep, meditate, maybe write in a journal. It’s all helpful advice but when push comes to shove, it won’t help you lead a more fulfilling, peaceful life.
That’s because the key to success is how you pick the best goals for yourself. You must set goals to be consistent with your inner core values. In Roy Cook’s new book, A Fool’s Errand, he shows that every person has 10 to 20 core values unique to them. He explains what core values are, how to discover them, and how to use your values to make wise goal choices.
When you build a life around your core values, success will follow. To Roy, you don’t need life hacks, all the tools you need are already inside you.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Roy Cook, author of A Fool’s Errand: Why Your Goals Are Falling Short and What You Can Do about It. Roy, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Roy Cook: Thank you, Drew.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off. Roy, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Roy Cook: I graduated from Oregon State in engineering, physics, and math. I learned after that, I wanted nothing to do with those areas, that’s rocket science and that wasn’t me. I went to work with Procter & Gamble for six and a half years in Cincinnati–they were the Apple of their day. It was tough to get a job there. Good people and a very challenging environment.
Then, I left Cincinnati, and I wanted to live on the west coast and went to work for a couple of other companies over time. Then, when I was about 52, I became an entrepreneur. I retired 11 years after that. All of this was in the field of packaged goods and marketing–Procter, Kraft, Unilever, things like that.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write this book? Did you have some extra free time, was there an inspiration behind it, did you have an “aha” moment that said, “I need to get my thoughts down right now?”
Roy Cook: When I was 53, I had a kind of emergency in my life that I can talk about later. But then 11 years later, I retired. After that, I started teaching about core values to adults free at a local college in Northern California. I learned, in doing that and in reading on medium.com, that hardly anybody that’s writing now, writes anything about core values.
They don’t understand it, they don’t understand its value, they’re writing about goals and life hacks. I just accepted that, but then after a while, I thought, well, this made a huge difference in my life–fulfillment, peace of mind, and financial freedom.
I thought, “Well, that’s the trifecta.” Maybe I should write about what I discovered and what I learned from a couple of other writers 30 years ago, then put it into practice, and what the results were. As I looked around, I could see no other books on this subject except for one where they wrote about core values as though they were something you adopted from the outside.
But my sources said that wasn’t true–Stephen R Covey and his partner, Hyrum Smith. Covey might be a familiar name to lots of you. They said, that core values are internal and they’re with you since childhood. I thought, well, I’m going to write that out, because I think it will be helpful to people who have problems picking their goals.
The goal should come from the values, otherwise, they’re based on things you read about, or a celebrity you like, or whatever sounds like a good goal. That’s not an effective way to grow your future.
Honoring Your Core Values
Drew Appelbaum: Now, were there any learnings or major breakthroughs that you had while writing the book? Maybe through doing research or sometimes doing that introspective writing journey of looking at your past.
Roy Cook: Yeah, there were, and one that stands out is for the first time in my life as I reflected back on it, I can say that until my mid-30s, I was a failure. I was selfish, self-motivated, I was broke–I borrowed money from women I dated who earned a fraction of what I earned.
I was not a really good person. I had bad things that happened, and I would go out on the weekend and drink too much and drive through highway signs on the freeway.
Let’s just say there was room for improvement there. I never thought about that or wanted to admit that to anybody before. But that’s in my book, because part of the book is a personal story, and it’s the way I chose to talk about core values.
I don’t think people are really interested in my life, but it came from there, it came from that.
I also learned later, and I confirmed in my mind, that the reason I reached a level of success in my life, especially what people would now call happiness, but I call peace of mind and fulfillment, only came from honoring my core values fully and in every daily decision I made.
That’s a big deal–there are about 400 values out there and I learned from teaching this that each of us has about 10 to 20 that are inherent within us.
They’re there since childhood, they don’t tend to change much. If you live your life on the basis of that, I think you have the ticket to achieve your lifelong dreams.
We all are different, not everybody has the same level of integrity or creativity or any number of other things that I can name. We’re different, even your wife is different from you, you may share some core values but many you won’t share.
You have to create an activity based on the core values inside you, and if you’re not honoring that–unless you’re honoring some other ones that are equally strong–your chances of being happy and fulfilled are not really good. That’s what I learned in writing the book and right before I wrote the book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is it for entrepreneurs, is it for CEOs, or is this something everybody could read and take something away from?
Roy Cook: Well, I believe it’s for everybody, but when it gets right down to it, that isn’t the case. I found, when people get out of college, they make a decision. They either decide to primarily live a life based upon entertainment or they decide to live primarily a life focused on learning. Now, it’s not as pure as that, you can be interested in both.
However, I found that about 80%, maybe 90% of the people that are out there, their life is based on entertainment–watching TV, even their vacations are places they go and have fun, not to learn or study art or history. They’re interested in parties, and probably when we were young, we all are–parties, entertainment, sports, stuff like that.
Other people are interested in learning, but the average person in this country reads five books a year. Those folks aren’t interested in learning.
People that are on social media two hours a day, which is the average for Americans, they’re really not focused on learning, or if they’re watching nightly news for two or three hours, they’re not focused a lot on learning.
The learners are focused on reading. If you read about them, they’ll read 30 to 50 books a year. Some of the most successful people in business now talk about that. Even our president said leaders are readers. I’m focused on the readers, the ones that feel things aren’t perfect in their life, they’re not where they want to be right now.
There are people that learn, they read self-help. But not exclusively, they might read biographies and literature to learn. I’m not so much focused on the other people that haven’t gotten to that yet. Now, until I got to my mid-30s, I was focused almost exclusively on entertaining myself and enjoying myself.
This can change at some point and you can decide that this isn’t working. I’m writing for those that want to learn and want to have fulfillment and peace of mind.
What Are Core Values?
Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s start from the beginning and the super basic question of, “What is the definition of core values to you?”
Roy Cook: I found there are about 400 values out there. Core values mean those values that are inherent within you. Covey and his partner Smith thought they came at birth. But those guys have a spiritual background and that might be where that came from.
Others feel it comes from teachers, parents, friends, other associates when you’re young. They don’t develop, as best as I’ve been able to see, after your childhood. You don’t adopt core values later in your life, they don’t come to you.
Now, why they’re inside us, I don’t know. But, when you’re looking, reading my book and looking into what your core values are, you will find that these values will resonate with you. I would say that most people are aware of a third to a half of what their values are if they’ve got 10 to 20 of them.
What makes those unique is that they’re really just burned within you. You may have other values that you credit but they’re not core values, they’re not ones you want to really base your life decisions on.
It’s things you’re good at. It’s not one list of things you’re great at and everything else you’re terrible at. There can be a hierarchy there.
Drew Appelbaum: You know, you bring up an interesting question in the book and I’d love to dive into it more. Are the values you choose who you are, or does discovering who you are allow you to choose the right values?
Roy Cook: That’s absolutely a great question. It is a learning question that I toyed with a lot when I was writing the book. On the website, medium.com, I wrote a blog called Who Are You? I think most people if they were asked that, they’d say, “Well, I’m married, I’ve got two kids, this is my dog’s name, this is my work.” That isn’t who you are, that’s what you’re doing.
Who you are, is your values, in my opinion. They’re there to discover. In my book, I have a section called “The little helpers.” It’s about 15 or so circumstances I set up that you can test yourself with. They will uncover values for you.
Somebody you know could probably tell you those things too. I’m going to give you one example, one that I like a lot. You walk into a room, and everybody you know is there, your kids, your family, let’s say your parents, your friends, people you work with. In the middle of the room is a coffin and you say, “Why is that here?” You walk over to look in and it’s you.
Here’s my question, and this is one of my little helpers. You’re going to hear from each of these people doing a eulogy, and what would you like them to say about you? That in my opinion is almost 100% likely to uncover a core value. For example, “He was always good with everyone who was around him, he could help them.” Someone else might say, “If you went to him, he was a good listener.”
Somebody else would say, “My God, she was creative, her house, her garden looked beautiful, and she could paint.” That’s a creativity core value. I wouldn’t have that. I don’t have a creativity core value, I don’t think. I like creativity but it’s not quite there.
Somebody else will say, “Well one thing about Drew is he always told the truth, he had a high level of integrity, and you could count on him.” I believe that those values are there, and I think they will help you find out who you are.
As a matter of fact, the bottom level of the productivity pyramid is your why, your purpose. Then, in my view, comes core values, and then comes goals on top of that, then tasks. At the very bottom, I don’t think you can get to that without doing core values first.
That’s a big question, “What’s your purpose for being here?” It’s very tough to do, I tried that for years. But after I had my values, it was easier for me to define that because I defined myself in terms of those values. I thought a lot about that, and I put in the book, “Don’t work on the base of the pyramid,” which is your purpose or who you are. It will be a sentence definition, maybe two sentences. Don’t work on that until you’ve defined your core values.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, what you just mentioned is really interesting because you hear a lot of these values being thrown around. You say, “I would love to be like that.” What’s the issue when you try to adopt other people’s core values and make them your own?
Roy Cook: Well, here’s what I think happens. I’m going to be a little opinionated here. We read things by people in life that earn a lot of money and get to the end of their life. Some of them who are candid, as a matter of fact, a lot of them say, “Yeah, I was never really happy. I achieved what I thought were my goals. I was making a lot of money, I could do anything I wanted but I really wasn’t fulfilled or happy.”
That’s almost common, that’s a subject of films and media of all types, that’s kind of a universal problem that famous authors deal with. I believe the reason for that is that they didn’t know the goals that honor their values.
Let’s say they had a value of integrity, they’re running a big company, and they found out that they could be a little more successful if they shaded the truth, and they weren’t always honest. Then, they were calling to the court and they had to lie to protect their company.
If you have a core value of integrity, you’re going to be greatly troubled by that, and probably that will be reflected in some way in your health. You’ll be troubled by it, you might have anxiety attacks, which I did. That’s my take on it.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, are core values only valid in terms of somebody’s career, or they also in play outside of the workplace or even once you retired?
Roy Cook: Most of my usage and knowledge about core values has come from retirement. I retired 11 years financially free. I never thought that would happen in my life, I never thought I was that kind of guy.
If I looked around at women and men that were successful, I thought I wasn’t like that. For almost 20 years now, after retirement, I’ve lived according to my core values. In my book, I’ve defined all the activities I do in retirement based upon my core values. I list the core value and the activity that I am doing now.
I’m doing mentoring in school and I put together a group of people that do give-backs with kids in LA and Mexico. Your core values are about your life, they’re not about your career, but your career is part of your life, your marriage is part of your life. Who your mate will be is part of your life, who your friends are is part of your life. Your core values will affect every part of you.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you mentioned this earlier, but I’d love to touch on it again. What does it mean to honor the core values that you’ve chosen for yourself?
Roy Cook: When I wrote the book, I realized that what I felt was obvious, wasn’t obvious, which is, well, you have these core values, how do you use them? I wrote in the book, “How you use them every day.” I took an average day, listed them, and talked about the values being honored. Here’s what I mean.
After you have your core values, if you read my book, my guess is it will take a couple of months maybe, to get to your values, and then another month or two to think about it. If you really have internal issues you’ve got to resolve, it could take longer than that. Once that’s done, you’re in business.
Each day you get up and you don’t do anything that doesn’t honor your core values, with the exception of not ignoring household chores, or you’ve got unusual circumstances like you’ve got an adult who you have to take care of. Or perhaps you’ve got a career that isn’t the best for you, well then, you can’t actually go in and just do what you want and what honors your value. If you want to keep the job, you’re going to have to do something different. I say walk towards the light as soon as you can. Do the best you can.
My situation was a little unique because I had core values. I operated off them for 11 years while I was an entrepreneur, and then 20 years after I retired, and I could do anything I wanted. By the way, that’s what the psychiatrist that I had when I had the issues before I found core values said to me, that when I retired for the first time I would have a blank sheet of paper, and I could do whatever I wanted, and so core values came into play there.
For most people that are working, they won’t be able to be quite as free in doing that, but they can do other things. If they find they’ve got a high level of integrity, they’re not going to work for a dishonest boss, and they’re going to get rid of people that they’re associating with that are negative and bring them down. I have no people like that in my life. I have no caustic people or toxic people in my life. Of course, that’s easier to do when you’re retired.
What is Your Goal?
Drew Appelbaum: Sure. Now, are core values enough once you’ve chosen them and you’re honoring them? Are they enough to get you where you want to be or are there other lessons and learnings, talents, or skills that still need to be incorporated into your life?
Roy Cook: My God, that’s a wonderful question. On the first part, I think they are enough if your goal is fulfillment and peace of mind, which I would translate into happiness. However, happiness is such a vague word–what does it mean? In a real sense, I think that a guy sitting in a bar lounge with a six-pack of beer watching an NFL game will say he’s happy but that is not what I am talking about, not that kind of happiness.
I think if you’re talking about success in business, which is not primarily what Covey wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold 25 million copies. It’s kind of a business Bible. Then there is What Matters Most by Hyrum Smith. They weren’t talking about a career. They were talking about life. But if you want to do what I did, which is that I retired financially free. I have written in the book that you’re going to have to develop some other skills, which will relate to your vocation in my opinion.
I would say this, you definitely will have to develop people skills. You definitely will have to develop courage. Twice in my life, I quit jobs, and in both cases the people that ran the company wanted me to do something unethical. I didn’t want to quit either one. Both were good jobs, I was paid well, I traveled. I was able to live in San Francisco, which I like. If I hadn’t had the courage, I wouldn’t have taken those steps.
Then what you alluded to which is some other people skills, yes, in terms of career, you probably will have to develop other things, but not if your goal is fulfillment and peace of mind. It’s enough to have your core values.
Drew Appelbaum: Are there tools you could use to help your journey and improve on your core values or measure how effective they’re in your life?
Roy Cook: In my book, there is a chapter where there are three tools you can use. One of them is called the wheel of life. Let’s say you have 10 core values, you cut the wheel on a piece of paper into a pie of 10 slices and each of them represents a core value. Let me just give you my core values very quickly without defining them. The definition is everything. So you’re not going to know from these words.
Spiritual, family–and these are in order of importance to me–health, integrity, value-based life, community–what that means to me is giving back–freedom, accomplishment, learning and teaching, resoluteness, and renewal. So, I’ve got 11 of them, let’s just say we have a pie. Each of those, you want to cut into slices.
If you start in the middle of the pie and that’s zero and the outer edge is ten, I am going to ask you to cut the end of the piece on the outside and cut it at a number that represents how you feel you’re living that value or honoring that value, from one to ten. So, if you had a spiritual core value and you felt you’re honoring it, almost a ten, almost as much as you could. Maybe you felt it was an eight, so you put an eight there and then cut the pie at eight. Now, several of them, you might be down to two or three, meaning they’re not developed at all.
Maybe that value was a surprise you even had it, like creativity. Let’s say that’s a two, that would be a little bitty piece just barely off from the center. Once you’ve done that you draw lines around the other parts of all of your pieces. Is it a wheel? Will it roll fast? In other words, if they were all tens, it would be a big wheel and it would roll fast. But if some of your core values are twos and ones and threes, the wheel is really small at one part, and it wouldn’t roll at all. It would be a very bumpy ride.
That may be hard for people to visualize and that’s why I have a picture of it in the book. That’s one way, one tool. I’ve got a couple of others in case one doesn’t suit you. You can keep a record of them and then you can say, “These three are below five. I need to work on them.”
The one warning I would give, and people that work in self-help, professional coaches, and so on, will say this too, work on one of these at a time. If you’re trying to correct three of them, you’re going to be in for a fall. It’s just too much for people to do.
That’s a tool and there are others that are similar to that, but slightly different. One that Eisenhower used, and I think Covey did too, call The Matrix. I won’t define that. That is equally difficult to define. It is a way to look at exactly how you’re using your time.
I want to make sure I answered the question before this thoroughly. Each day when you get up before you decide to do something, you ask the question, “Does this honor one of my core values?” If it doesn’t, you don’t do it. You do what Steve Jobs says, say no. Jobs said, “Successful people say no to most things,” and the Wizard of Omaha said that all the very successful people he knows say no to almost everything. That takes a lot of willpower to do, but if you’re doing core values that’s what you’re doing.
Like in my case, since I’ve got 11 out of the 400, which is about two or 3% of those 400. That means that if all the activities were spread evenly among the values–and they are not but if they were–I could skip 98% of the things that are out there. 98% of the television shows, of the books, of the blogs, of the activities, I’m only focusing on the things that are in my wheelhouse.
There’s no reason not to do that. The other things in there are not things that you love, that are a part of you. I view your core values, those 11 in my case, being closest to your heart. Doesn’t it make sense to do things that honor what’s closest to your heart? I view that as true north.
Drew Appelbaum: Now you fill the book with quotes from famous, pretty important people and the quotes are about how they feel about goals and core values. Why did you choose to include these and how did you go about picking them out?
Roy Cook: Like a lot of people, there are some quotes that I am interested in and collected over time. I’ve collected a lot of them and they are often used to teach. People that work in self-help, like Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss, use them as a way to teach.
I found that I had so many of them, and I was going to put them in a chapter, but my publisher said, “This is unusual because we’re going to have to check the source of each one. The fact that you have seen it a hundred times credited to Einstein doesn’t mean that it really came from him.” I said, “Well, I guess that’s why you don’t see many quotes in books.” I felt that was another way to teach or make my point.
I also felt that people reading the book would say, “Who’s Roy Cook? I’ve never heard of him, why should I trust him?” They probably shouldn’t but if they’re listening to Socrates or Eleanor Roosevelt or President Truman or some very famous writers, I thought then they would hear the same message that echoed time and again.
When you hear this from Stephen Covey, what else can he be talking about? “Peace of mind comes from when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.” I love that, in no other way. Hyrum Smith died a year ago, and I went to visit him in Southern Utah three weeks before he died. I knew he was dying, and his book mattered the most to me even though The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is more comprehensive, and more people have read it.
What Matters Most deals almost strictly with core values, and here’s what he says, “The secret to achieving inner peace lies in understanding our inner core values. Those things in our lives that are most important to us, and then seeing that they’re reflected in the daily events of our lives.” That’s exactly what my book does. So, those two people write about it and I didn’t just pick this quote out. It’s the only thing I’ve ever said about core values, and they both write about it.
There’s a fellow named Parker Palmer. He was kind of a remarkable guy. I only just became aware of him recently. He is a teacher and writer and here’s what he says about how you decide what you do in your life, which is probably your job. “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live, but the standards by which I cannot help and live if I am living my own life.”
Now to me, he’s speaking directly to me. He said you’ve got to learn who you are, and I suspect that people who read my book and are working in a career that isn’t right for them, they’re going to know that, and it’s probably going to encourage them to go somewhere else. That happened to me. I think it would be extraordinarily lucky if you got out of your 20s and knew that the field you’re in was with the right company in the right city and everything was going well.
Once you do your core values it would be obvious to you what’s working in your life and what isn’t. It won’t be difficult, and it is pretty simple to do. Chapter two of my book talks about how to do it. The rest is dealing with different parts of core values but not how to do it. Only chapter two does that. On medium.com, by the way, I have serialized the book and everything except for chapter two is included, so if people don’t want to buy the book, and they’re not willing to spend six bucks when it comes out in January that’s fine.
They can learn almost everything they need to learn and maybe down the road I’ll even publish chapter two, which talks about how to find the core values, what tests to give, and gives a long list of all of them. You’re going to go through on a first look down the list and see the ones that you think might be yours and circle them. I give you ways to work on those to find out the ones that matter and the ones that don’t.
Drew Appelbaum: That’s incredibly generous Roy, and I want to say writing a book, especially like this one, which is going to help so many people, that’s not easy, so congratulations on finishing and publishing the book.
Roy Cook: Thank you. I’m quite relieved after almost three years to have someone be able to tell me that.
Drew Appelbaum: There you go. One last question, if readers could takeaway only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Roy Cook: That you have true north within you, that the answer is within. It’s not outside, it’s not what you need to do, or you need someone to tell you the answer. The answer is within. You probably just need to have a little direction about how to find it. I do find by the way women are probably better at this than men because they’re a little more intuitive. Just in general, I found in my teaching that they tend to know more of their core values.
Nobody knows all of them, but they tend to be a little bit higher on the list. So, the answer is within, you just need to have somebody to point in the right direction and use the little helpers to find what they are.
Drew Appelbaum: Roy, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called A Fool’s Errand, and you can find it on Amazon. Roy, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Roy Cook: A long time ago, a local college told me to go on medium.com. I write on there and people can search out my name. Right now, they’ll find about half of the blogs. There are 13 chapters in the book, and I’ve divided them into 25 blogs, and I have published around 10 of them. Each week, I am going to publish three more. So, they can communicate with me there. They can read each one of these chapters and make comments about it.
Ask questions, challenge me, whatever they want to do. That’s probably the best place because I don’t have a company. I am not interested in earning a living. That part of my life is done with. I am interested in helping other people. I am not against earning money. My wife encourages me not to say I have no interest in money because we want to get the money back that we paid to get the book published, you know it does cost some money.
I do want to say one other thing and that’s a plug. I worked with Scribe Publishing. I have pretty high standards in terms of the people I work with and they’re the best. From soup to nuts, every one of those people is sharp as hell, and they’ve been a big, big help in helping me put ideas on paper, editing it, and then telling me things that I have no way of knowing about in the publishing world.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, thank you so much, Roy. Congratulations again and best of luck with your new book. Thank you for coming on the podcast today.
Roy Cook: Thank you, Drew.