Corey Wilks, Psy.D.

Helping Creators Reach Their Potential

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A First-Principles Approach to Fulfillment: How to Clarify Your Core Value

Do you know what you want?

Not on a surface level like money, cars, fancy tchotchkes, or fame.

Do you know what you want on a deep, fundamental level–where your life is fully aligned with what you find meaningful, purpose-driven, and fulfilling?

If you’re like most people, you don’t. Or you think you do, but can’t articulate it.

Most people treat their goals and aspirations like a dog chasing cars. They don’t really think through what happens if they catch the car, or if the car is even worth chasing. They just pick the first thing that flies by them, or what their friends start chasing, then spend their entire life in pursuit.

But you can only chase so many cars in your life. And most aren’t worth it.

First-principles reasoning helps you cut through the clutter and inherited values of society, so you can focus on what matters and filter out the rest.

“‘First principles thinking’ is a problem-solving and innovation framework that requires you to break down a complex problem into its most foundational elements. The aim: to ground yourself in the foundational truths and build up from there.”

Sahil Bloom

Most people don’t use a first-principles approach, they just follow the crowd–which leads to an uninspired, unfulfilling, restless life.

Here’s how you can use a first-principles approach to clarify your Core Value and start building a fulfilling life.


Why Clarifying Your Core Value is the First Step Toward Fulfillment

Goals are great, but most people make goals based on what they think they should want.

When your goal doesn’t resonate with you on a deep level, one of three things happens:

  • You give up.
  • You half-ass it because you’re not committed to making the sacrifices it’ll take.
  • Or you do reach your goal, but victory feels hollow. “Success” feels empty when you spend your life chasing the wrong things.

Most of us can’t shake the nagging feeling we’re meant for more, that there’s more to life than the Slave, Save, Retire rat race. 

But until we take a step back, dig deep into what drives us, and evaluate what’s important to us as an individual, we’ll never know what direction is worthwhile.

I’ve worked with Youtubers with millions of subscribers (and revenue), founders of Google-backed companies, serial entrepreneurs, and other people who were successful on paper.

But despite their success, they weren’t fulfilled by the life—or business—they’d spent so much time and energy building.

Without clarity, they were adrift in business and life–regardless of how many on-paper “successes” they achieved.

How could you avoid this fate?

You create goals that pave the way toward your ideal life where you spend each day doing meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfills you—what I call building an Intentional Life.

But how do you create these goals?

By first clarifying your Core Value, then developing goals that act as stepping stones—where each goal gets you one step closer to an Intentional Life.

Your Core Value is the one underlying value that unites everything you stand for. It’s the running theme across the times in your life you felt most alive, what matters most to you, and the most fundamental piece of what a life well lived must include. For you. Defined by you.

It acts as a golden compass pointing you in the right direction toward your true north, aka your Intentional Life where everything you do is perfectly aligned with your Core Value and you spend every day doing meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfills you.

When you have the tools to clarify your Core Value, you’ll never feel adrift in life or business again.

Example in Action: My Core Value

Freedom is my Core Value.

Shortly after I started doing executive coaching, I had a six-figure job offer.

But there was a catch.

It was a therapy job that required me to work 40-60 hours a week, stress over insurance billing and diagnostic codes, follow a dress code (I hate wearing real pants–long live work pajamas), speak like a “professional,” and deal with a bunch of other red tape.

I like doing therapy.

But I love coaching and creating content.

Having the freedom to spend my time coaching and creating content to help people be more intentional with how they live, work, and create is more fulfilling than any therapy job or fancy salary.

So I turned it down.

Because accepting the job would have taken me away from a life of freedom.

Now, I spend most days writing and creating courses while I wear comfy pajamas. I have the freedom to walk to the kitchen and cook lunch with my girlfriend, go back to creating cool stuff, and coaching inspirational entrepreneurs. Then I go to the gym to lift and train BJJ.

If I won the lottery and never had to think about money again, my routine wouldn’t change much. Because I’ve built my life around my Core Value.

Before I make a decision or take advantage of an opportunity, I ask myself:

“Does this get me one step closer to, or one step further away from, a life aligned with my Core Value?”

It hasn’t led me astray yet.


How to Clarify Your Core Value Using First Principles Reasoning

Just like chasing the wrong goals leads to a life of misery, basing your values off what other people choose as their own won’t serve you in the end.

It doesn’t matter what your friends, business partners, or society-at-large claim to be worthwhile values.

Your values are unique to you.

But it’s not as simple as Googling some values, throwing a few darts at the board, and picking whatever you hit.

Clarifying your Core Value means taking a step back from the crowd and all the psychological conditioning you’ve been fed and taking a first-principles approach.

You uncover first principles by digging deep, and like any task, you need the right tools.

Enter: The Why Shovel…

The Why Shovel

The Why Shovel is simple to use: Anytime you want to get to the bottom of a question—to uncover first principles reasoning—ask “Why” until you reach the fundamental kernel of clarity.

It may take one “Why,” or a few dozen. When you search for buried treasure, how deep you have to dig depends on where you start.

If you’ve done a lot of introspective work before, you won’t have as far to dig. But if you’ve never thought deeply about what makes you tick, it’ll take time.

So how do you know when you’ve dug deep enough?

When you’ve learned to tell the difference between fool’s gold and the real deal. When you can no longer point your finger to a specific person or entity (church, media, society, etc.) and say, “Because [authority] said this is a good value to have.”

Otherwise, you’re still accepting inherited values—the ones other people have told you you should have, not the ones you’ve chosen for yourself.

Let’s look at how the Why Shovel can help you uncover your Core Value.

Example in Action: Mark

Helping people was important to Mark, but he struggled to pinpoint why it was so important.

Here’s how one of our conversations went:

Me: “Why is helping others important to you?”

Mark: “Because I enjoy it.”

Me: “Why?”

Mark: “Because I need human connection.”

Me: “Why?”

Mark: “Because I used to tutor people and realized I was good at guiding them to answers and enjoyed seeing them make progress. So I want to keep helping people.”

Me: “Why?”

Mark: “Because I believe if everyone tried to help each other out, we would be in a much better place as humans. A lot of people don’t go through the trouble of helping someone else, even if it doesn’t cost them anything.”

Now that’s the nugget of gold—the fundamental kernel of clarity that defines his Core Value. He values service to others because he believes if more of us helped each other out, the world would be a better place.

He doesn’t just enjoy helping people. He relates helping one person to a mission that spans all of humanity and has the potential to make a global impact. This is why helping people is meaningful, purpose-driven, and fulfilling work for him.

Not because other people told him it was good to do, but because he’s developed his own reasoning about why it’s important.



Every goal or opportunity has the potential to get you one step closer to, or one step further away from, a life aligned with your Core Value.

The best way I’ve found to clarify your Core Value is to use first-principles reasoning, aka using your Why Shovel to dig deep enough to uncover the single underlying value that unites everything you stand for and is fundamental toward feeling fulfilled.

Once you’ve clarified your Core Value, you’ve taken the first step toward building an Intentional Life.

If you’re still struggling to clarify your Core Value, pick up the Values Audit Card Sort.

It’s a free tool to help you gain clarity on where you want to take your life and business.



If you’re ready to take the next steps and want to learn more about how to build an Intentional Life and how you can build a fulfilling life and thriving business around your Core Value, check out my flagship course.

You’ll develop proven strategies to help you clarify what matters, overcome what’s standing in your way, and do meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfills you.

Check out more details here:

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