If you aren’t interacting with reality in a systematic way then you’re likely to act as an opportunist — possibly without even being aware that you are.

An opportunist is someone that exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage instead of being guided by consistent values. In this way, an opportunist goes after an end with little thought to the net consequences of their means. 

While an opportunist may gain some short-term advantage, they decrease their likelihood of success over time. I saw this firsthand among the executive team of a startup I joined and subsequently left

Here’s what I saw as the disadvantages of their acting like opportunists: 

A) Work and life become needlessly difficult 

Being unguided by values and exploiting circumstances puts an opportunist in a reactive state. In that, they surrender to the fate of their previous actions.

B) There’s more rebuilding than growing 

Since an opportunist exploits a circumstance for advantage, it’s when they lose the exchange that things make a turn for the worse. And because an opportunist chooses to avoid the experience of failing rather than learn from it, the cost of failure multiplies.

If you instead interact with reality in a systemic way then you can get what you want out of life over time. So how can you interact with reality in a systematic way? I’ll tell you. 

First, you need to work to reveal your core values. Then, add your core values to your decision-making mix. 

The first thing most people do when they want to define their core values for the first time is Google ‘core values.’ Let me save you the time. Almost all of the results suggest that you pick your values from a big list of words. The problem with this method is that you’ll choose superlatives rather than values that are deeply-rooted and that will actually benefit you. 

You want your values to work for you.

I suggest that you find a quiet place to have a conversation with yourself. Ask questions so that you can reveal your values like a sculptor reveals a figure from a block of stone.

A) When do you feel the most joy? 

List three or so experiences (but don’t list more than five because the lack of constraint will make this exercise more difficult than it needs to be). After you’ve written down the experiences,  ask yourself why those experiences bring you joy?

B) When do you experience a significantly depressed mood? 

Again, list three or so experiences. Then ask yourself why those experiences bring you down? Coax out the things that cause your grief then determine the opposite of those things. It’s likely the case that you value the opposite of whatever brought you down (for example, lying causes you grief so you value the truth). 

Act with reality in a systematic way

Once you have your values, add them to your decision-making mix.

So it’s not that your values become the only driver of your decisions, instead, your values become a part of your existing decision-making process.  

For example, if a business opportunity comes about, you ask yourself “will this make money?” and “does it align with my values?” If the answer is no to any of the two, you turn the opportunity down. Don’t worry. there will be more opportunities — better ones that align with your values and that you can compound the value of.