What Gets Priority? An Exercise in Discovering and Defining Core Values

March 28, 2018

The Background

I came across The Art of Manliness (AoM) post on defining core values several years ago. I remember briefly thinking about some of the things I value — but I don’t remember ever formally discovering/defining “core values.”

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I got started thinking about these things as I was debating what the next iteration of jonkohlmeiertest.local looks like. Originally I set up the website when I started venturing in the digital marketing/web development world. That venture was short-lived because I was offered the opportunity to do those sorts of things full-time rather than while burning the midnight oil. A year later jonkohlmeiertest.local sits abandoned — much the same as when I first built it.

So what to do? My first thought was to use it as a marketing playground for myself — to begin to build a personal brand. Naturally, as with all new ventures, the first step is to Google a question. In this case: “How do I build my personal brand?” Predictably, Google bombarded me with millions of results, I picked a dozen or so to read, and about 5% of the information I gathered was worth the time it took to trudge through. But something brought my mind back to The Art of Manliness post. How can you set up a personal brand without knowing what you value?

Discovering Core Values

The first step I took was to brain dump things that came to mind immediately. I then asked those close to me what they perceived as my core values — of course I must value something — those who interact with me regularly probably have a pretty good idea of what those values are. People I asked included my wife, father in law, good friends, and my current and former managers. Thankfully they came back with a lot of things that were similar to the ones that I had already written down. (I’m not delusional! … at least in this case).

Some answers I ended up with:

  • Brevity.
  • Punctuality.
  • Eclecticism.
  • Spontaneity.
  • Religion.
  • Excellence - ”which is a way of saying you’re impatient around stupid people.”
  • Committed.
  • Trustworthy.
  • Coffee
  • Pizza.
  • Honesty
  • Hard Work
  • Faith.
  • Faithfullness.
  • Committed.
  • Trust.
  • Truth.
  • Wisdom.
  • Friendship.
  • Beauty.
  • Financial stability.
  • Self-reliance.
  • Integrity.
  • Respect.
  • Learning.

Defining CORE Values

From there I narrowed down to a Top 5. Harder than it looks, but I thought about what I really did value as a person and started prioritizing from there. I ended up with these:







Faith naturally rose to the top of the list. This frames everything else down the list (and beyond). My identity is found first and foremost in being a baptized child of God - baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins — and the sins of the world.  Everything flows from that!

My first course of study in college was Philosophy based on interests in Christian thought and Christian apologetics. I passionately served as a participant, then volunteer, then employee with a Lutheran youth organization for 12 years. It’s through that same organization that I met my lovely wife. My first full time job was at a district office of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. I’m still heavily involved in church at the congregation, district, and synod levels. My faith — specifically the Lutheran faith as found in the Scriptures and Book of Concord - is the lens through which I see everything else.


Cliche? Maybe. But it’s the best word I found to capture many of the ideas that came up in the discovery phase: truth, committed, honest, hard working, etc. Not only do I value these things in myself, but I value them in those around me. I gravitate toward those who have a strong sense of integrity — of being honest and whole in the things that they pursue.


Friendship revealed itself as a core value based on AoM’s prompting to “Think of a time when you were happiest.” Immediately times with friends came to mind (usually involving discussions of theology or looking at current events through the lens of faith). My favorite stories generally focus on strong friendships and overcoming evil. (e.g., Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.)

This is also one of the core values that I’m the weakest in. When I think of who I would consider my closest friends I come up with about 10 people — we now live in about as many different states. While we can pick up the conversation right where it left off when we see each other in person, most of us are pretty bad at keeping in touch otherwise.

I’m hoping that by defining this as a core value on paper I will be more active in 1.) being a good friend and keeping in touch with those that I’ve known for at least half of my life and 2.) seeking out new friendships in my current location/place in life — at church, at work, maybe even centered on some of my hobbies.


Self-reliance is hard wired into me. I don’t like asking for help or taking it when it’s offered, I don’t want people worrying about me and I don’t like receiving gifts. If it needs to be done, I can do it. If I don’t know how - I sure know where to go and figure it out. I get frustrated and annoyed when things don’t play out with me being able to fend for myself and/or provide for my family.

To this end I tend to be a jack of all trades/renaissance man and have eclectic knowledge and interests. This also allows me to serve as a Swiss army knife in a variety of situations (just read any of the job descriptions I’ve ever had).

It is certainly a value — but taken to the extreme it can be more of a curse. Friendship and Faith rank above it.


What brings me joy? Stories that keep my attention and provide a deeper meaning than what the words on the surface say. A fine whiskey. Delicious coffee. Trying out different blends of pipe tobacco. Architecture. Photography. Those things which I find to be beautiful: things that are finely crafted.

I also value this in my own work - I work hard to provide the best end result that I can. This blog post won’t be the most beautiful blog ever written but it is an exercise in getting the thoughts out of my head and into something tangible. I can show it off on the internet, I get feedback, I can use that to make the next one better. I can even come back and edit this one if I want to.

Craftsmanship ranks 5th on the five core values because the others are higher level ideals. Craftsmanship flows from many of them and complements many of them.

Moving Forward with Core Values

So there you have it: my core values at this point as my life. Now that they’re formalized, I’m hoping that they will serve as a guide for what I spend my time doing, assist in making tough decisions, and giving me direction as I move forward through life. I think they also align pretty well with McNary Marketing & Design’s core values of: Future-thinking, clients are partners, trustworthy, organized, informed, quality — so at least I’m working at the right place!

Whether this site takes on a personal brand or ends up being a free floating personal hobby blog you can guarantee that these core values will be at the heart of it and shape the content that appears here.

Written by Jonathan Kohlmeier a technologist living in Cedar Rapids, IA, often found with a pipe between his teeth.

© 2021, Jon Kohlmeier