12/28/2013 08:10 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2014

Life: A Participant Sport

One of the advantages of getting older is the realization that others do not know any better than you do or necessarily own the truth. A couple of years ago, I listened to a radio program on hospice workers sharing their stories of how people handle the end of their lives. At the end of life, many of these folks wished they had listened more to themselves, less to others and had just done their own thing.

It is much easier to buy into someone else's values and beliefs than taking the time to form one's own. Different cultures, politicians, religious leaders, opinion leaders and even parents, have ready to use values and beliefs on their emotional shelves. The unfortunate side effect of buying into a standard value and belief package is that one is automatically signed up for being "one of us" against "one of them."

Some value and belief systems are more open to exploration and change than others and have shown to be more successful in creating lasting value for their members. Exchange of ideas with the outside world seems to be a driver for progress. An example is Egypt, which existed in relative isolation and was literally unchanged for thousands of years, while Greece, with its extensive trade, created new thoughts within philosophy, mathematics, astronomy -- eventually leading to the idea of democracy, all within a matter of a century.

So, how does one move from being a value and belief couch potato, watching one's life pass by, to becoming a participant and leader of one's own life and how can one custom design values and beliefs that fit? Education, travel and seeking connecting with people outside one's usual cohorts is a good beginning, however, taking time to step back, think for oneself, and put the pieces together in a new way is also important. If one is constantly in the rat race, well, all one will see is more rat.

Discovering one's true self may also have the side effect of making one a leader, which can be a thankless and sometimes lonely position. When I graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA., then president, David Brown, gave an inspiring commencement speech on this topic. He spoke of a pack of sled dogs and compared leadership to being the front running dog and that meant having the ice-cold wind and the snow landing squarely on one's nose. The vista for that lead dog however, was spectacular, while all that the other dogs in the pack saw was butt.

New Year Eve is coming and with it comes a tradition of making promises that are then broken within a few days. Could this lack of follow through exist because we are still taking on other people's notions of what we should be doing? How about being creatively innovative, and coming up with something we each truly feel inspired to do instead? Let's make 2014 the year we take time to examine and redesign the values, beliefs, attitudes about our life from the inside out based upon our true heart's desires.