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Living on PrinciPLES vs PrinciPALS

better living faith family professional development work-life balance Oct 22, 2022
Living on PrinciPLES vs PrinciPALS

7 Minute Read
By Bethany Rees

PrinciPALS vs PrinciPLES

Have you ever thought about how you are living your life? As in what actually drives your decision making and behaviors?

Most of my life I have been a legalistic people pleaser that didn’t really know what I believed… I just made my decisions based on what other people wanted or what they told me was right.  

But around 2014ish I had an epiphany! Maybe it was wisdom from aging that led me to this AHA! moment, but honestly, I really think the epiphany came from God through an 8th grade social studies project based learning (PBL) unit. In this PBL unit, students had to determine if our country was built on “princiPALS” or “princiPLES.”

Because of this unit, God led me to analyze whether my life was built on His princiPLES or people’s princiPALS

Following only “princiPALS” (people of authority in my life or money) led me to sway to and fro based on their opinions, judgement, and legalistic ways of thinking. I became a people pleaser that was nice and compliant on the outside but bitter, anxious, and lost on the inside. I was like a Pharisee in the Bible, not only was I always judging myself but others according to the laws and preferences of man. 

And then I realized that I should be living and making decisions according to God’s “princiPLES” (fundamental truths that serve as a foundation for my beliefs, behaviors, and decisions).  

I all of a sudden went from having a legalistic princiPAL belief to having a foundational princiPLE belief. In other words I went from believing ”our God is a performance-based God that is keeping a tally of my rights and wrongs” (because of my correlation of God to "churchy" people) to believing “I will always be a work in progress and God loves me no matter what; shame and guilt are from the enemy” (because of my freedom in Christ that I am a new creation). 

Looking back on my life, here’s what I noticed about myself and my transformation from princiPAL to princiPLE

Gaining the Skills to See PrinciPALs vs PrinciPLEs

As my career as a teacher transformed into supporting teachers as an instructional technologist, instructional coach, and later as an administrator, I developed skills to observe people (in the classroom, in meetings, at ball games, etc). In the classroom supporting teachers I learned to hone my craft of observing and identifying root causes for situations (both good and bad). 

The more I studied people, I began to pick up on behaviors, body language, what people are saying and what they “are not saying.” For example, I began to see current problems and future problems due to the lack of just having clear communication. As I started seeing root causes to problems, I started seeing the princiPLES that were violated to cause those problems. 

Observations Had That Led To Decisions Made

My constant observation and studying of people led me to make these observations and intentional decisions:

  • Observation: People tend to live their life, and base their decisions on, situational elements and princiPALS
    • Intentional Decision: I'm going to live my life based on princiPLES and values (fundamental beliefs and practices) so I'm not subjected to being tossed to and fro with princiPALS, the ever changing sand elements of people. Lives that are built firmly on the princiPLE rocks will persevere.  


  • Observation: People tend to lose sight of their purpose, or their “why,” and get caught up in the tiny details (their princiPALS) versus the bigger picture (the princiPLES).
    • Intentional Decision: Don't get so used to laying bricks, that I lose sight of the cathedral I'm building. 


  • Observation: Going through my own experiences, being a part of my friends and family experiences, and witnessing the struggles of those I served as an educator and administrator...I have come to the simple yet life altering conclusion that: our adult life is a difficult journey made of incredibly hard seasonsWe as people and a society don’t focus on sharing, encouraging, or edifying without judgment.  Instead we focus on princiPALS. But we are called to love God and love others. To “be a neighbor” and to help others through their hard seasons. We need to focus on princiPLES.
    • Intentional Decision: I want to share my struggles openly without fear of judgment. 
    • Intentional Decision: I want to serve, support, and encourage others going through hard times, without the undertone of judgment or “glad it’s not me” attitude.
    • Intentional Decision: I want to teach the lessons learned from these experiences and seasons, so they can gain wisdom as they travel their own roads. 
    • Intentional Decision: I want to build a “Rocks Before Sand” mindset to help people focus on what is most essential to live a life well lived and a race well run. 


  • Observation: Many people are struggling so much they are building their life on checking out, numbing the pain with alcohol “on the rocks”, binging tv, and scrolling aimlessly on social media. Our princiPALS keep people locked in judgment, shame, guilt, and hopelessness. 
    • Intentional Decision: Help people find confidence in leading their lives on the “the rocks…the Essential Rocks" so they can thrive in and create harmony between their professional and personal lives. I will help people see and come to build their life on PrinciPLES. 


How PrinciPLES Are Changing My Life & Work

Observing and experiencing all of these behaviors myself led me to the ultimate conclusion that living in the ever crashing waves of situations and circumstances, causes all of us to never have solid footing of knowing who we are as individuals, our purpose in life, and how to grow in our relationships with others. 

We allow ourselves to be pulled to and fro by the things of life that shift and change so much we can never build a solid life on them (princiPALS).

So that is why I’m hard at work on 2 things in my life:  

  1. The Rocks Before Sand Blog - A nonprofit that focuses on encouraging people to grow in their faith so they can build their life on and find freedom in THE ROCK, Jesus Christ. 
  2. The Leadership on the Rocks Podcast and Course - A business that focuses on helping professionals build their life and leadership on the essential rocks (princiPLES that you can learn more about here). The Leadership on the Rocks Framework:
    1. The Head of Leadership (Mindset): Identity and Purpose
    2. The Heart of Leadership (Relationships): Communication and Collaboration
    3. The Hands of Leadership (Execution): Systems & Processes and Service
    4. The Guts of Leadership (Accountability): Stewardship and Leadership 

These princiPLES have been on my heart and mind for years as I have observed how I and others have been building our identities, relationships, families, careers, and organizations on the sand elements (princiPALS)... only to come crashing down when the storms of life and adversity come. 

I can no longer stand to allow my life nor others’ lives to be built on the sand (princiPALS). 

So that’s why I’m using all the puns (and yes even those of drinking “on the rocks”) to lead people out of the sand and up to “the rocks,” because it’s time we built ourselves, our relationships, our culture, our organizations, and our communities on the rocks...The Essential Rocks (princiPLES).

Remember, the most Essential Rock you can build your life and leadership on is the rock of Jesus Christ.  

Know Better. Do Better. Live Better. Build Your Life of the ROCKS (PrinciPLES)

Rocks before Sand!


24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

~Matthew 7:24-27

Theme Song: 

Cody Carnes - Firm Foundation (He Won’t) (Official Lyric Video)

References Used:

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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