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Identifying Non-Negotiables: An Exercise in Self-Authority

Updated: Jul 6

"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

~ Paulo Coelho, "The Alchemist"

Do you have non-negotiables? You know, those things that, if everything else fails, you are hellbent to see through?

I did not know I had non-negotiables until one afternoon in February 2008. My daughter, her then-boyfriend, and my youngest son had arrived from Puerto Rico to celebrate my birthday. They arrived in San Francisco feeling famished after the long trip, and we drove straight to Chili's for an early dinner. We began discussing the week ahead as we sat at the table brimming with food, chips, salsa, and the obligatory margaritas. There is so much to do, so little time!

After listening to their respective lists of things they wanted to doall different and exciting, I asked one question for everyone to answer, "If everything else fails this week, what is your one non-negotiable?" Funny as it was, there was one thing everyone agreed on: skydiving. Two days later, we were jumping off perfectly good, working airplanes in Monterey.

The best part of that exercise was that, unbeknownst to us, a tradition was born that day. That question has been asked more times than I can count and has been adopted by other family members. It has evolved past its intended use to become a test of value alignment and an invitation to self-authorship.

I am asking myself again today as I stand at a crossroads: "If everything else fails, what is my one non-negotiable?"

The Field of Pure Potentiality

As I approach the next leg of my journey, I am reminded of the last scene in the movie "Cast Away," which shows Tom Hanks' character standing at a crossroads, holding a map and considering every direction. The lovely woman whose FedEx package seemed to have given him hope for four years had just stopped to talk to him. In a moment, she offered a rundown of each direction he could take and where it potentially led.

When I saw that movie so many years ago, the only thing that came to mind was how fortunate this character was to stand at a crossroads with the freedom to go anywhere. The field of pure potentiality was opened in front of him. The choice was his and his alone.

Today, I am standing at a crossroads full of uncertainty. I can only see a few inches in front of me regardless of the direction I look, and my compass seems to be experiencing a bit of interference. How do I go about deciding where to go next? What decisions agree with my values, bigger goals, mission, and vision? What risks am I willing to take? What areas of my life must be protected? What is the price I am willing to pay for action or inaction? What are my non-negotiables?

Does any of this sound familiar to you?


I believe that, like the character in "Cast Away," when we make a choice, our resolve is tested, sometimes repeatedly. Do you remember his fear of that spot where the waves broke and caught him, nearly drowning him? I felt the pain in my thigh as if I had been injured myself.

But you might also remember all his research, how he built his raft, and the combination of fear and determination in his eyes when he finally decided that it was time to leave that island.

What changed for him? What was the sign? Why did it happen at that moment and not a few years before or after?

I think the answer to those questions is two-fold: alignment and the fact that leaving the island became his non-negotiable. In a word, he exercised self-authority.

He did his homework. He knew deep within his soul that it was time, that the odds were aligned in his favor. His research on the way the waves broke and the wind effect, the work he did to build his raft, and the fact that everything else failedeven his suicide attemptpaved the way for action and, ultimately, success. Moreover, I believe his resolve removed every other alternative, thus leaving him with only one option: do or die. His non-negotiable was to leave.

As we become aware of our needs and dreams, apply our values to our goal-setting, build a map, understand the potential road ahead, and test the waters, we become resilient in ways we might not have expected. Before we know it, we uncover our non-negotiables and the power to create the life we want.


We all have the inherent power to take ownership of our lives. Self-authority goes beyond mere autonomy and extends to consciously crafting one's narrative, values, and purpose. Essentially, it is the ability to author and direct our story, free from undue external influences or societal expectations. I believe in exercising self-authority and making informed decisions.

Operationalizing Self-Authority

At the heart of self-authority lies the art of decision-making. Making decisions that resonate with our authentic selves is crucial in a world of choices. Self-authority empowers us to navigate the intricate web of decisions by embracing their unique values and priorities.

In this process, we must:

  • Clarify our Values: Self-authority begins with a deep understanding of one's values. When faced with decisions, individuals anchored in self-authority are guided by a clear set of principles that reflect their authentic selves. This clarity serves as a compass, directing them toward choices that align with their beliefs.

  • Make Empowered Choices: A self-authoritative individual recognizes the power vested in their decisions. Each choice becomes an opportunity to express one's autonomy and shape the trajectory of our lives. Through empowered decision-making, we cultivate a sense of agency, reinforcing our role as the architects of our destinies.

  • Build Resilience in the Face of Challenges: Embracing self-authority does not shield us from challenges but equips us with the resilience to overcome obstacles. Decisions grounded in authenticity and self-awareness serve as a sturdy foundation during difficult times, fostering a sense of purpose that transcends momentary setbacks.


When faced with a decision, ask yourself,

  • "Is this decision aligned with my values?: A clear understanding of our values provides the foundation on which to build.

  • What am I risking if I do not follow my compass?: The risk might mean a short detour or derailing your life for a while.

  • Am I standing at the edge of possibility?: Some risks are "riskier" than others. Following your compass might mean being utterly uncomfortable and experiencing familiar pangs in your stomach, signaling the end of an era. You know jumping is the only way out when standing on that precipice.

  • What are my non-negotiables?: Precisely. What are your non-negotiables? What are those things that you are unwilling to live with or without? Understanding your non-negotiables allows you the freedom to build a life aligned with your highest and brightest self.


Understanding our non-negotiables and how they align with our values is vital to our journey to creating the life we envision. Whether you are deciding how to spend your vacation with family in a way that everyone gets what they want, or choosing a place to live, a company to work for, the type of partner that you want to spend your life with, or the type of enterprise you engage in, having a clear understanding of your non-negotiables will set you free.

In the complex tapestry of life, the concept of self-authority plays a pivotal role in shaping our journeys. At its core, self-authority involves consciously and authentically making choices that align with our values, beliefs, and aspirations.

My non-negotiables are simple. I will leave you with two:

  • I only live in places where my animals can also live. Leaving them behind is a deal-breaker.

  • Disrespect, shame, blame, and violence are banned from my life.

I am always in awe of how things evolve in our lives. A simple dinner, a conversation about how to spend a vacation, the importance of honoring everyone's hopes for our time together, and the joy of knowing that everyone got what they wanted to be turned into a tradition in our family that has extended to a way of life and a business model.

I am curious, dear sojourner, what are your non-negotiables? How do you exercise self-authority? What chapter of your life are you writing? Are you at a crossroads, at the beginning of a journey, or nearing the end of a chapter? How are you using your precious time on Earth? And more importantly, have you watched "Cast Away"?

It is time to leave my island.

Your turn.

Until we meet again on these pages or a discovery call, stay safe, fellow sojourner!

Neidy Lozada, MATP, ATCC, CSIC, is an adaptive integrative and spiritual integration coach. She brings over twenty years of experience in transpersonal practices, coaching, and business to her work with individuals from all over the globe. She founded Soulful Sojourners following her long-held dream of building a company to provide top-notch coaching services to women, men, and organizations undergoing a profound transformational process. Neidy continues to serve non-profit organizations in the Bay Area through her work as a board member. She is a proud mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and devoted caretaker of furry companions.


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