In 2010, I wrote down a set of “first principles” for my life. I asked myself:
“Which rules, if I lived by them for the rest of my life, would make me as happy as I can be?”
7 years later, it’s time to reflect and see which ones stood the test of time.
Back then, I came up with 30 principles, which remain on the pin board in my old children’s room to this day.
They’re in German, my handwriting is horrible, and they’re not what this post is about, but if you want to browse the list anyway, you can do so below.
You might say this is just a piece of paper. And it is. It’s not a rulebook I keep referring back to or even look at every day. Most of the time since then, I haven’t even lived at my parents’ house.
However, the sole act of writing down the principles by which I want to live engraved them not just on this sheet, but on my heart, brain and soul. After so much time, I think I can condense them into 7 rules, which represent them well.
Just give me a second to think…
…okay, got it! Here go my 7 rules of life.
- Rule #1: Family first
- Rule #2: Lifters vs Losers
- Rule #3: Work hard, be nice, win
- Rule #4: Liberty over Luxury
- Rule #5: Legacy over Currency
- Rule #6: Never have a single point of failure
- Rule #7: Complaining is draining
- Rule #8: Always break the rules
- Rule #9: Success means doing your best
- Your Rules of Life
Rule #1: Family first
I’ve moved at least once every year since I left home after graduating from high school in 2010. I made friends, I lost friends. I found love, I lost love. The one group of people I have always, always, always come back to are my Mom, my Dad and my sister.
Very few people enter your life and stay forever. Quite frankly, most don’t deserve to. For those that do, make sure you show them the love they deserve. At the very end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, one of the main characters puts this in a nutshell.
I hope I never forget it.
Rule #2: Lifters vs Losers
The reason most people don’t stay in your life is that the majority does one of either two things:
- They lift you up.
- They pull you down.
Why the losers don’t stay is obvious: eventually you’ll realize they’re losers and that all they do is hold you back.
The lifters are great and I’ve enjoyed every minute with them, but it’s rare for them to rise together. Unless they meet at equal stops during their journeys, they’ll eventually part ways too – but that’s okay, because…
Lifters know they can always return to their fellow lifters, sit together and reminisce about the good old times.
As the old girl scout saying goes:
Rule #3: Work hard, be nice, win
Most people want to win. I know I do. But I don’t want to win at your expense. I want both of us to win. Hard work is a given. Playing dirty isn’t. I like Gary Vaynerchuk’s metaphor here:
There are two ways to build the biggest building in town: 1. Build the biggest building in town. 2. Tear down all the other buildings around you.
I want to build the biggest building in town by actually building the biggest building in town. ~Gary Vaynerchuk
I have no aspirations to build a skyscraper. But whatever my building turns into, it needs to be built right. Part of that is to create every day. To ship something every day. Part of that is to be nice to everyone I meet along the way. Together, I think it’s a good formula to win.
Rule #4: Liberty over Luxury
Building a big building is nice. But I wouldn’t wanna live in one. The reason I work so hard isn’t to buy cars or mansions or clothes or other trinkets I can’t take with me when I die.
I want to buy the ultimate thing: freedom.
I want the kind of money that allows you to drop your spoon mid-dessert, get up, leave the restaurant and walk away, because within a split second, you decided the person across the table didn’t have the integrity it takes to be a part of your life.
Money buys a lot of things. But the best things in life aren’t things. Whenever money can buy the latter, it’s usually a good play. Freedom is one of them.
Rule #5: Legacy over Currency
The whole work hard, make money thing is nice. But in the end, it’s not the million in the bank that matters. It’s how you got there.
I could be much further along. I should be. With the insane amount of content, relationships and assets I’ve built, I should be making $100k/year already. But I’d rather have you remember me for sending that one resource, writing that one article, helping with that one thing, than ripping you off once.
I’m happy to leave money on the table, play the game a little longer and enjoy the journey, if that means more people show up to my funeral than to the distribution of my inheritance.
Rule #6: Never have a single point of failure
Achilles had his heel, the titanic had its iceberg, Blockbuster had its Netflix. In computing, there’s this description of systems with a single point of failure: if one server tanks, the whole thing goes down.
Being an employee and doing nothing on the side is such a system. No one should make all their money from a single source. When your boss doesn’t like your face one morning, things can get really ugly, really fast.
I have 3–5 different sources of income right now, give or take. I hope it’ll only become more in the future.
Rule #7: Complaining is draining
Will Bowen has this idea of a complaint free world. He made a bracelet you can wear for 21 days and every time you complain, you have to put it on your other arm and start over.
Complaining has an ROI of zero. Always. Complaining is draining.
I don’t want to spend a single minute of my life lamenting the situation, when I can use that same minute to try and make it better.
Rule #8: Always break the rules
The 8th rule of my Top 7 Rules. Get it? I’ll let Steve Jobs explain this one in 60 seconds.
Rule #9: Success means doing your best
This might be the most important one. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said:
“You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” ~John Wooden
My parents always told me that, as long as I did my best, I could be satisfied with myself. I really believe that. Not everything is in your control.
When you’re not winning on the outside, that might mean you have to audit yourself and take your talents elsewhere. But when you’re winning on the inside, it’s easy to have patience and let the world catch up.
In 1934, John Wooden taught English and sports. He didn’t like how the students’ success was measured. So he defined it for himself:
Looks like this perspective worked out well for him and everyone he taught it to. So why not for me?
Your Rules of Life
Above all, I hope this last one will still be one of my rules 7 years from now. Then again, it might not be. There really aren’t any rules of life. There are only your rules of life. Not what everyone should live by. Only what you want to live by. Deep down, I think you’ve long realized what those rules are.
How do you make sure they matter? Writing them down is a first step. Today, I encourage you: grab a coffee, sit outside, think for a while, then grab a pen.
Start writing. Give it a try. Make your own rules.
I made mine. What are yours?