Through the years, I’ve developed a few solid principles and maxims for a successful life. Usually, these ideas came straight out of failure. Some of them are cliché - but truth is what makes clichés valuable. As time passed, and I made more mistakes, I would sometimes slightly modify these clichés. Here are a few:
- Good things come to those who wait (and work hard). Growing up, my parents taught me to take shortcuts. Not enough money? Finance it. Don’t have the right tool? Just bang on it with something handy. Marriage isn’t working? Just sweep it under the rug. If you don’t like the truth, ignore it. But as I entered adulthood and experienced some huge failures, I began to learn that shortcuts rarely work. There is always a price to pay.
- Under promise and over deliver. I didn’t really learn this until my late 30s. I was working as computer repair tech at a small university. Many of our customers were frustrated with our service – mostly because someone promised service that was never delivered. I learned that over promising is a veritable lie and it is better to be straight forward with everyone.
- Enjoy one day a week as a day of rest. In some circles this is known as a Sabbath. It was the reason the weekend was created. Yet, in reality, it is the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. By racing ahead, and failing balance, you will not win. As I implemented this practice into my life, the stress and addictions began to melt away.
“I know there’s a balance ‘cuz I see it when I swing past” ~Mellencamp
These three, along with many other small rules for my life have helped me immensely. Implementing them was not always easy, and often it was a battle. Sometimes I’ve been given multiple opportunities to relearn some of these lessons. Currently I am learning to Accept, Wait, then Enter – when I face fearful situations.
Last night, I stumbled across a thought-provoking post on the Zenhabits blog: Tynan’s Rules for Living. Because 15 rules are a bit daunting, I”ve narrowed down the list to the top four. If you want to read all of them, feel free to click on the link for the full post.
1. When you say you’re going to do something, do it.
This goes along with the idea of under-promising and over delivering. But it goes deeper into the core of truth-telling. I remember when I was working with and for my Dad. Before the days of mobile phones, contractors like my Dad used mobile radios that interfaced into the telephone system through dispatcher. It was very public, but very handy. This one time my Mom called to see when we’d be home for dinner. Without a hesitation, my Dad gave his standard response, “Fifteen Minutes.”
I was appalled. We were stuck in Highway 217 rush hour traffic and still had three more errands to run. Even if traffic was flowing, it would take us a good 45 minutes. But my Dad was afraid of making my Mom angry so he told her what she wanted to hear. Unfortunately, like most shortcuts, there was a price to pay when we arrived home an hour and a half later.
The flip side to this statement, is don’t say you’re going to do something, unless you can actually pull it off.
5. Walk out of movies, stop reading books, leave parties.
Several times I’ve watched movies to their conclusion, just hoping it would start to make sense. As the closing credits scrolled across the screen, I chastise myself for being an idiot. Walking away from books is easier. I have several unfinished books lying around the house. And the only parties I don’t walk out of are ones where I am obligated to stay – like family gatherings.
Today, I skipped a family gathering because I knew I needed a Sabbath rest (see above). The hardest part of this principle goes deeper than the examples mentioned. It applies to every aspect of our lives. Career, friendships, wilderness adventures, etc.
While it is important to not be a quitter, it is also important to cut one’s losses. The first time I tried to climb Mount Hood, I stopped 1000 feet below the summit. I was not sufficiently prepared and continuing to climb would have been foolish. I’ve quit jobs that no longer met my needs, relationships with no potential, and classes that didn’t deliver.
The hardest thing I’ve done lately is to walk away from long-term friendships that were one-sided. Sometimes it’s important to let go of one thing so we can grasp something better.
“Remember, whenever you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else.”
7. Listen to people.
Hearing the noises that come out of people’s mouths is not enough. Understanding their words is an intellectual experience. But listening to their heart, that will allow you to really hear them.
We all know how annoying it is to talk with someone who is constantly looking around and not really paying attention. Sometimes worse is the person who seems to be paying attention, but then you realize their mental screen saver is on and they aren’t truly paying attention. Like the people-pleasing white lies above, these people are under-delivering on their implied commitment to hear your heart.
If you are busy, or don’t have the time (or energy?) to listen to someone, be honest. Tell them you can’t talk right now.Tell the truth and let them know you are tired, distracted, or busy. If it is important, schedule a followup time to finish the conversation. At the very least, apologize and do the right thing.
8. Do the right thing, even if it comes at personal cost.
Henry Blackaby writes that obedience comes at a cost to ourselves and those around us. Based on the principles above, I would say that NOT doing the right thing is expensive also. If you over-promise and under-deliver, you will damage relationships. If you continue to read books that are empty and meaningless, you will have to forgo other activities than may be more pressing. IF you take shortcuts in your life, you may find yourself lost, alone, broken, and in dire straits.
Yes, you may anger your spouse when you tell her you’ll be late for dinner, and you won’t be home for an hour and a half – but that is reality and it is her responsibility to deal with the expectations, resentment, and anger. You cannot change reality by lying about it.
You may hurt someone’s feelings if you tell them you are too busy/tired/uninterested to listen – but how is that worse than wasting your time or theirs?
Several years ago my Wonderful Wife found $200 cash lying on the floor at a busy truck stop. There was no one around and she quickly surmised that it could have been dropped there by any of a 100 people who recently walked that way. Without hesitation, she took the money to the counter. In her heart, she knew it was the right thing to do. Whether the person who dropped their cash ever got it back, is open to speculation. Indeed, more frustrating is the thought that the person behind the counter merely pocketed the cash. That isn’t our concern.
“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” ~Jackson Brown
Could we have used the $200? Of course – who couldn’t. But it wasn’t ours. Hopefully, it was returned to its rightful owner.
What lessons have you learned in your journey? How have mistakes and heartache shaped your personal walk? What do you regret, and how would you like to do it differently?
Ultimately, it is fear that causes us to fail in these areas. We fear failure, we fear a loss of control, we fear disapproval from others, we fear their anger, we fear resentment, and we fear our own ability to fulfill promises. I can’t tell you, in this post, how to overcome fear – but I can tell you that it is worth the journey.
When we have personal integrity - that is, our insides match our outsides – that is when we will achieve true success. Let your actions match your principles, and make sure you know what your core values are.