Over the past weeks, I’ve been thinking of “principles” – ideas serves as fundamental truths. So, I decided to attempt to boil all my life related learning into 10 principles or ideas. While I couldn’t manage to boil them all down to 10 (maybe that’ll happen in another 20 years :)), here is my list of 16 –
1. There are 2 forces that shape our lives – our circumstances and our decisions. Our circumstances play a massive role in determining our impact on the world. If we’re blessed to have had the privilege of good circumstances (and, if you are reading this, the chances are high that that is true), we ought to treat that privilege with utmost humility and do our best to make it count.
2. We make decisions all the time and the nature of our decisions are shaped by our mindset. At any given moment, we can either choose to adopt a judging mindset (why am I so dumb? Why are they so stupid? What’s wrong with me?) or a learning mindset (what can I learn? What are my options?). The latter results in a much happier path.
3. Insecurity is the most powerful force on the planet. Our insecurities are the source of our drive, ego and any sort of desire to prove ourselves. Our ego is just our attempt at a shield that masks our insecurities. Every one of us has insecurities. The question that remains is whether we stay in the driving seat or let them drive us. Again, they could drive us to enormous wealth and power but it is very unlikely they will bring happiness.
4. Happiness is a by-product of a life where what we do is aligned with what we value and where we’ve learnt to keep perspective through life’s ups and downs. Perspective brings gratitude and that, in turn, brings happiness. Happiness, as a result, can’t be pursued and isn’t guaranteed on our birth certificate. It ensues from an approach to life that is deserving of it. And, it is also why the alignment of values, thoughts and actions are a thing of beauty.
5. If there was ever a secret to finding what we want, it is to simply strive to become deserving of it. To find a great job, be a great worker. To find great friendship, be a great friend. That is, of course, just one side of the puzzle. But, most importantly, it, “the process,” is the only part of the puzzle we control. In the long run, great processes lead to great results. All we can do, however, is give it our best shot and then let go.
6. Even with our best efforts, things (relationships, jobs, deals) may not work out, however – that’s because it still takes two hands to clap. Things work out when there is fit. Over time, we attract people and, thus, circumstances based on who we are. We demonstrate who we are by what we do. And, when we pursue relationships and engagements that fit with who we are, it is quite magical.
(A note on attracting people: in the long run, it is futile to attract people by attempting to be liked. Universal popularity is an oxymoron. All we can do is hope to be deserving of respect. Liking may follow.)
7. Fit underlines an important principle – our life is an exercise in picking people. At any point, our health, wealth, and happiness are likely to be the average of the 5 people we associate with. That is why it is vital we learn to pick people based on alignment with core values rather than other superficial traits – people who are similar on superficial traits will never challenge our thinking. Picking people requires us to continually hone our people judgment. And, once we get good at picking people, we have to then get good at keeping them – that requires character.
8. If there is one word that best describes people of character, it is, in my opinion, integrity. Integrity comes from the word integer – which means whole. To be whole as a human being requires us to be consistent – in our words and actions. Character, at the end of the day, comes down to one thing – our ability to make and keep commitments to ourselves and others. The integrative nature of character illustrates why dividing life into buckets such as work, personal, social, etc., is futile. How we approach one thing is how we approach everything.
9. It isn’t enough to make and keep commitments, though. Over time, we have to learn to pick the right commitments. Our ability to do that while keeping focused on our priorities is what defines our productivity. When we take actions that move us toward our priorities, we are productive. The rest is just activity. To be consistently productive, we need to combine focus (consistent prioritization or your “strategy”), intensity (what we commonly call focus or “tactics”) and hard work (execution). Good strategy, as a result, is simply making the best possible decision by being aware of the trade-offs involved.
10. If we do manage to do all of this, we become worthy leaders – of ourselves. Do more and we become worthy of leading other people. Leadership is simply caring more than the next person. And, leadership matters because great things are achieved by groups of people – teams. Learning to lead and manage teams, as a result, is as high value a skill as they come.
11. To be able to lead, i.e., care for the people around us, we must demonstrate ability to care for ourselves. We must sleep well, eat well, exercise well and nourish our minds with books and ideas. All of these help us maintain our willpower reserves, which, in turn, help us make good decisions. It is easy to lose track of these priorities in the daily grind. That’s why we need great habits.
12. Habits are life’s infrastructure. The better our habits, the easier it is to be effective. Again, the better our habits, the more we have access to our limited supply of willpower for the tough decisions that matter. Willpower matter so much because self-control is single highest determinant of the quality of our life.
Habits are built by developing a systems driven mindset that ignores short term goals. A 10 pound weight loss diet is a goal, exercising 3 times a week is a system.
13. Systems can only be developed with a willingness to embrace experimentation. Building habits that last the trials of time are hard. It requires us to test various approaches and, eventually, arrive at something that works for us. Failure is an essential part of experimentation. And, experimentation requires us to internalize the idea that “this might not work.”
14. Confidence is built on the idea of “this might not work” as it requires us to shun the easy, safe path. Confidence isn’t built on the belief that everything will work. It is built on the understanding that things will likely not work out and that will be just fine. Confidence requires an acceptance of this truth, the truth. As a result, the first true sign of confidence is vulnerability.
15. Vulnerability is difficult because it requires us to be comfortable with our fallibility. We are all, by default, a bundle of contradictions. That’s because every one of our strengths mirrors a weakness that can derail us. It is only with self-awareness can we understand this, accept this, and proceed to build a meaningful life. This building process requires us to constantly hone our self-control muscles because building a meaningful life requires us to consistently postpone immediate gratification and do what’s right for the long term. By definition, meaningful isn’t easy. But, it is worth it.
16. So, what does all this mean for our lives today? The best way we can bring this all together is that we must approach life as students of life. As students of life, we must take responsibility to design a life that’ll maximize our shot at leaving this place a bit better than we found it. Some days will be better than others. It is hard to tell which as we never really know if a good day is a good day. All we can do is be the best version of ourselves today, plan to be better tomorrow and ten years from now, and yet, listen to, hug, and celebrate people while we can today. We can live either nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle – it is our choice.So, if we can go to bed every night knowing we gave it our best shot and being thankful for everything we have been given, we will have given ourselves and the world the most beautiful of gifts – a day well lived.
And, as we live our days, so we live our lives.
(a tag cloud of all the words in the post above courtesy Wordle.net – fitting that “people” takes top billing)