This post was originally an answer to this question on Quora — What are your personal 10 Commandments?
- Get yourself right first — We all want to “change the world,” and have an impact on other people’s lives. It’s honorable. But is it practical? Imagine a world where everyone tried to change themselves, their family, their small community, and a small tribe of people who wanted to hear their message. Under that scenario, nobody would need to change the world. It would happen on its own. Yet, we have the exact opposite occurring right now. We’re all thinking Macro, not Micro. We post Facebook statuses about the 1% not saving the poor but walk past the homeless person on the street without paying attention. We lament over the state of the job market but haven’t polished our resume or taken any new training to develop skills. We shout at tone-deaf institutions and when they fail to hear us, we shout louder. Personally, I’m taking more time to think about my own actions. I write self-help material and more and more I find myself unable to write it when I’m not living in accordance with those principles. It’s unnerving but I also feel more meaning when I know I’m practicing what I preach. If we all practiced what we preached, 99% of society’s issues would melt away.
- Never throw away your mission — If you trade away your purpose for your family, you’ll have your family, but you’ll be a purposeless participant in it. Life comes with trade-offs for every action. Many people make the logical trade-off between purpose and security. It’s logical, but it’s not necessarily right. First, purpose and security don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Second, how much is security worth if it costs you meaning? Third, you can end up resentful because life — or even the people close to you — didn’t reward and honor you for your sacrifice. Your mission or purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose at all but always have one.
- Never throw away the people you love — The converse is also true. Just like throwing away your dreams for your family isn’t wise, throwing your family away from your dreams isn’t either. I never want to be the father who misses my daughter’s ballet recital because I have a meeting. I don’t want my wife and children to be surprised when I’m present in their lives. Can you have both? The mission and the family? I think so. The key is being 100% on and 100% off. When you’re in work mode, focus 100%. When you’re with family, be 100%. Our problem is we are frenetically stuck cobbling together pieces of 40%, 60%, 70% effort. By not focusing fully on what we’re doing at the time, we spread ourselves thin and counterintuitively get less done. If you want to follow your dreams and keep a steady social and family life, find more focus and flow with less action.
- Think for yourself — The first step to being able to think for yourself is to realize it’s impossible. You have no original thoughts. You have dogmas and doctrines you’ve adopted. It’s your job to analyze the things you haphazardly came to believe and form your own belief system. Even then, you’ll run into another paradox — you can’t change your belief system without adopting a piece of another belief system you didn’t think of on your own. The point of understanding this isn’t to get caught in endless loops of catch 22s and paradoxes. The point is to have humility. When I look at information with the understanding that I’ll never be *right* I’m free to follow my curiosity instead of being locked into a worldview that prevents me from learning anything new.
- Stay curious — I lose momentum when I’m too busy creating and not consuming enough information. That sounds backward for most people as they usually have the opposite problem. When I stop looking for new information — reading, watching videos, listening to interesting stories on audio, etc — I start “going through the motions.” I write, but I’m not really writing — just putting words on the page. I work on my side business, but I’m just following routine steps without considering genuine improvements I can make. When you lose curiosity you lose fuel. This is what leads to burn out. You work, work, work and fall into patterns. You’re in the world but can’t appreciate its beauty. When I get into the “doing too much” rut, I fall back on learning with a sense of leisure — meaning I’m not learning because of what I think I’ll get out of the information, but just for fun.
- Be polite — I make a point of smiling, being polite, and practicing patience with service & retail employees. It astounds me how some of them react to simple manners — refreshed…because it’s rare. The same thing happens when you smile at a stranger walking past, open the door to let them walk in first, or say please and thank you during an interaction. Sad to say, politeness is in short supply, but it’s a core value for me because it’s an easy way to give other people a few seconds break from a life that can be frustrating, rude, and negative.
- Make as much money as possible — Seeking wealth isn’t evil. Wealth provides benefits you can’t have when you’re broke. Not having to worry about your bills month to month lifts a giant weight of stress off of you. Having more resources means you can help more people (no matter how great my intentions are, I can’t try to cure malaria like bill gates). If you look at money as a necessary evil, it will be that for you. If you look at it as a means for better opportunities, it will be that for you. Money itself has no value. It doesn’t intrinsically have a negative or positive connotation. Your relationship with it gives it context. Is it selfish to want to provide for your family long after you’re gone? How about creating valuable products and services the world needs…is that selfish? For every wall street banker, there are 1,000 business owners in the 1% who got their money by helping people, not hurting them. If you have a positive view of money you stand a chance of joining those ranks. If you don’t, you never will.
- Don’t do s*** that compromises your character — Two years ago, I was tempted to cheat on my taxes because I would’ve received an extra two thousand dollars. I need the money desperately. I had the lie-filled turbo tax application ready to submit, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it because it would ruin my integrity with myself. I wouldn’t have gotten caught (less than 1% of people in my bracket at the time get audited). No one else would’ve known but me…but I would’ve known. I wasn’t always this way. I’ve detailed my past of being a liar, a cheat, a derelict. I knew I changed once my sense of guilt grew. When you compromise your character, you chip away at your self-esteem. When you lie to other people and yourself, you’re suddenly dealing with a facade you have to keep up and few things require more energy than keeping up a facade. I’m trying to be more honest. I’m trying to avoid taking short-cuts that no one would even know about because my credibility with myself matters more than it ever has before.
- Have sex with your partner often — Sex is important. Not having it enough is detrimental. Watch this TED talk about sexless marriages. Read this article about the positive benefits a couple had from having sex every day for a year. This might seem like a trivial and weird “commandment” to have until you realize sex is central to human life and human emotions. It’s also one of the first things to fall by the wayside in a busy life. Don’t let it, because the consequences are dire. And because it feels good to have an orgasm. It’s hard to be depressed while having an orgasm.
- Try to understand where other people are coming from — We’ve gotten to a point in our society where trying to understand people who diverge from our views is becoming difficult to impossible. I suffer from this biased thinking just like anyone else. I suffer from a lack of empathy, which is why it’s one of my commandments — it’s so necessary for a good life that I’ll work on it even if it’s a major weakness. It’s easy to paint caricatures of other people because of the way they look, the things they believe, their station in society, or whatever. It’s hard to grasp the concept that life and morality are very complex issues. Cultures are different. People have unique experiences. There are 7 billion + interpretations of reality we all have to cross-reference with each other to figure out what the hell is actually going on. Even knowing this doesn’t make you less biased. You have to make a concerted effort not to be. Not only that, your effort probably won’t bear much fruit. But if you can become 1% less biased, it can create a reward many times more impactful.
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