5 Guiding Principles For Life
I really enjoy making lists of random things.
It started years ago when I was trying to keep track of the funniest things my wife has ever said. My wife is very smart and very funny and I didn’t want to forget some of her greatest hits as the years went by.
And because we love old movies, I have different lists for all the Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and Alfred Hitchcock movies my wife and I have seen.
Since having kids, I started jotting down all the little sayings or axioms my wife and I would mentally come back to now that we were parents. Little bits and bobs that we maybe didn’t give much thought to before we had kids. Utterances that floated past our ears at one time or another that now carry much more weight.
My wife has a doctorate in nursing. When she was an undergrad before she was an R.N. she had a professor whose sound byte was “Good enough!”. My wife and all the other students were, understandably, trying to do everything perfectly whether it was giving shots, or taking blood, or what have you. But this professor would come around, look at the students’ work and say simply, “Good enough!”.
Those two little words really crystalize the notion that nothing has to be perfect, and often, nothing CAN be perfect. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good, as it were. Don’t consider yourself a failure if you didn’t do something perfectly, because you know what? It’s probably good enough and you can move on. Don’t get bogged down with details if the details aren’t necessary.
This one really comes in handy with the kids. From putting on their shoes, to cleaning their rooms, to learning how to write… the kids always seem to get frustrated that they couldn’t do something perfectly. And sometimes we, as parents, get frustrated too if the kids don’t do something the way we want them to. But you know what? If it’s good enough, then that’s all it needs to be.
“Good enough” doesn’t mean to be lazy or go easy on yourself, though. It means “Did I accomplish, within reason, what I set out to do? If so, then put this in the win column and move on.” It’s about recognizing progress and having clear eyes. It’s about dispensing with unnecessary frustration.
It reminds me of when I worked in marketing for a large menswear company and the head of our office did a presentation for our New York team. One of those Power Point Presentations full of graphs and numbers. At one point he said he was unable to find one of the particular figures (sales numbers or something) and just didn’t include it in the slide because at that point in the preparation of the presentation he was “losing the will to live”. I think we have all been there!
Now, that’s obviously a grimmer take, but it’s the same sentiment. He knew that particular number wasn’t crucial to the presentation, so instead of taking time and digging around for it, he said to himself “Good enough!” and moved on.
Let’s all give ourselves the permission to be pleased with progress and not get bent out of shape when things aren’t perfect.
“Steer Clear Of That Weirdo”
This is a line from Toy Story 4 that I feel is a very succinct and prudent way for dealing with people in your life.
The character who utters these words is named Giggle McDimples and she is referring to the main villain of the story (Gabby Gabby) in a conversation with Woody and Bo.
At the mention of Gabby’s name, Giggle simply says “Woah! Steer clear of that weirdo”.
Now I know we live in an age of supposed tolerance. I know most people deserve the benefit of the doubt. I know we shouldn’t be too quick to judge others. That’s all true. But we all have that little voice inside of us when we know something isn’t right. Or when someone rubs us the wrong way and we can’t put our finger on it. Or when we know someone is a little toxic and cutting them out is the smart thing to do.
To me, SCOTW means to trust your gut. Trust your judgement. Don’t associate with people who bring you down in any way. Don’t allow people to gaslight you.
In Double Indemnity, Edward G. Robinson’s character is always saying how he has a “little man” inside him that he can’t ignore when he knows something isn’t quite right. We would all do well to follow that example.
Some years ago I had a friend whom I had known since school. This friend was always pretty emotionally draining but it never really affected me too much. Just always drama with this or that. Eventually, the mental health issues that he never addressed came erupting to the surface, resulting in, among other things, unhinged voicemail messages and things like that.
Wisely, I cut this person out of my life since I realized I simply didn’t want to be entwined with that kind of crazy. This was before I had kids and I am thankful I was able to preemptively shield them from that influence.
SCOTW sounds harsh, but when dealing with someone who truly fits the “weirdo” bill, you need to call a spade a spade. It’s not your responsibility to heal people or even help them if their presence negatively affects you.
Humans have always had that little voice inside them warning them of potential danger. That suspicion is not a bad thing. If it’s telling you to not be around someone, listen to it. It’s probably right.
“You A Grown-Ass Man.”
This line is attributed to a dear coworker who has since passed. His name was Robert and we worked together for a few years when I was young and just starting out in the city. At the time Robert was probably in his mid-40s and a prolific indie comic book author (Google “Galtow” or “Xmoor Studios”).
Robert was an incredibly kind man and, although soft spoken, was side-splittingly funny. I’ve never known anyone else who could wield a withering deadpan the way Robert could.
The work we both did revolved around looking up possible trademark infringement. During some down time one day, on a communal computer, I pulled up an article I had read recently about college students who had invented a way to play Quidditch in real life. I thought he would get a kick out of it, considering how absolutely ridiculous it was. The picture showed about twenty Middlebury College students running around a field straddling brooms and wearing towels for capes.
Robert leaned over my shoulder to see the article and the picture. I expected him to laugh, but he didn’t. He just stood there looking at the picture and, with that same dismissive deadpan, quietly scoffed and incredulously muttered, “You a grown-ass man.”
YAGAM means to act your age, get your shit together, stop messing around, take some responsibility.
Also, have a little dignity.
Am I being too hard on all those students playing Quidditch? Maybe. It looks like they were having fun. But I bet none of them had dates come Saturday night.
The things that interested you as a kid shouldn’t still interest you as an adult, at least, not in the same way.
So step into your manhood and let go of all that childish crap. Put down the video games. Put down the pot. Dress like an adult. Have some respect for yourself. Show your kids what it means to be a man.
Because you know what? Being an adult is a hell of a lot more fun than being a kid.
And that brings me to my next point…
“Being A Grown-Up Is Fun.”
This one comes from my 6th Grade teacher. He was a quirky dude. Big blonde mustache and shoulder length hair. Always in bright, multi-colored oxford shirts, acid-wash jeans, and New Balance sneakers. He once stood on a table while telling us how to spell “February” so that we would never forget it.
I don’t really remember what it was in reference to when he said that being a grown-up is fun. He said it as a comparison to how much it sucks to be a kid, which really resonated with a bunch of twelve-year-olds. But I could tell he was sincere. He said that being a kid is really hard. You don’t have any control over your own life. You have to do whatever you’re told. Lots of things are scary because you don’t yet have the life experience to know better.
Remember when we were in school and you had to ASK to go to the bathroom? Sometimes the teacher would say no! Isn’t that deranged? Think about the extra layer of stress that adds to a kid’s mind who is just trying to go about his day, knowing that he might not be permitted to use the bathroom.
When I was in high school, my bus came at 6:20am, so I had to get up no later than 5:45am every morning. Then the school day was classes one right after another with few breaks. Then I worked an after-school job.
I can’t imagine as an adult having like five one-hour meetings all back-to-back with no breaks. But that is what we expect of children.
As an adult, you call the shots. You can come and go as you please. Eat whatever you want. Live wherever you want. It’s when you become an adult that you can really do all the fun things in life.
Want to go camping in Australia as a kid? Tough. Want to go camping in Australia as an adult? You could leave today.
Sure, there are limits on all those things. With all that freedom comes much more responsibility. But you’re the master of your own fate.
And that lack of control is hard for kids. As adults we need to keep in mind how difficult it can be for kids who are just starting out in the world and have no idea how to navigate it.
This world is all they know, so they have no perspective about how this is supposedly “the best time of their lives”. And it’s condescending to say that to them. It discounts their feelings and their experiences. And it will make them bitter towards you.
So acknowledge that kids have it tough at times. That acknowledgement will strengthen the bond between them and you.
“Live The Kind Of Life That Wouldn’t Get You Punished In A Twilight Zone Episode”
Anyone who knows me knows that The Twilight Zone is my favorite show of all time.
As a kid, I would watch the NYE marathons on TV with my mom and my sister. At that point I loved the creepy makeup and the twist endings.
But as an adult I can really appreciate the issues that were dealt with under the surface: social upheaval, national security, addiction, mental health, fear, jealousy, love. And the acting is incredible.
Sometimes good characters got the short end of the stick.
Burgess Meredith broke his glasses after the nuke destroyed the world.
Mr. Chambers became dinner.
Vera Miles was replaced by her doppleganger.
The folks of Peaksville have to continue thinking happy thoughts forever.
These poor schmucks just happened to be in the path of the tornado.
Other times, the show took some awful character and gave them their comeuppance. A heaping spoonful of karma and irony.
There was the gangster who thought he ended up in Heaven, only to discover otherwise.
There was the family of degenerates waiting for their patriarch to die, only to have their faces rearranged to permanently show the world their most awful inner qualities.
How about the residents of Maple Street who let their prejudices and suspicions destroy themselves?
Or Telly Savalas getting murdered by a doll because he was an abusive asshole?
It’s this second group that got me thinking. Sometimes we can’t help being dealt a crap hand by life, like the first group. There is nothing we can do about it. But we CAN avoid being in the second group. The group that brought their terrible fates upon them by being terrible people.
Usually these characters were punished due to hubris, arrogance, irrational fear, or insecurity. We can choose to not be like them. To live a life free of those things.
There are even instances of characters displaying growth and conquering their worst traits, showing that even when they descended into the Twilight Zone, they could still claw their way back out.
William Shatner gives the Mystic Seer the finger and drives off into the sunset with his new wife.
An old woman overcomes her crippling fear of death and is escorted into the afterlife by a young Robert Redford, which I imagine is every old woman’s dream.
Let’s take a good hard look at ourselves and clean up the yucky bits. Plug up the holes. Hem the frayed edges of our personalities. Constant self-improvement, even if it’s gradual, should be everyone’s goal.
What I found so fascinating about writing this article is the fact that these bits of advice didn’t come from TED talks, or self-help books, or even ancient texts on philosophy. They came from everyday life. Teachers, coworkers, movies, TV. Life lessons can come from anywhere.
What are your guiding principles?