I had a conversation with someone who does what I do for a living the other day.
Our jobs are not hard in the traditional sense. We aren’t lowered into coal mines. We don’t have to drive nitroglycerin in a tanker truck 14 hours a day. We don’t have to feel the heat of a blast furnace through our clothes.
Our challenges are different, more mental than physical. What this fellow and I were talking about, though, is that it’s relatively easy to succeed, if you keep a couple of things in mind. We traded war stories that were funny now, with a bit of time and distance.
I’m sitting there, laughing, and it strikes me — not for the first time — just how often people make things so much more challenging in life than they need to be.
So, inspired by this conversation, I give these to you: my best take on what it takes to succeed in this life. I always said that my job as a father was to raise good little humans. Consider this a field manual. (The first and last items on this list came from the friend I mentioned. He is a smart man.)
1. Always do more than asked. I believe in lists, but I hate list checkers, those people who do the bare minimum to complete the assignment and feel that this continued “just enoughness” entitles them to raises and parades and bags of cookies. That’s no way to work. It’s no way to live. Steve Jobs used to say words to the effect that it was his job to give people what they didn’t know they always wanted. Be like that.
2. Aim high. If you continue to have a dream for yourself that feels outlandish, but keeps popping into your head, go for it. Don’t hold yourself back because of fear or worry of making anyone feel bad about themselves.
3. Motivate others. There are two ways to do this. Inspire others through encouragement and good example. Put the fear of God into them. Do the first. It puts better things into the world. It makes you more fun to be around. And it builds your reputation, which will open doors to you that you didn’t even know were there.
4. Yell rarely. Telling you to never get angry or raise your voice is pointless and unfair advice. That is telling you that your feelings of anger or frustration are invalid. But yelling and screaming and throwing things should always be a last resort. Be passionate. Speak your truth. But if you yell and scream it, just know this: after a while, people stop listening to you, even if you’re right. You’re just the screamy guy.
5. Follow through. If you say you will do something, do it. If you don’t want to do it, don’t say that you will. (But always give a reason.)
6. Be present. This is getting more important and more difficult every day. If you meet friends for lunch, don’t spend the entire time on your phone. If you go to a party, don’t spend the party taking pictures of you and your friends. (Don’t do any drugs, either. I’ll kill you.) If you want people to be there for you, then be there with them when you see them.
7. Look around. Be curious. Walk around a little with no real destination every once in a while. Let the tug of your curiosity be your guide.
8. Know when to stop. There is a difference between excellence and perfection. Perfection is a cruel, heartless and misquided bitch you will never satisfy, so don’t bother trying. Hit your excellence in all you do. Then know when to let go of what you’re working on or going after and let go.
9. Listen. Participate in conversations instead of just waiting for your turn to talk.
10. Don’t listen. Other’s opinions of you do not define you.
11. Don’t be an asshole. If for no other reason that it wastes so much energy. Take this note, for example. Don’t worry about the political arguments behind what it says. That’s irrelevant.
Some guy — he didn’t sign the thing, so he clearly knew he was being an asshole — left this on the table at a restaurant instead of leaving a tip. Think about everything he had to do to leave that note. He had to have the idea. He had to write the note. He probably edited it a couple of times. He had to print it out. He had to trim what he printed to make these little cards. He had to remember to carry them around with him. And then he had to leave it on a table after he ate.
That’s a lot of work. And that’s the thing about being an asshole. It’s a waste of time. You can still be a strong person without being an asshole. Be someone who uses all the energy it would take to be an asshole and direct that energy to making the world a little bit happier.