Perhaps it’s settling into a routine. Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps it’s a less chaotic life. Perhaps it’s watching too many episodes of NCIS on Netflix recently (Gibbs’ Rules and all). Whatever the reasons, I’ve been thinking about rules a lot lately. Rules in the sense of guidelines for how to live my life. It’s one thing to say I am a person of ethics, a person of beliefs, a person that lives up to their higher self. How can I know if my actions are true if I do not have the ruler by which to measure them?
I give you my tentative ruler. It’s still being molded but I think the underlying concepts are solid.
Rule #1: Practice patience.
There’s a reason patience is a virtue. Practicing patience makes us more mindful and empathic. Whether we are waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for a client’s copy for their website, we can become impatient. Impatience breeds anger and frustration. If we are able to sit with this moment, practicing patience, the byproduct is a more mindful approach to life.
Rule #2: “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”
Rule #2 is directly taken from Gandhi. I think it’s human nature, or at least my nature, to speak quickly. We want to be heard. But, most of the time, what comes out of our mouths are opinion and noise. There isn’t much benefit to adding to the cacophony. Rather, I’m trying to keep my mouth shut, observe, and only add to the noise if the cost of my silence is worse than the cost of speaking. This is one of the rules I have the hardest time with.
Rule #3: When you do speak, speak the truth; do not be afraid of your own or others’ truth.
When you do speak, make sure it is the truth. By truth, I mean your truth. It may not be verifiable fact (how can emotions and feelings be fact-checked?). But make sure it is the truth as you know it. Related to that is not to be afraid of truth. Truth may be uncomfortable, truth may even be painful, but we should never be afraid of it. With truth comes the ability to make rational and sound decisions.
Rule #4: When you commit to something, commit wholly.
Whether it is your job, a volunteer position or writing every day, commit to doing that act wholly. Give yourself over to it 100%. Never half-ass something. Always be present for the commitment. A funny thing happens when you do commit wholly; you are more discerning in what you commit to.
Rule #5: Only concern yourself with things that you need to be concerned with.
This is an odd one but it basically boils down to stop worrying about things you don’t need to worry about. In some ways, this could be viewed as callous. Can you do anything about the Syrian refugees? No? Then stop worrying about it. Give a donation or volunteer somewhere if it really bothers you. Some gossip at work that has nothing to do with your job? Don’t worry about it. Concern yourself with only things that you can change and that affect you directly.
Rule #6: Make decisions.
I hem and haw all the time. My inability to make decisions are sometimes my greatest fault. So, make a decision. If it’s the wrong one, you’ll find out soon enough. It’s important to move forward. Have faith in your abilities to make course corrections throughout the journey. Even though the decision may be incorrect, it’s forward movement. And that’s more important than making the right decision.
Rule #7: Smile and practice kindness.
Pretty self-explanatory. Very useful when driving in traffic and in life. Do you ever notice how your guard is suddenly disarmed with a genuine smile? Do you feel a kinship when someone is kind to you? Smile often, smile easy and always lend a helping hand.
Rule #8: Take responsibility.
Another self-explanatory rule. When I was a less-experienced programmer, I didn’t always take responsibility for my mistakes in the code. It was a way to save face, I suppose. All it ever did was make me feel horrible about the mistake and have to keep up the lie. Instead, own your actions, whether they are a mistake or not. By taking responsibility, you let others know they can trust you and your word. This goes hand-in-hand with Rule #3; do not be afraid of the truth.
Rule #9: Assume everyone is being their best self.
This is something my mother taught me. Assume the best in people. Assume they are just as smart as you, if not smarter. Assume they have the best intentions. Assume their stories are true to them. I’ve known people who only assume the worst and their relationships are contentious at best, even with the people they like. Assuming the best isn’t the same as trusting blindly though; you are not naive. I assume the best in everyone and trust them but I also verify.
Rule #10: Trust yourself.
For most of my life, I’ve looked for external validation. Was I talented enough? Was I pretty enough? Was I smart enough? Family, friends, co-workers…I would look to them for my worth. As I move through life, I have less need for this. I’m learning to trust myself, trust my skills, trust that any situation I find myself in, I can find a way through it. I trust that I have the knowledge to move through this life and be successful, however I define that success. If things go ass end up, I trust I can figure a way to right the ship, metaphorically speaking.
I’ve had a revelation recently, though it’s not really a rule, per se, but I find it important. Every day is a choice. Every day I get up, take a shower, and go into work is a choice. As most people do, I complain about work. Today is a Monday and I hate the fact that I can’t stay here and write all day. However, I can! I can email my boss, tell him I quit, and spend the rest of the day writing. Or, I could take a personal day. Or, I can get another job. Or, I can get up, take a shower, and go into work. It’s all a choice. I choose to go into work. For some reason, realizing that was extremely liberating. I always knew I had choices but when it hit me, when the truth that I design my life slammed into my thick skull, it was an epiphany.
When I find myself complaining about something, whether it’s my job, my car, or more broadly, my life, I try to stop the thought. I remember that whatever it is that has me angry, upset, uncomfortable, sad, I can change it. I don’t have to continue to feel that way. I have the choice to alter my life to make it more in line with what I want. Usually though, I recognize it as petty complaining, drop that line of thought, and get on with my day. All of the choices I’m making now are moving me toward the life I have planned.