My son Stephen is graduating from High School in 2 weeks. My wife suggested that I write him a heartfelt note of congratulations.
So one recent evening I sat down and started to think about things I would like for him to know-things I have learned along the way. I quickly wrote about 10 items. Then the list grew to 20, then 30 and, finally, fifty.
So here are the 50 Rules I came up with. I had them printed and bound in a small booklet. Some of the rules are rated “PG-13.” And they are Father to Son. My rules for my daughters will look a little different. I hope you enjoy these. Feel free to add your own.
1. Take stock of where you’ve been but don’t dwell on it.
2. Don’t let your past mistakes own you, but keep the scars from those mistakes close at hand. They’re part of you.
3. Set goals and work like hell to accomplish them. But later you’ll realize the journey was a lot more enjoyable than the end result.
4. Offer those less fortunate a helping hand even though some may not deserve it and most will never appreciate it.
5. In business, it’s best to try and get along. But remember there are some people you will run across who don’t understand anything but a hard kick in the balls. Make sure your aim is good.
6. Don’t ever assume that someone else is looking out for your best interests. Some people are. Most people are not. If you find someone who is, guard and treasure that relationship above all others.
7. Be open to, and unashamed of, the possibility, however slight, that you might be wrong.
8. Take a couple of backroad trips to California. Take a mix CD (heavy on Jerry Jeff Walker), a journal and a camera (on second thought, never mind the camera).
9. Volunteer because you want to, not because you feel like you have to.
10. Develop your spiritual side but do not be a slave to form or ritual. Cultivate your own relationship with God.
11. Understand the importance of leverage. But, if it’s with recourse, don’t borrow more than you can afford to pay back.
12. Doing good is just as important as doing well.
13. Time is not just your most precious commodity, it is your only commodity. Don’t waste it. And don’t give it to people or projects that don’t respect it.
14. Try new things.
15. Be decisive.
16. Do what you love but find a way to make money doing it or you won’t be able to do it very long.
17. Don’t be an ideologue or a demagogue. The world has plenty of those.
18. Don’t vote straight ticket. Think for yourself. If you think one political party has all of the answers, you’re not asking the right questions.
19. Don’t buy into dogmatic bullshit. Opinions are not facts.
20. Give people the benefit of the doubt, until you doubt the benefit. Then stop. You’ll know when that is.
21. Most of your life should be spent running uphill. If you’re not, then you’re not challenging yourself.
22. Don’t bring home stray kittens. Someone other than you is probably better equipped to take care of them.
23. Most of your life your only company is yourself. Like yourself.
24. If you want to get a tattoo, go to your closet and pick out your favorite shirt. Wear it every day and every night for 2 years. If you’re not tired of wearing it after 2 years, go get your tattoo.
25. Don’t worry about trying to impress people with your knowledge or experience when you’re young. Just be interested, engaged and eager to learn.
26. If you show up to class on time and sit in one of the first three rows, you will succeed.
27. It’s often easier to effectuate change by working within the system rather than outside the system. When it’s not, be sure to find strong allies.
28. If the police officer or the professor is talking, you’re listening.
29. It’s not always chess; sometimes it’s just checkers.
30. In things both big and small, always be someone upon whom others can rely. Help your friend move into his new apartment. Return phone calls. Keep your word. Follow through.
31. Read leisurely for at least 30 minutes every day. This will broaden your point of view and increase your curiosity about the world.
32. Kindness can be disarming.
33. Stand up straight, look people square in the eye and be the first to offer a firm handshake.
34. Have a toothbrush and toothpaste close at hand. A vigorous tooth brushing right before an important meeting is a confidence builder.
35. Don’t talk about how much ass you kicked in high school when you’re in college. No one gives a damn.
36. You’re always working for yourself, even when you’re working for someone else.
37. Don’t assume that an obvious question has already been asked.
38. When you review a proposal from someone else, don’t feel constrained by the parameters of their proposal.
39. Embrace and celebrate the things that make you feel different from everyone else.
40. Resist the insidious, slow progression toward cynicism.
41. Don’t get frustrated just because your immediate needs are not the priority of others. They seldom will be.
42. If you see someone who is alone, go out of your way to tell them hello.
43. Buy a box of nice stationery and write lots of “thank you” and “thinking of you” notes.
44. Look for beauty in the mundane.
45. Always carry some cash.
46. Wait at least 24 hours before sending a letter with the salutation “Dear Judge Dumb Ass.”
47. Pay your fair share. Don’t be a moocher.
48. Don’t major in the minors.
49. Exercise regularly.
50. No matter what is in front of you, walk toward it with confidence.