Saturday, February 04, 2012

Three Rules of Life

When I think about how to live a good life, I can sum it up in three rules:

1) Don't be an idiot*
2) Do it again, but don't suck this time
3) Don't settle

*Alternately, as my friend Jenny says, "don't be a douche-tool". This version applies mostly to romantic relationships, but could be more widely applicable to friendships and acquaintances, as well.

Let's "unpack" each of these.

Ugh, no, let's not unpack. I hate when people (usually pastors) say they're gonna unpack something. That's what I do to my luggage, not English.

1) Don't be an idiot

Essentially, don't do something you'll regret in the morning. Bite that tongue. Don't make stupid decisions that you know will haunt you, get you fired, land you in jail, or estrange you from your lover. Recognize when you're being irrational, and don't be afraid to back down when you realize you might be wrong. (easy to do, right?)

I guess another way of looking at it: while it's okay to dance as if no one is watching, you ought live as if everyone is watching, as if your life is being recorded. People gossip. Remembering that'll help keep you honest.

Lastly, don't let greed take control. Lyrics from The Gambler apply: "Know when to walk away, know when to run". Recognize when the deal (financial, business, personal, relationship, this applies in every area of life) is as sweet as it's going to get, and then either accept it or walk away. Be fair to yourself, but don't be greedy, or you'll risk losing that deal/business/friendship/relationship/etc. And know that sometimes it's better to walk away.

2) Do it again, but don't suck this time

I think I got this one from my friend Shawn, but that might be a mis-memory. In any case, "do it again but don't suck this time" quickly became my motto on movie sets when I direct actors, and has since crept into my everyday vernacular.

You're gonna make mistakes, it's fine, everyone does. Even me, occasionally. Making the mistake isn't the problem; learning from and responding to it, that's what matters. I believe in a God of second chances. And third and fourth and fifth. But when I get that second go, I'd better aspire to do better, or at least suck less, otherwise I haven't grown, so what's the point?

Over time I've noticed some folks in my social circles choose to live in the past, rehashing old stories over and over, either A) wallowing in their misdeeds and mistakes, or B) escaping to a yesterworld of fond memories "when life was good"; in both cases, they choose the past over living their present-day lives. I think that's unhealthy. Story-telling and reminiscing can have a healthy place, and learning from what you've done well and not-well is awesome! But escapism, choosing to trap yourself in your past at the expense of your present... life's too short. Learn from the past, let it inform and mould you into a better you, and then live your life as a better human being because of those experiences.

3) Don't settle

I don't remember many details from the 25 hour audiobook biography of Steve Jobs, but the one phrase that has stuck with me is Steve's philosophy, "don't settle." It struck me because it's the life motto I've always lived by but never had words to express.

"Don't settle" is globally applicable: work, human relationships, romance, movie projects, personal improvement, faith, et al.

There's a fine distinction here I'll try to describe. Example: my first two movie projects. Given the tools and experience and circumstances I was working with at the time, I'm proud of them. They are far from perfect, but at the same time I would never say I "settled." Same with some of the web-based database tools I've built at work. Not perfect, but I never settled and said "this is good enough" until I pushed through and made it as great as I possibly could. And same with my close friends - I will never have listened enough, asked enough questions, loved enough, shared enough of life together; at the same time, my goal at the end of the day is to say "I've done what I could."

With all of these there comes a point where one feels complete, but I've only ever reached that point by pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do before. Giving up halfway, settling for something less than I knew was my personal best, that leaves me feeling hollow and incomplete.

There you have it. Jeremy's three rules by which to live. Maybe I'll add more in the future, but I'm thinking everything else can be umbrella-d under one of these three.

1 comment:

Mom said...

At the moment, I can't remember his exact words, but Dumbledore (in The Sorcerer's Stone) had a powerful line as he told Harry Potter not to stare into the mirror too long. "It does you no good to look too long at the past...and forget to live." [paraphrased]