What Does it Mean to be a Man or Woman of Principle?
Throughout my life, I have, in one form or another, encountered the maxim that I should be a “man of principle.” That I should decide what I value, and live my life accordingly. That I should live by a set of rules.
While touring a house that once belonged to the Choe Clan, one of Gyeongju, South Korea’s most influential families for centuries, I came across this sign:
This sign got me thinking.
Though some of these principles are a bit outdated (I mean, I’m not sure what that daughters-in-law wearing cotton one is all about), some struck me as aspirational even today (never let anyone near you starve). Imagine the world where we all aspired to such rules. Not bad, huh?
Principles Should Be Personal.
Everyone is different – different lifestyles, different economic situations, different goals and pursuits, and so on – so one person’s principles may not work for another person. Sure, there are codes aplenty that claim to provide a standardized set of principles (just reference any religious text). But I think that our specific set principles should be developed on a far more personal level.
So how do we define our set of principles?
Some people accept what they’re taught, I suppose and go from there. Taught by parents, church, school.
I’ve tried that. And more. I’ve read self-improvement blogs. Devoured self-help books. Listened to books-on-tape (are they still called that?) by “Gurus.” I’ve read Psychology weeklies. Fortune cookies. Asked Friends, family, neighbors, the cat. The wind, the stars. You name it, at one time or another I probably looked to it for answers.
Because as I dug deeper, and looked further, I encountered a problem.
Everyone has different advice. Everyone.
“Find a solid girl, settle down. Start a family.” – Friend who married at 22
“Don’t settle down, go pursue your dreams.” – Entrepreneurial Friend
“Find a good job and stick with it. Work isn’t supposed to be fun.” – Grandfather who worked at same place until retirement
“Find something you love, and if you don’t love it, leave it.” – Motivational Speaker #9231
“You will have a party.” – Awesome Fortune Cookie (seriously, I got this once)
“Etc.” – Everyone else
The Internet is full of advice in the form of quotes and platitudes, nearly pasted on pretty pictures…
The Solution? Decide For Yourself.
So I’ve decided, what the hell, why not pick the ones I like the most, that resonated with me, and use those until something better comes along?
It seems like everyone else is pretty much doing that.
My top five principles.
I reserve the right to change my mind, and you have the right to disagree! My friends back in the management consulting world would complain that these aren’t all-encompassing, that they leave some situations “exposed.” So be it. If I come across one of those situations, perhaps this list might change.
Everyone is creative and should push their creativity to the limits.
I believe that no matter what you do, whether you are a painter, rock star, grocer, or accountant, there is always opportunity to use your innate creativity to stand out. To change the world around you. To add to it, to make it more beautiful, more enjoyable. To leave your mark.
Your creativity is what makes you different from every other painter, rock star, grocer, or accountant, and you should celebrate it by sharing it with the world.
Do something creative every day.
Many people have good ideas about life, but no one person has all the answers. Ask everyone, but decide for yourself.
Keep this in mind, of course, as you read my blog. I’m no expert. I’m just a guy trying to learn from my experiences and the words and experiences of others.
I think we should listen to others and consider their advice, but then decide for ourselves. We have a brain for a reason. Don’t buy into another person’s doctrine without a healthy dose of skepticism. Otherwise, cults and ideology happen. Scary stuff.
You define your success, and you can tell people to mind their business.
You get to say whether you “made it” or not. Regardless of what you accomplish in this life, there will always be someone who expected more or accomplished more. Who cares?
Just getting off the couch to do something is an accomplishment.
So make a positive effort, take action any way possible, and learn as you go. When people try to gauge your progress by their measuring sticks (and they will), just smile and go on your way, knowing that in walking away from their judgment, you are accomplishing yet another feat.
Living is the most important part of life.
Travel! Try new things. Screw up. Whatever you do, don’t hide away from life. If you can get out and push your limits, do it! Live your story, or someday you’ll regret it. Pretty much every older person ever has said that you “regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.” Plus, I’ve learned far more from the risks taken, boundaries pushed, mistakes made, and new worlds explored than I have from any day spent lounging within my comfort zone.
In general, “stuff” is not the most important aspect of our lives (and that includes money). People are. Help others.
If you want a house, two cars, a boat, fine by me. I don’t. I tried that way of living, and it just gets stressful trying to keep up with the expenses. I prefer to reduce my baggage and focus on meeting new people. I enjoy my time with family and friends. The memories I have and treasure almost never involve “things.”
They involve people. Sure, it can be fun to ride in a cool car, get a new TV, play a new game system, but it never lasts. The toys inevitably become outdated, forgotten. The people almost never do.
Also, like our friends the Choe Clan pointed out (or whoever put up the sign I saw), we shouldn’t be hoarding things and money while others starve. If you are already or you become one of the “privileged” ones in this world, then use your resources to help others in need.
There you have it, a few of MY principles.
I did not claim that these are THE principles. These are just MY principles. I encourage you to think through all the bits and pieces of advice you’ve heard throughout the years and perform a similar exercise. Try to limit yourself to a short list, even though this approach may not be all-encompassing, because it’s a heck of a lot easier to remember and put into practice that way. Then use your principles daily when faced with deciding what to do or say next, or with deciding where to focus your energy.