Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Personal Life Maxims

I've been pondering on this for a while and figured I'd finally jot down (and share) on the "maxims" I strive to live by. Sometimes I fall short but try to live by the following as much as possible. In my opinion, "maxims" are the foundations or a set of rules one aspires to uphold all the time and in every situation.

In no particular order:

1. "Dance with the one who brought you."
Keyword - loyalty

This is an expression I read in Randy Pausch's famous "Last Lecture" book, and speaks beyond just the phenomenon of attending a dance (e.g. prom, gala, etc.) with a partner. It should be applied to all areas of life, including work relations, friends, and even family. While it may be tempting to jump ship for whatever benefits a new opportunity holds, it means more to stay the course and standby the people who gave you the initial opportunity. Not only is it about loyalty, but also being thankful to those who helped you in the past.

A personal example happened last year, shortly after I started work as a federal employee. Deloitte made me a generous offer that I ultimately declined. The backstory is they had tried to recruit me months prior but couldn't make an offer due to hiring freeze at the time. Overall it was an agonizing decision because it seemed like a perfect fit for my background in finance/economics but also mixed in IT project management. I pondered, spoke to my boss, and in the end decided to stay the course. The main reason was understanding the effort my boss had put it to bring me onboard, and his plans to help me develop. That's not to say I will forever remain in this position, but for now that is the case.

2. "I have no special talent; I'm only passionately curious about everything."
Keyword - humility

This is a quotation from Albert Einstein, who I presume was speaking about the perception that he was a supremely talented and a natural-born genius. The lesson to learn here is that opportunities come and go, oftentimes completely independent of our actions or abilities. Again, it's about the people who helped us get somewhere and perhaps of a higher power that granted us the opportunity. It's not about self-deprecation but acknowledging that we're not omnipotent and should never be fully comfortable with where we are. This should especially translate to our interactions with those around us, regardless of their position compared to our own. We're in this together.

My personal example is constantly reminding myself that despite of my position as a manager, I'm not much better than anyone else from the streets. I'm where I am and do what I do because of my team, boss, organization, friends, family, and God. This helps keeps things in perspective.

3. "Count your blessings."
Keyword - thankfulness

As a so-called "go-getter", I find myself sometimes unhappy because something didn't happen or work out that would have improved my life considerably or even marginally. In my striving towards things like career development and romantic relationships, I take the things and people I have for granted. I suspect I'm not the only one who does this, but it's a flawed person trait I try to right. It's almost an incessant questioning of what we lack that, if held unchecked, can cause us to be depressed when we ought to be experiencing the complete opposite.

I don't have a concrete example to share, other than being mindful of things like how I have gainful employment, live in a war-free zone, and am essentially the master of my own destiny. I'm not even hindered by any allergies or physical abnormalities. Most of the world can't even come close to that. In the end it's about finding a balance between striving towards goals yet being cognizant of the present situation, being grateful for the countless good things we have.

4. "If you have the power to make a difference, you should put it to good use."
Keyword - generosity

I like to combine this one with another lesson from Randy Pausch's book, called "enabling the dreams of others." This expression itself comes from an anime show I used to watch long ago, about young pilot trying to protect his friends during a massive war. While this sounds like the common phrase of "paying it forward" and is generally in the same spirit, in my opinion it's bigger picture. Making a difference isn't easy and the hardest part is recognizing those opportunities to make an impact, for someone or a specific cause. Oftentimes it involves going out of your way for someone else, group of people, or organization, to help them achieve their dream.

In many ways, the lesson is being unselfish and recognizing that we are altogether instead of living in our own paneled homes. So why shouldn't we help out our fellow man, woman, or child? There's again an undertone of being grateful for what we have and wanting to share our perceived successes. Another take on this is that I owe it to not myself but to others to take action, to fight off the inclination to be apathetic and defer to someone else to do something greater. We each have more power to make a difference than we first think.

5. "Cherish your loved ones."
Keyword - priority

This one is a no-brainer but it's funny how quickly we can forget about this and instead be devoted to other things like our hobbies and careers. Workaholic-ism is an openly admired trait in our society, especially for private companies where there is no extraneous benefits like overtime. But when we take a step back and think about it, no one wishes they had worked more in their deathbeds. We'd always wish that we had more time to spend with our families, friends, and other loved ones (e.g. pets). In a way, it's recognizing and remembering the fragility of life and how we may live differently if we knew today was our last. I suspect our priorities would change dramatically shift if that was the case.

6. "Understand your Detroit and accepting that you can't go."
Keyword - peace

This maxim derives from a book by Jack Welch I read and comes from the example of a GE employee that was offered a terrific position by another company, that happened to be located in Detroit rather than the city he was working in. The decision should have been a no-brainer except for the fact that the employee had a family to take care of, whom were well planted in their existing location. In the end, he chose not to take the position. The lesson is that many opportunities will come up throughout our lives, sometimes amazing opportunities that we eventually have to turn down for one reason or another. In the example given, it was family but could be almost anything. The import thing is to accept the reasons why we can't take up those opportunities and thus be willing to let them go.

This is different from Maxim #1 because the emphasis isn't so much on loyalty as on circumstances and the potential adverse impact of our actions on others around us. Ultimately it's about being at peace with our decisions and moving on, rather than frequently looking back and wondering the "what could've been". Life is too short to be burdened down with regret and if you're optimistic, then you'll realize that other amazing opportunities will come along. Maybe not today but probably tomorrow. One door closing now doesn't mean it won't be open again in the future, or another door be opened for you.

7. "Be so good they can't ignore you."
Keyword - dedication

This is word-for-word the title of a book by Cal Newport, who preached his belief there's an overglorification in our society today on pursuing our so-called passions. He argues instead that it should be the other way around: passion for our work comes second to our skills; the more we practice our skills, the more enjoyment we get from doing our work and the benefits of career progress (e.g. salary increase, position growth) follow. I found the book to be incredibly well-written and influential to challenging my former ideas about work. Aside from dedication, the other lesson here is about commitment to a specific craft and the hidden benefits that would come from that.

In this sense, this maxim applies to a lot of other areas of life and not just about careers. The obvious implication is in personal relationships, about being committed to a certain friendship, familial relations, or a special someone. This is especially true when we're first starting out on the last one. As a personal example, I've been dipping into the world of online dating the past few months and was immediately hit by the sheer number of potential partners. At first I approach each date purposely, but eventually took a more casual approach. This is something I saw in some of the dates I saw too, particularly those who admitted they had a lot of online dates. Slowly I changed and came into each date with a diminished sense of commitment, a little more impatient and more ready to jump ship at the first sign of incompatibility. The results spoke for themselves (e.g. nothing). Having realized this, I'm now trying to approach one in a more committed manner and try harder...if there aren't any potential dealbreakers.

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