Tap My Mind

A Blog by Scott Isaacs

Tag: Rules to Live By

RTLB #6: Some Things Are Hard To Do — Do Them Anyway

This is the sixth in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #6:

Some things are hard to do.  Do them anyway.

There’s a reason why people have the impression that certain things are hard to do: they are.

Somehow I end up committing myself to things that fall into this category.  I feel like I spend a lot of my time doing things I don’t know how to do.  I take satisfaction in doing things that are perceived as hard, or even considered to be impossible.  Things like working a lot of hours to use one type of technology for a purpose that was supposed to be impossible.  Things like running a users group and organizing technology conferences.  Things like training to climb a mountain, and then making it to the top.  Things like sleeping less than 35 hours per week while writing a book.

Yes, I take satisfaction in doing these things that are perceived as hard.  It’s not because I’m special.  In fact, it’s precisely the opposite.  If I do these things, even if I’m not as good at it as other people are, then so can anyone else.  Yes, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something I didn’t think I could do or something you didn’t think I could do.  Even more, though, I have a list of things that I can use as examples and as encouragement to others to do something they didn’t think was possible for them.  When my kids are scared to do something because they don’t want to fall or fail, I have history to encourage them to go for it.

Getting hit by a fast ball hurts, but only for a while.  Standing in the box and hitting a game-winning hit feels awesome, for a long time.

Sometimes technology experts that say something is impossible are wrong.  So if you believe in your idea, try it anyway.

Stepping outside your comfort zone to do a job completely unrelated to what you normally do is overwhelming and confusing.  But if you’re passionate about it, try it anyway.

Losing weight and training like crazy for 3 months in order to pull your still-overweight self up a steep granite slope with your arms, only to realize that the trip back down could literally kill you is pretty scary.  But if it’s on your bucket list, train for it and do it anyway.

Whenever you feel like you aren’t qualified to do something that you believe in and that you’re passionate about, tell the imposter to take a backseat and do it anyway.  You’ve done other hard things before and you will do more hard things in the future.  You may suck, or worse, you may be mediocre.  You may fail.  You may get hurt, emotionally, mentally or physically.  You may realize that your time could have been better spent elsewhere.  Or you may not only reach, but surpass, your highest expectation.

Some things are hard to do.  Do them anyway.  Not only for yourself, but to encourage someone else.

RTLB #5: Do Not Withhold Good to Spite Evil

This is the fifth in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #5:

Do not withhold good to spite evil.

This is a tough one — for me at least. Have you ever had someone be rude to you? Or had a conversation with someone in a bad mood? Or found out that someone said something about you behind your back? Or conspired against you? No doubt you have had all of these things happen to you.

I don’t know about you but my instinct is to pop off and say something sarcastic in return or to be a smart aleck. Clearly this will rarely calm the situation.

I think everyone knows, though, deep down, that you should not return “evil” for “evil”. Sure, there are times that I must take a stand on something, and even be aggressive, but rarely should that be my instinct. This is a hard struggle for me personally, especially regarding people with whom I have a history. I struggle with it weekly, if not daily.

But I think I should be taking it even a step further.

Have you ever been just about to compliment someone when they said something rude? Have you ever started to slow down to let another driver merge only to have him cut you off and give you the finger? Have you ever approached an employee of a store and politely started with “Excuse me, ma’am” and received rude service in response? Did it make you want to give that compliment, be courteous to another driver or say “thank you” to the clerk? Probably not. But that is probably exactly what we should do in those situations.

It is one of my personal goals to make sure I do not withhold good to spite evil. It’s so easy to let one interaction change who I am. If I have made a commitment to myself to be a kind person — a commitment I feel everyone should make — what does it say about me that another person has enough control over me to cause me to fail at this? Am I not in control of my own actions?

No. I am in control of my own actions and that means that I am capable of giving good even if I have received only evil.

I’m working on this everyday and have found that the more I remember to be kind (which is different than acting kind, but that’s an entirely different conversation, but is possibly the single most important thing to note in everything I have said) the more I find myself wanting to be kind. To everybody. To family. To friends. To strangers. Even to the person who hurt me.

My challenge to you is the same as my personal challenge to myself. Give good in return for bad. Be kind first, and then act kindly. Remember that the person on the other side of the evil is a person and they may be struggling with the same thing, acting badly because they themselves have been offended.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

RTLB #4: Smart Is Sometimes Stored In Silos

This is the fourth in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #4:

Smart is sometimes stored in silos.

I was sitting at the keyboard and realized that I wasn’t sure how to spell a certain word I wanted to use.  It’s a common enough word, and I’ve said it many times, but I don’t know that I’ve ever written it.  When I started to think about it, I thought of a number of other similar words – words I should know how to spell, but am not sure I can.

To be honest, it made me feel stupid.

I know I am not a stupid person.  I work in a technical field (writing software) and have a degree in Applied Mathematics.  I am a successful professional.  I run a small business outside of my day job.  I manage a large community organization.  None of these things makes me special, but they at least make me “not stupid”.

Photo credit: tinou baoThis led me to a series of obvious observations:

  1. I don’t know everything.
  2. I don’t know a little bit about everything.
  3. I don’t even know a little bit about many things (in the grand scheme of all things that are things and all knowledge that is to be known).
  4. I know a little about a few things.
  5. I know a lot about even fewer things.

My knowledge is stored is silos.  (I know.  It’s a breakthrough, right?)

But remember from above, none of these things makes me special.  Hence:

  1. You don’t know everything.
  2. You don’t know a little bit about everything.
  3. You don’t even know a little bit about many things (in the grand scheme of all things that are things and all knowledge that is to be known).
  4. You know a little about a few things.
  5. You know a lot about even fewer things.
  6. My things may or may not be the same as your things.

Give special attention to #6 here.  Again, this isn’t rocket science, but it leads me to this three-part corollary:

  1. I know things you don’t know.
  2. You know things I don’t know.
  3. Neither of us is stupid because of this.

At various times in my past, I’ve mentally dismissed someone as stupid because of a gap between our silos of knowledge.  It’s not fair to either of us.  I may act differently, even offensively, toward them and I may never learn from them what knowledge they do have in their silo.  How might things be different if I shared what was in my silo?

This is obvious, I know.  It’s not some big secret that I’ve revealed.  It’s just something to think about that I wasn’t thinking about.

By the way, the word was “therapeutic” – that crazy “eu” combination is a killer for me.

RTLB #3: Pain Is The Best Teacher

This is the third in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #3:

Pain is the best teacher.

I really don’t think anything else needs to be said.  I won’t let that stop me, though.  🙂

If, hypothetically, I was a betting man, and if, hypothetically, I had a dollar to bet, I’d bet a dollar that when you read this rule, you thought of some experience in your life where you were hurt in some way, physically, emotionally, or otherwise.  If I had another dollar, I’d bet that, since that experience, you’ve done everything you can to avoid a repeat experience.

If, hypothetically, I owe you $2, let me know.

So, what’s my point? Pain is unavoidable. Unfortunately, learning from pain is avoidable. Just because pain is the best teacher does not mean that I am an observant student.

Let me explain by analogy. Sure, it’s easy for my two year old daughter to remember to keep her hand off of the stove if it’s burned her before (it hasn’t, by the way), but that probably hasn’t taught her to stay away from the hot water valve in the bath tub. Why not? It’s, of course, because she is too immature to see the correlation.

Ouch. Immature. See where I’m going here? If not, I owe you another dollar. Hypothetically.

Pain is the best teacher, but we can be too immature to learn everything from it that we should. Note that I am not talking about immature in the “adult acting like an irresponsible teenager” way here; that’s an entirely different issue. It’s more about inexperience and lack of wisdom to some degree.

Nobody wants to admit that they are immature, and many of us may not even realize that we are. But we are. All of us are immature; no one is 100% mature, just possibly less immature than others.

“But, Scott,” you ask, “how do I become less immature?” Good question. The answer is simple: you need to become more wise. To paraphrase the best-selling book of all time, the first sign of wisdom is to seek wisdom. Wisdom is free for the asking.

With wisdom comes maturity, and with maturity comes the ability to learn even more and to gain even more wisdom. It’s a vicious cycle except that it’s not so vicious. Simply by seeking wisdom, you become more wise. As your wisdom increases, it becomes easier to see how “all of the pieces” fit together.

Suddenly, lessons taught by pain have so much more value than they did before. As my daughter grows, she will learn that the burns don’t come from the stove; the burns are caused by heat and the stove is just a thing that makes heat.

The best teacher is unavoidable. Let’s become more observant students.

I really don’t think anything else needs to be said — unless you have some comments.

RTLB #2: I’m No More Important Than You Are

This is the second in my “Rules to Live By” series.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, or better, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them “Rules to Live By”.  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

RTLB #2:

I’m no more important than you are.

Regardless of rank, position or title, my life is no more important than yours.  You are just as much a person as I am.  My concerns are no more important to me than your concerns are to you. 

Sometimes this is a really tough pill to swallow.  It’s easy to minimize someone else’s accomplishments, fears and struggles in comparison to my own, especially if those fears and struggles of yours are causing you to act in a way I don’t appreciate.  Recognizing that you might be facing issues of your own has really helped me remember that people aren’t intentionally mean-spirited.  I know that when I am stressed by something that it can cause me to act in a way I wouldn’t normally act, and other people are no different.

Let me take it a step further now.  My concerns should be no more important to me than your concerns are to me.  What does this mean?  Does it mean I need to solve your problems or be concerned with everything that concerns you?

The short answer: yes.

The slightly longer answer is, well, slightly longer.  Obviously no single human can take on the cares of the world, or even the cares of their small subset of the world.  But I need to be willing to do whatever I can do for each individual in my life.

I’ve gotten to the point where it is almost (almost) second nature for me to recognize that you are just as important as I am in the grand scope of the entire universe.  It’s gotten pretty easy for me to see how your concerns are as important to you as mine are to me, but I have to confess that I struggle every day to concern myself with your issues. 

How can I put that much energy into someone else?  Why should I bother?  Sure, I want to be a nice guy to my family (parents, sister, in-laws, etc.) and friends, but I have my own little family (wife and kids) to take care of, and more than my fair share of struggles.  Surely you don’t expect me to take on the cares of everyone I meet.  Why would I do that?

Call it a spiritual principle, karma, a law of the universe, or whatever you wish, but I’ve found that my life is better when I put this into practice.

When I hold the door for the man coming up behind me; when I stop what I’m doing to help a mother with her arms full of infant, toddler, shopping bags and whatever else mothers carry; when I help my 87-year-old grandfather up from his chair or down the steps; when I listen to some spill their guts on how someone else has hurt them; when I stop what I am doing to help a coworker through a difficult problem; or when I give a McDonald’s bag to the homeless guy on the corner of Market and 2nd Street there always seems to be a reward.  Maybe my problems get smaller, or some even go away altogether.  Maybe someone unexpectedly does something for me.  Or maybe I just feel like a made a little difference to someone for a while.

So, my own personal goal is to, whenever feasible, do what I can for other people.  I certainly don’t always want to, but I know I will later regret it if I don’t, because I am no more important than you are.

RTLB #1: Always Assume Good Intentions

"Rules to Live By" (RTLB) is a new series that I will occasionally be writing here on my blog.  Like every other professional, in every other field, over the years I’ve picked up a lot of things that make my life easier, both professionally and personally.  Most of these things can be summarized in a sentence or two, and I’ve decided to call them Rules to Live By (original, I know).  As much as any other reason, they are here to remind myself of things that I’ve decided to believe in, even if I don’t feel like it one day.

Without further ado, I present RTLB #1:

Always assume good intentions.

This one is not always easy, but I’ve found myself doing this for many years, and it has become second nature.  If I find myself in the situation where someone says or does something that could be offensive in some way, I stop and think, "They didn’t mean it the way it came out."

Most people aren’t intentionally mean-spirited.  Sure, some people are just rude, arrogant, selfish morons, but that is rare.  It is unlikely that they meant to offend me with that comment or action.  There is almost definitely some circumstance I am not aware of that is causing this.  Almost always it is a miscommunication somewhere along the way, on my end or theirs, or both. 

Yes, sometimes it’s my own fault.

Realizing this, it helps keep me from getting unnecessarily angry and reacting in a way that makes things worse, or from sitting and grumbling silently to myself or peers.  Staying calm and humble by assuming the problem is very possibly my own fault, I can often approach the person and work through whatever issues there are, and in the end, we are all happy.

So there you have it, Rule to Live By #1.  I welcome any comments or feedback.  If you have your own rules to live by, I’d love to hear about them.

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