Rants, rambles, news and notes from another geek

Rules of the Road (Redux)

It is so much fun to go back and look at old posts. I saw Scott Hanselman mention on Twitter that he’d recently marked his 10th anniversary as a blogger. Since I just converted all my posts from SubText to Markdown, I’ve been going through the older ones. Sometimes I find one and say “Ugh, did I really say that?” but other times I find a good one and it still resonates with me as much as it did when I originally wrote it.

This is about one of those good ones.

The post I found was from January 29, 2009 and was called Rules of the Road. In that post I talked about how I found these stashed away in a OneNote file from 2006, so these have been with me for a while.

When I was growing up, my dad occasionally had issues with an ulcer in his duodenum. It was stress related. He was a very Type-A kind of person, in an occasionally stressful job, with all the stresses that one expects starting out a family. (You know… money, kids, etc.)

It was during this time that he started using three rules to help him deal with it. He told me those rules as I became older and was in college, where there can be similar but different stresses. I didn’t really take them to heart though until I became a manager and really started to experience stress.

Since then I’ve added some more to his list.

The Rules

  1. Don’t stress out about things you can’t control - ignore them
  2. Don’t stress out about things you can control - fix them
  3. If you have an issue with someone (anyone), talk to them about it immediately, do not let it fester
  4. Help people who politely and sincerely ask for help
  5. Fight for what you believe in
  6. Admit when you are wrong and don’t be afraid to apologize
  7. Reserve the right to change your mind
  8. You do not have to justify saying no to someone

Let’s look at each one

1. Don't stress out about things you can't control - ignore them
2. Don't stress out about things you can control - fix them

The first two of my dad’s original list are really the most important of the bunch. They help you manage and control your own reactions and expectations, and can play a huge part in increasing your personal happiness.

It is amazing how often people will stress out and complain about things over which they have no control. It is even more amazing how often people whine and complain about things they can control. This is related to the old adage, “Change your environment or change your environment.” Don’t like your job? Fix it or quit. You are in control over that. The same attitude can be applied to just about anything that stresses you.

3. If you have an issue with someone (anyone), talk to them about it
immediately, do not let it fester

Rule #3 is really just a special case of Rule #2, but pertaining to people. But this special case is important because we often forget that our relationships and communications with our peers, colleagues, friends and family are in our control. If you have an issue with something someone said or did, burying that down in your subconscious will only make it worse. These conversations can be hard, but they are essential to maintaining good relationships with people.

4. Help people who politely and sincerely ask for help.

This one is obvious to me, but particularly important on teams. Your family, friends and team should take priority over almost everything else. And when one of them comes to you with a request for help, help them.

5. Fight for what you believe in

This is another special case of #2 and it another example of “Change your environment or change your environment.” If you believe strongly that something needs to change, don’t leave it unchallenged. This is true at work and at home. But watch out for things that are beyond your control (Rule #1). If they really are beyond your control, then you probably need to stop caring about it so much.

6. Admit when you are wrong and don't be afraid to apologize.

I’m always amazed how many people believe that admitting a mistake and apologizing are somehow a sign of weakness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. True self-confidence and personal strength is demonstrated when you can openly and sincerely admit you made a mistake and apologize for it. It is amazing how well this works with people and how it can help establish trust and respect.

7. Reserve the right to change your mind

I always think of this one during election year because it seems that our political system doesn’t agree with it. How many times have you seen one politician accuse another of “flip flopping”?

I saw a good quote on Twitter the other day that reminded me of this rule:

Teaching kids to accept baseless assertions is damaging.
Teaching them to ignore contradictory evidence is downright dangerous.

Anyone who dogmatically sticks to a position because they’re unwilling to change is someone I simply cannot respect or work with. Everyone has to be willing to listen to evidence and when presented with new information you have to be willing to change your mind. Of course you don’t have to change your mind, it is about the willingness to accept new evidence and adjust your position. Anything else is simply illogical and foolish.

When you know better, do better.

8. You do not have to justify saying no to someone

Many people, when presented with a request they are unable or unwilling to do will seek to rationalize or explain away their reason. If you have a reason and are willing to share it, go for it, but don’t feel like you always have to justify saying no to someone. Be polite and respectful, but there is nothing wrong with simply saying, “No I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

Conclusion

I’m not sure if this will help you but these are rules that I use in my life to help guide my behavior. The essence is about being open and honest with yourself and with those around you. Consistent application of them can help you be happier, less stressed and be someone that people know they can trust and respect.

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