Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, June 22, 2007


When my oldest daughter was a senior in high school, I ended up with homework from one of her classes. They were studying Hamlet in English. When they got to the part where Polonius was giving his son Laertes advice before going off into the world, the teacher had the idea that the students' parents should write letters to them, giving them advice as they too were about to go out into the world.

What follows is what I wrote. I added a few things, but it is essentially the same letter that I wrote to my daughter.

Never lose sight of what's important in life: Your family and friends, your health. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Even if the world is falling apart around you, keep a calm mind, take a deep breath, think clearly, and move forward.

Money isn't everything. It's more important to enjoy what you're doing, and the people with whom you work, after you've attained your basic needs. Live within your means. Save money. Don't be a slave to the things you own. When you get a job that offers you a 401k plan, put as much into it as you possibly can, as soon as you are able. That initial funding will have the greatest contribution to your comfort and lifestyle when you want to retire.

You can't play it safe all the time. Sometimes you have to take risks. When you take a risk however, be prepared to lose what you set at stake.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. That's how you learn. Take responsibility for your errors, pick up the pieces, learn the lesson, and move on. Don't dwell on the past. It's tough enough to make a future for yourself without carrying along any extra baggage.

Say less than you need to. Action speaks louder than words. This is especially true when you are around kids. You'll be better known to people through your actions, rather than what you say. More accurately: by how well what you do and what you say you'll do square up with one another.

Little things, which require such little effort makes a huge difference to other people. Do those little things for other people.

We create most of our own problems. It's usually in the way we want to look at things, and how we choose to understand them. When you have a problem, study how you think about that problem. This little exercise won't make the problem go away, but you'll understand it much better, and stand a greater chance of finding a way to solve it.

No one can predict the future with certainty. Keep your options open, so when the unexpected happens, you’ll still come out on top.

Keep an open mind. The first report of any event is usually not very accurate. You don't always have the final piece of information. Anyone who retells a story will do so with his own bias. Hope and desire cloud observation. How good is your data?

Don’t be in an unnatural rush to draw conclusions. Having a deadline is one thing, but otherwise don’t be in a hurry. Turn the situation around and slice it from as many angles as you can. Set it aside and return to it. You may not find an answer, but you might find something more powerful – understanding.

Consider your conclusions to be tentative, until further information becomes available. When you have to make decisions, do so with the best information you have available to you at the time, and have no regrets.

It’s ok to change your mind.

Many times we are swept up by events over which we have no control or influence. The best thing we can do is to look at the options we have within our grasp, formulate the best Plan B we can, and just grind it out.

When you're making your plans, don't forget that others are making plans too. Imagine yourself in the other guy’s shoes. What would he be doing? What would be in his best interests? Imagine all of your assumptions be flipped around.

You can only do the work. You can't guarantee outcomes. Sometimes the outcomes will surprise you. This is especially true when dealing with people.

Sometimes the best strategy you can take is to simply stand aside and let events unfold on their own.

You make the life you live.

Discipline is remembering what you want.

Understand the difference between a mystery and a puzzle. A puzzle can be solved. A mystery can only be framed. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to come up with answers to questions, and solutions to problems, that simply can’t be solved; they can only be framed. Be also aware that sometimes things change, and what was once unsolvable may no longer be so.

"Speed" is quite often an illusion.

The Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I read a book once on time management. It was a slim little book full of little tips and tricks on how to get organized, and get things done. At the end of the book, the author says that all the little tips and tricks are well and good, but have you ever noticed that if there is anything that you truly love to do, you find the time? The key is to do the things you love, and only those things. The problem is that life seems to constantly be finding things you don't especially like for you to do. If I understand this author correctly, you have to find a way to love even those things you don't especially like to do.

That's a hard concept to grasp. Hang on to that concept. Struggle with it. It's profound. Your mind will open.


Anonymous said...

Awesome words of advice. Thanks for sharing! I'm still thinking about the whole puzzle/mystery thing. I also like the whole yin/yang thing about things we don't like. Everything we do has both qualities, it's up to us to choose which one we focus on.

One of my favorites of shakespeare:
"Nothing is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so"


Compass360 Consulting Group said...

Nice material.

Zen said...

We do make our own story