Chad Grayson

2 Rules for Life

I know, I know. You hate rules. I hate rules too. Rules are stupid, can often be reductive, and are not to be trusted. But I have stumbled upon a set of rules that really helps focus me on how I want to show up in the world, how I behave and interact with people. So, maybe we shouldn’t think of these as rules, so much as principles we can follow to direct our thinking and our behavior. And I know a lot of people have shown up with long lists of rules for how you should live your life. One famous asshat who shall remain nameless has twelve of them he wrote a book about, but I only have two. Two! We can do two! Two is less than 12, and less than ten, and less than almost every other positive integer. So, what are these rules?

  1. Work Hard
  2. Be Kind.

That’s it! And I would like to say these were first popularized by some great philosopher. It would be nice if they were from the bible, or Shakespeare, or perhaps Ghandi or Mother Theresa. It also seems like the type of thing Maya Angelou might have said. When I first heard about these two rules, it was divorced from context, so I had high hopes when I looked for the source. So, who is this wise moral philosopher?

I am sorry to report that it was Conan O’Brien. Yes, that Conan O’Brien. At least it’s credited to him. Maybe he got them from his second-grade teacher or something, but when I googled this, his was the name attached to the quote. I don’t have anything against Conan O’Brien, but I was really hoping for Maya Angelou. But that’s ok! Wisdom can come from unlikely sources.

I want to write a bit about what these rules mean to me, because they seem simple, but their execution can be complex. ‘Work Hard’ for me does not mean you should work yourself to death. For me, working hard means, ‘Give your reasonable best effort to whatever it is you decide to accomplish.’ The word reasonable is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, and what that means is open to interpretation. You should try your best to accomplish your goals. Simple, really. Now, choosing those goals in the first place could be the subject of another post (stay tuned!), but when you decide to do something, you should bring all the energy you have available to doing the best job possible. Within reason.

It also means you shouldn’t try so hard to do one particular thing that you burn yourself out and make yourself unable to handle your other responsibilities. Balance is the key here. Working hard, reasonably, preserves your energy and potential to accomplish more things. A disciplined half-ass accomplishes more over the course of a year than someone who flames out and then must be hospitalized. They’re happier doing it too.

Because that’s what these rules are really for, not to help us get things done, but to make us happier while we do them. I don’t know about you, but I am more satisfied at the end of the day if I have accomplished at least some of my goals. If I gave my reasonable best effort. That allows me to relax and not feel guilty. It allows me to feel that I’ve done something besides converting oxygen to carbon dioxide (as valuable as that is).

So, rule one, work hard. Sounds easy. Too easy. But it’s anything but.

Rule two, Be kind, at first glance seems like it should be the easier of the two. But it’s not. It’s not even close. By ‘Be kind’ I do not only mean ‘behave in a way that does not do intentional damage to other people.’ That’s part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. It also means, ‘extend the most generous interpretation to the people you find yourselves in conflict with.’ This is a nugget from Brene Brown. It does not mean ‘be a doormat.’ But it means to not automatically assume that everyone you are in conflict with is either an idiot or a bad actor. They could be! But don’t start from that assumption. Once again, this is not for them, but for you. You will be a happier person if you do not assume everyone else has bad intentions. There are legitimate reasons for conflict in many different areas (not talking about things like basic human rights here). All of us have a unique perspective that may not be obvious to whomever we’re dealing with. And vice versa. Seek to understand the other side, not just to win whatever battle you find yourself engaged in. This will make you a happier person. And you will win more people to your side if they feel like they are being listened to and understood. Except obvious bigots, because fuck those people!

You will also need to turn the awesome power of kindness toward yourself, which is actually the hardest part of this. If you don’t feel like doing something, don’t automatically assume you’re just being lazy. There might be legitimate reasons you need rest at that moment, or there might be something about the task that you find more troubling than seems reasonable. Perhaps your anxiety is being triggered, or you have some buried trauma that is under the surface. Extend a generous interpretation to yourself. There are very few people who are actually lazy. We all want to feel like we are productive and contributing, but there are also legitimate reasons to be lazy sometimes. Extend the same latitude you give others to yourself.

So, be kind to others, and be kind to yourself. Give yourself rest when you need to. Whenever possible, make sure your efforts are being turned toward things that are not only productive, but also meaningful in some way. Washing your own dishes may seem like nothing, but it’s a meaningful way you take care of yourself and the other people in your life. Very little we do is actually meaningless. Find ways to remind yourself of that meaning. And I know I’ve said this before, but rest is productive. You cannot continue to accomplish things if you burn yourself out.

So: Work Hard. Be Kind. Give your reasonable best effort to whatever you choose to do and extend a generous interpretation of the facts to other people as well as to yourself. I really am sorry that it came from Conan O’Brien, but when someone is right, they’re right, and we must give them credit.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top