3 Rules for a Good Life

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When John was born, his father wrote a letter to his newborn son headed “Three Rules for A Good Life.” When John’s son was born, he wrote the same kind of letter. Now, that son has graduated from college.

John was at my table at a dinner party I attended a couple of months back. He told us that he wanted to write a letter to his son about three rules for a good life that would guide the young man as he left college and began a career. Several people suggested that John follow his father’s example. But John’s father had died before John graduated from high school. There was no “beginning life” letter for him to use as a model. So, he asked us what we thought.

That was the main topic of conversation at dinner that night. All of us offered advice and shared our observations. Presumably, John, who I met that night and haven’t seen since, used them to craft a letter to his son.

John’s question: “What are the three rules for a good life?” has stayed with me since that evening. It’s rolled around in my mind and popped up in my consciousness from time to time. This post is what I’ve come up with after that pondering.

Identifying just three rules means you have to leave a lot out. I think one of the most important things in a person’s life is the person they choose to share life with. I didn’t include that in my list because everyone thinks they’re making the right choice for the right reasons. I couldn’t figure out anything more than platitudes to help with that. I left out a lot of other things, too, but here are the three things I think are most important.

Make Enough Money Doing Something You Love

I’ve gotten this wrong both ways. I’ve had jobs where I loved the work but didn’t make enough money. The stress was horrible. I’ve also had work where I made very good money but didn’t enjoy going to work every day. That stress was horrible, too, just different.

Loving the work isn’t enough. You won’t have natural talent at everything you like. If that were true, I would be an opera singer. I can work at my singing, and I can improve, but I don’t have enough natural talent to ever make “professional grade.” Seek work that you’re good at and love so much that you’re willing to put up with the “scut work” that every kind of work has.

You need to make enough money so you can live the kind of life you want to live. “Enough” varies from person to person and from time to time in their life. Finding work you love is more constant, but also dangerous.

Don’t make The People Who Love You Forgive You Too Much

If you love your work, you’re likely to do it a lot. It’s easy to let work you love drive out other important things in your life, like relationships. In the beginning, when you do that, the people who love you will forgive you. They’ll know that you love them and they’ll know that you love your work, and people who love each other forgive each other.

Great. But if you keep using up those forgiveness credits, there comes a time when people won’t forgive you anymore.

Remember that when you love something you give it time. Give your work time, of course, but give the people in your life time, too. I’ve gotten this wrong a lot.

I’ve been fortunate that for most of my life I’ve had work that I love to do. Too often, though, I’ve gotten so wrapped up in my work that I’ve neglected spending time with people I love. Again and again, I’ve needed to be reminded of what’s important and pulled back from the edge of disaster.

Learn to Juggle the Balls of Life

Life is a constant juggling challenge. You only have a limited amount of time and attention that you can give, and so you alternate among things that are important. Work gets some time and family gets some time and friends get some time and faith gets some time and so on. One of the arts of life is keeping things in the air most of the time. Inevitably, though, you’ll drop some balls. Then you need to remember something else.

Some of the balls you juggle are like glass: they’re fragile. If you drop them, they will break. The glass balls are the ones that involve relationships. You can drop some balls at work or from other parts of your life, but when relationships break, it’s hard to put them back together the same way.

Bottom Line

Those are my three rules for a good life. They’re not unique and they’re not universal. They’re mine, based on my life and my experience and what I’ve had to learn. What are your three rules?

Reading Recommendations

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky

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