The last post “A Guide to Handling Life’s Biggest Decisions (Part 1); Take Your Own Advice“, explained the role that simple questions can play to create life-guiding principles.
Such considerations should form the bedrock for how we navigate life and tackle questions like “how to live”, or “what is or isn’t important?”.
Choosing for example what career to take, is something which should be based on carefully thought through principles – and not things like crowd influences, history, or what’s easy.
So, as promised, this article will outline my own recommended principles, or more exactly, my top five:
Principle 1: Learning & Growth
Learning is the limitless catalyst to improve every aspect of your life. Period.
All top-performers are either learning or growing – every minute of the day.
“In today’s world it’s not enough to be smart, you need to be always getting smarter, and if you’re not growing forward, you’re falling behind”. – Peter Voogd
No man shows better devotion to this principle than a certain Albert Einstein. Read the case study below:
After graduating from the Zurich Polytechnic in 1900, the twenty-one-year-old Albert Einstein found his job prospects extremely meager.
He had graduated near the bottom of the class, almost certainly nullifying any chance to obtain a teaching position.
Happy to be away from the university, he now planned to investigate, on his own, certain problems in physics that had haunted him for several years. It would be a self-apprenticeship in theorizing and thought experiments.
But in the meantime, he would have to make a living. He had been offered a job in his father’s dynamo business in Milan as an engineer, but such work would not leave him any free time. A friend could land him a well-paid position in an insurance company, but that would stultify his brain and sap his energy for thinking.
Then, a year later, another friend mentioned a job opening up in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. The pay was not great, the position was at the bottom, the hours were long, and the work consisted of the rather mundane task of looking over patent applications, but Einstein leaped at the chance.
It was everything he wanted. His task would be to analyze the validity of patent applications, many of which involved aspects of science that interested him.
The applications would be like little puzzles or thought experiments; he could try to visualize how the ideas would actually translate into inventions.
Working on them would sharpen his reasoning powers. After several months on the job, he became so good at this mental game that he could finish his work in two or three hours, leaving him the rest of the day to engage in his own thought experiments. In 1905 he published his first theory of relativity, much of the work having been done while he was at his desk in the Patent Office.
Author: Robert Greene
Einstein’s outlier decisions reflect the path to success in choosing growth over financial gain and convenience. Having a pay check 15% higher in a job where you’re not learning might make you sound cool, but in the end, you will be overtaken.
The more you invest and challenge yourself today, the more you can impact and benefit in the future. It’s a long-haul game.
Principle 2: Becoming Financially Independent
Most people’s life exchange involves them trading time for money.
A trade-off of this sort often leads to a life of regret.
As Dave Ramsey has eluded to:
“We work jobs that we hate, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”
To live a life without regret, you need to stop trading time for money.
To do that, you should be looking to trial and secure a business which can run without you.
From personal experience, given the frailty of startups, the length of time that it may take to be successful, and the commitment factor, aspiring entrepreneurs should seek financial independence first.
If you simply take a step back from the rush around you, and dedicate 6-24 months to create something that turns into recurring revenue, it will be the best investment of your life.
We can solve the world’s biggest problems and live life to the full if we don’t have to worry about money.
That’s why I quickly learned that having this principle as my main career objective would pave the way to achieving my biggest dreams.
Principle 3. Creating Value & Purpose
As biological creatures, our reward systems are programmed to be exploring and chasing things.
So not only is it good for us to be creating value and to have a purpose, our body’s emotions depend on it.
For me, I am currently chasing writing and building a business.
Here’s a telephone conversation between Mohammad Ali and one of his daughter’s about purpose:
The easiest definition of knowing if you are chasing your purpose is if you are excited about it.
If it doesn’t excite you, you need to keep searching.
Principle 4. Being Around Fun and Inspiring People
Peter Thiel carefully explains in Zero to One that life is too short to work with people you don’t like (70% of the time in a year).
As I also heard, the quality of your life is a function of the people you go through it with. That’s why the people equation is so, so important.
Because there are many trade-offs with our time, there is no point wasting it with people who don’t have a positive impact on us.
Ask, will this person or set of people have an overall positive effect on me?
(i) Will they raise my game through – inspiration, knowledge, social skills etc., (ii) will they contribute to fun, positive energy (iii) will they contribute to being a nice and humble person?
These are all worthy cases of deciding who and who not to be around.
Additionally, no success is achieved solo. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg for example, spent 80% of his time starting off on recruiting people.
Organising who to be around is often a pro-active activity, especially if you’re seeking world-beaters.
Principle 5. Helping Others
I believe that everybody’s life goal should be to make the world a better place.
That’s why anything I do must have an element of improving/helping people in it, or else I lose motivation.
Being heavily involved with many people and giving to others triggers our reward systems, i.e. it makes us happier and healthier – backed up by science.
Not only is it good for you, but it’s the good thing to do.
In a world where more and more systemic problems are being unearthed, there is so much to be improved.
Although I portray the power of every principle, this doesn’t mean you need to be living them all today.
Here’s what you must keep in mind:
All your activities should be based on, not what gives you the highest experience of all the principles now, but, what gives you the highest experience of all the principles in the future.
Optimising for the future, implies focusing on some now to free up the others.
For example, if you focus on the wrong ones now, it will completely mess up your sequencing. Here are some examples:
(a). Becoming “financially free” at a young age could mean working in a shop 10 hours a week, letting you do fun things on the weekend and drive your own car. This is going to eat into everything else. Firstly, your ability to learn and grow (principle 1) which will subsequently lessen the amount of opportunities you get (e.g. university) which worsens the quality of the people you are with (principle 4) and thirdly, the value you can bring to the world (principle 3).
(b). Spending all of my time seeking fun and interesting people (principle 4) could mean I get nothing done and I produce no value (principle 2). Remember: “all great work gets done in isolation”.
(c). Spending all my time following the first value creation idea I get (principle 3) could mean two-three years of grind on a low-end income for a company which may or may not work out. If you had spent just that little bit of extra time beforehand freeing yourself up financially (principle 2), you would then be able to dedicate more quality time to value creation, and to socialising – meeting fun and inspiring people (principle 4) along the way.
As you can gather, every principle should act as a lead domino to make the next one easier/more feasible. The order I have put forward (1-5), to my view, is the best sequence to maximise all.
Taking a 5 year period, see how the order plays out in the visual below:
Starting from the beginning, learning should be the most prominent, that is, akin to preparing for the war.
The most important section is then the burst of orange, which represents getting your recurring revenue business together (the mountain), and getting it to operate without you (the decline), freeing up time afterwards.
This is where the black line appears.
Once you stop trading your time for money (i.e. you are financially independent) everything shoots up. For example, you can start living wherever you want and working on whatever you want (purpose, green).
The yellow section (people) trends upwards, as the more value you create, the more you naturally long for and come in contact with fun and interesting individuals.
Finally, helping others begins to increase also, as with time and flexibility, you can begin giving back.
The one thing which cannot be stressed enough is that Principle 1, Learning & Growth, is the bedrock for everything above it. For example, if you don’t learn about what type of business will stick and how you can grow it you will never become financially independent.
Of course there could be other variations or paths to take for maximising the 5 principles. The above is what I am following.
Other options could change depending on personality type, circumstances, and arising opportunities.
We should always acknowledge that our life is precious, so don’t waste it “going through the motions”, following the status quo, or doing what’s easy.
Set out and abide by a set of high-performance principles which aim to let you live the most ultimate version of your life as possible.
At each step of the way, and at each crossroads or big decision, ask, is this helping or hindering my principles? In my case, the ability to: learn, become financially independent, follow a purpose, be with great people, or help others?
This combination has worked for me in “handling life’s biggest decisions”, and I hope it works for you too.