Living Well With 5 Principles

A friend recently asked me to name the five keys to my success. I struggled with that question for a fair bit because I am way too young to have formulated the keys to anything. Then there’s my inherent problem with the phrase “my success.” I always feel like I Forrest Gump my way through life. I’ve been blessed to have experienced amazing things in my life but most times I think it’s more as a result of just being prepared and open to the possibility of trying new things than any deliberate plan on my part.

So instead, I’ve attempted to answer the question: “How do I try to live my life well?” I’ll let others decide whether those behaviors have resulted in success.

  • Live with intention.
  • Assume positive intent.
  • Say yes.
  • Fail spectacularly.
  • For Mom.

Live with intention.
You will die one day. Despite what you might believe happens afterwards, our time on this Earth will end one day. For all the wondrous possibilities this life brings, the full richness of experiences we might yet have, from the moment we are born we are spending the currency of our lives…time. Don’t be a passive observer in your own life. Do things with intention. Live each day deliberately.

But, Serge, some of us have to live in the real world. Some of us have obligations. We don’t all have the freedom of choice others might. To a degree, I understand. For the rest, I call BS. Don’t talk to me about obstacles. I came from a third-world country. Statistically speaking, I should be pumping gas for less than $1 an hour in the Philippines. What’s more, there are people who have overcome far more than I had to and yet they live their lives with intention. Your life too hard? Talk to the amazing Leila Janah at SamaSource and SamaHope. These wonderful organizations are creating opportunities in technology for women and children in some of the most impoverished places in the world. Tell me those women and children don’t live their lives with intention.

Assume positive intent.
Assuming the worst in people takes far more energy than assuming the best. Right or wrong, it’s all upside. What does assuming someone does something maliciously and finding that to be true bring you? The satisfaction of knowing you were right? Telling yourself you’re more street savvy and wise? Okay, I’ll give you a shortcut. There are bad people out there who will take advantage. Know that now and live with compassion without being foolish. There, I’ve saved you a lifetime of having to prove yourself right.

Now assume someone had good intentions in their heart but might have done something unintentionally mean or thoughtless. That’s an opportunity for you to touch that person’s life so that they might yet touch others. Assume they are malicious and the net sum to the world is zero. Negative, in fact. Assume they have the potential for good and help them on that journey and we multiply that good in the world.

Try this experiment. The next time you get bad service from a waiter, tip them generously but leave them the following note: “I’m sorry you’re having a tough day today. Dealing with ungrateful customers is something I know I couldn’t deal with, with half the grace you do. Thank you for serving me today. I hope your day gets better.” Then find a place for you to sit and observe. Watch how that waiter will treat every other customer after you. I have never…NEVER…been disappointed with the result. Even if I were ever to be let down, what did it cost me? All the waiters who did turn their day around and were kinder to others far outnumber those who don’t by at least a factor of 1000.

Say yes.
The greatest experiences in my life came from saying yes. Dismiss the fears and the thousand reasons you tell yourself not to do something and you will never be the same. Recall the most treasured moments in your life and imagine what would have happened if you had said no and never did them. The sum of our human experience is defined by those moments of yes.

Three little letters have the power to shift the world. Look in a child’s eyes as you say yes and know the truth of that statement. Say yes to a job candidate and see a life transformed. Answer a loved one’s hopeful proclamation of love with a yes and change their world forever.

Fail spectacularly.
If you’re going to fail, then fail spectacularly. Attempt the mediocre and at best you achieve mediocre success. But attempt the spectacular and even if you fail, you will still stand amongst titans. Shoot for the moon and even if you never reach it, you’ll still find yourself amongst the stars. I would rather live my life failing at something few ever attempt than run the risk of failing at something anyone could have done.

For Mom.
All that I am and all that I ever will be is because of my Mom. The greatest regret of my life is that I was not a better son. I regret all the times I took her for granted. All the times I overlooked her hardship and sacrifice. After all, Mom is Superwoman, right? She makes it look so easy and effortless, with nary a complaint. With a stroke of your hair, her cool palm against your forehead, she makes all the boo boos go away. She chases all the monsters away from under your bed. She knows your favorite comfort food. She knows just the right words to make everything all right.

Chances are, you have someone in your life who makes you feel the same. If not Mom then Dad. Or the love of your life. Or some kind stranger who you meet once but who profoundly changes your life. And if you haven’t met that person yet, then you will. You just have to be prepared and willing to let them in.

When I have to make a difficult decision, I ask myself: “What would make Mom proud?” Then I do that thing. Even if I’m wrong, even if I fail, then I know Mom couldn’t have asked for anything more. I love intensely. I live intently. For Mom.

There you have it. Five ways I try to live my life well. Again, I’m a mere babe and have so much left to learn. Ask me in 30 years what my five choices are and they may very well change. Whatever you choose to guide your life, the mere fact that you do it deliberately already makes your life well-lived.

What are your five principles? Share in the comments below.

Thanks to @sethbrooklyn2 for asking me the question and making me take inventory.