Ten Principles To Live By In Fiercely Complex Times

If you're like most people I work with in companies, the demands come at you from every angle, all day long, and you have to make difficult decisions without much time to think about them. What enduring principles can you rely on to make choices that reflect openness, integrity and authenticity?

Here are ten that work for me:

1. Always challenge certainty, especially your own. When you think you're undeniably right, ask yourself "What might I be missing here?" If we could truly figure it all out, what else would there be left to do?

2. Excellence is an unrelenting struggle, but it's also the surest route to enduring satisfaction. Amy Chua, the over-the-top "Tiger Mother," was right that there's no shortcut to excellence. Getting there requires practicing deliberately, delaying gratification, and forever challenging your current comfort zone.

3. Emotions are contagious, so it pays to know what you're feeling. Think of the best boss you ever had. How did he or she make you feel? That's the way you want to make others feel.

4. When in doubt, ask yourself, "How would I behave here at my best?" We know instinctively what it means to do the right thing, even when we're inclined to do the opposite. If you find it impossible, in a challenging moment, to envision how you'd behave at your best, try imagining how someone you admire would respond.

5. If you do what you love, the money may or may not follow, but you'll love what you do. It's magical thinking to assume you'll be rewarded with riches for following your heart. What it will give you is a richer life. If material riches don't follow, and you decide they're important, there's always time for Plan B.

6. You need less than you think you do. All your life, you've been led to believe that more is better, and that whatever you have isn't enough. It's a prescription for disappointment. Instead ask yourself this: How much of what you already have truly adds value in your life? What could you do without?

7. Accept yourself exactly as you are but never stop trying to learn and grow. One without the other just doesn't cut it. The first, by itself, leads to complacency, the second to self-flagellation. The paradoxical trick is to embrace these opposites, using self-acceptance as an antidote to fear and as a cushion in the face of setbacks.

8. Meaning isn't something you discover, it's something you create, one step at a time. Meaning is derived from finding a way to express your unique skills and passion in the service of something larger than yourself. Figuring out how best to contribute is a lifelong challenge, reborn every day.

9. You can't change what you don't notice and not noticing won't make it go away. Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. To avoid pain, we rationalize, minimize, deny, and go numb. The antidote is the willingness to look at yourself with unsparing honesty, and to hold yourself accountable to the person you want to be.

10. When in doubt, take responsibility. It's called being a true adult.

Reprinted from Harvard Business Review

Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony's most recent book, Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live?, is a The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Follow him on Twitter @TonySchwartz.

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  • Rosetta Stone

    An "expert blogger"??  Seriously?  Is this SOP in the blogosphere? . . . When NY Times and Wall Street Journal and LA Times or other newpaper veterans with years and years of journalism and reporting experience write news stories, the title "expert reporter" is never part of their by lines.  Same with magazine journalism.  Why not follow that convention and just put your "by line", i.e., your name, on an article and leave it at that.   Readers will figure out soon enough how expert a writer IS or IS NOT!    Even "senior" would be a better choice as a descriptive and title than "expert".  That pushes into the whole thing into not one of a title that was gained and bestowed through years on the job and experience, but one added for vanity. 

  • Diane Melville-Chase

    This article and its list reached deep... past self appraisal and review into reflection.
    Rotary International's "4 Way Test" will stir similar turbulence in the soul of our work performance:

    Of the things we think, say or do

    1) Is it the TRUTH? 2) Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

  • Roger Kuhnen

    I would add "reach out to others", some of my best ideas and most inspiring approaches to problems came from others. When confronted with challenges I find it refreshing and interesting to bounch ideas off of people, use them as sounding boards, but more importantly use them as idea generators. Take what you find valuable and discard the rest. Approaching problems with and ‘Island’ mentality limits your options.

  • Judy Noah

    Not only good to live by,but good set of rules to use when choosing friends, vendors, others who we come in regular contact with.  Who says we individuals can't change the world-one transaction at a time!

  • Ken Heard

    As a recently retired management consultant to corporations large and small in a variety of industries who also spent forty years as an active volunteer director on the boards of several worthy causes in USA as well as Canada, I became convinced that the most crippling management problem preventing western societies from adapting to the harsh new economic realities of (global corporations' created) "globalism" would be the utter absence of humility (hence, absence of real awareness of the ever-shifting realities on the front lines of their organizations) among those at the top who ultimately determine the style of management regimes.

    Why? Because once promoted to exceptionally well paid senior leadership roles, most "Leaders" self-concepts become so ultra-narcissistic and elitist that they simply cannot relate to the motivational needs of their underlings, customers and suppliers. 

    Examples abound, and include most senior leaders of 500+ employees in every sort of organization.

    The only recent exceptions I can think of are Bill Gates, Bill Ford Jr., and Jack Welch.

  • Ken Heard

    Too bad for America that mostly hopeful "underlings" will read this book AND TAKE ITS TEACHINGS TO HEART.  

  • hemidude

    Just imagine if our President and Congressmen lived by these rules. This certainly explains a lot.