Principles are not a very convenient thing to have… Sometimes, it looks easier to do what benefits you right now, rather than what you know is right. If you often find yourself doing what is convenient rather than what you know is right, you don’t have principles of much value.
Character is doing the right thing when nobody is looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that is right is to get by, and the only thing that is wrong is to get caught.
Character is doing the right thing all the time, even when nobody’s looking. If you keep your word, that’s integrity and integrity builds trust.
Of course, nobody has all the wisdom and nobody knows what is right for you. You should figure out what works for you on your own and stick with it.
Look, for example at this quote from Forbes magazine:
“No I will not take that job editing that teen gossip magazine,” I recently heard a college pal say over drinks. “I have standards!” I had bought the beers, and the round before as my friend had been out of work for over a year since being laid off from a non-profit where he edited a newsletter on environmentalism. Shouldn’t he just suck it up for a paycheck, I posited. If I put myself in his shoes, I’d rather write blurbs for the back of cereal boxes than spend a year couch-surfing and collecting unemployment checks. “No, Meghan,” he told me, his eyes full of disdain, “You don’t get it. The writing in those things is beyond vapid. I have to stick to my principles on this one.”
This is part of another article, which tries to convince us exactly of the opposite – why having principles is bad, and for this particular passage, I agree with the author – refusing a job, while you are on unemployment benefits is almost a sin – especially if the job doesn’t ask you to do things you are not qualified for.
A good rule of thumb is to stick to whatever works. For example, ask yourself “What worked last time for me best, when I was out of a job”. Ask yourself that question a couple of times with respect to your actions and then with respect to the results you got out of them. Break down the situation into pieces, review them, put them back together, and review them again.
Extract what worked from what didn’t work so well – the common denominator of success in this situation and make a guiding principle out of it.
For example – last time I was out of a job, I kept asking friends and family to help me with the job search. I opened a couple of job listings online and sent a couple of CVs… I remained unemployed for months. When I became really aggressive and sent out hundreds of CVs, trying a few different jobs – that’s when I got the job that suits me best that I work right now. Looking back at the situation, I see that it’s best to be really aggressive about your job search – send out as many CVs as possible, go to as many interviews as you can and try everything. Waiting on friends and family to find you a job is obviously wrong.
Basically, that’s how you should form your principles – from your own personal experiences, extracting from that what worked.
My guiding principles are
Whatever it takes
Fortune favors the brave
When in Rome, do as the Romans
I have other principles, such as honesty – I like to always tell the truth no matter what. I also like to give people their due respect.
Everybody wants to be respected, and if you can give them a small token of your respect in the form of a little gift or a gesture of goodwill – you will make quick friends with that person. Friends are a good thing to have.
Enemies are also necessary – this means that you have stood for something in life. If you are friends with everybody, this means you aren’t a friend, really.
I also like to keep my word, no matter what – this is Integrity, and this builds trust with people, as well as respect. If people trust you and respect you, they will behave very differently with you. Just think about what you can achieve at the office if your boss trusts you and respects you more.
Don’t go overhead, making a principle out of everything, either. The more rules you have to follow, the more inflexible you will become, and the more you will find yourself in situations like the one from Forbes.
Have some principles, but not too much and not too little. Sometimes you may revise them, as your wisdom grows – but not too often, or you will become spineless.
So, sit down with a pen and paper and think about the direction you are headed and where you want to end up. Make a list of what worked for you repeatedly in the past and what didn’t work out so well. Make principles out of those things, test how your life changes, and stick to the ones that you like. Review the rest.
For example – your last three relationships ended up badly because you cheated. Therefore, you make it a principle that cheating is bad for you. You are obviously not good at it and you should avoid it.
Another example – you are honest with your boss, working hard even when nobody is looking. You keep getting promoted. Therefore, integrity and honesty work well for you. Stick to them.
So, what are your principles? Are you happy with them? Do you feel you need to review them?