Brutal honesty time: I’m not wise. I’m smart. I can think fast. I can put different ideas together in unusual ways. I know how to think critically. These are all traits I like about myself. But whether because of my contrarian tendencies and experimental mindset or just as a character flaw I also make a lot of bad decisions.
Over the past several years I’ve been collecting a list of rules to live by to hopefully make fewer bad decisions and also less bad decisions. I call these rules Sean’s Statutes because alliteration is cool. These rules come from mistakes I’ve made, things I’ve read, and things other people have taught me.
Here’s that list shared publicly.
Note: this idea was partially inspired by Derek Sivers and his list of Derek’s Directives.
Sean's Statute #1:
Turn disadvantages into advantages
This is statute number 1 and is my longest standing.
I first encountered it as a child watching the Star Trek The Next Generation episode “Loud as a Whisper”. It wasn’t a huge part of the plot of that episode but at some point a prominent diplomat was asked how he was able to negotiate peace treaties between waring nations. His response was that he would look for situations in the conflict that were disadvantages and try to turn them into advantages. As you might expect, this became important later in the episode when he had to turn a personal disadvantage of his own into an advantage.
Many things that are initially seen as disadvantages can be repurposed into advantages.
Similar to Ryan Holiday’s “the obstacle is the way”.
Sean's Statute #2:
Avoiding bad decisions is more important than making good ones
Nassim Taleb refers to this rule as Via Negativa.
As he states it: deciding to smoke cigarettes essentially gives up the last 100 years of medical progress.
But I think it’s best explained through a conversation I once had with my sister, culminating in a heuristic we dubbed the Kale-Meth Imbalance.
The Kale-Meth Imbalance
Eating kale all year will not make up for 5 minutes spent doing meth.
From James Clear:
“In many cases, improvement is not about doing more things right, but about doing less things wrong.
Don’t look for things to add. Look for things to eliminate.”
Sean's Statute #3:
Movement leads to inspiration leads to movement
Sean's Statute #4:
The harder you work, the luckier you'll become
Sean's Statute #5:
Avoid any situation where you are the product
There are more of these than you might expect.
Think about applying to college. Your academic accomplishments, hobbies, and even traumatic life experiences are ranked against those of other people to decide whether you personally are the best product for them to select.
Think about applying for jobs.
That air fryer you bought on Amazon isn’t moving up in the world; even if it has 800 good reviews.
Anything where you get sent automated rejections are situations where you are the product. Anything where someone will “wish you the best in your future endevours” is is a toxic dehumanizing cesspool.
Sean's Statute #6:
When you think of money first, disaster follows
Sean's Statute #7:
Move slow to move fast
You waste years by not being willing to waste hours.
Sean's Statute #8:
Take the call
Hop on that zoom call, meet for that coffee, speak at that event!
We pretend that we can create opportunities through online communication but real network building only happens through in-person or quasi-in-person.
I suspect that a lot of people build up their professional networks while job hunting. This makes sense. While job hunting people interview you (even if just through zoom), learn about your skills, and interact with you in a somewhat intimate way–at least compared to other online interactions. Even if you do not end up being a fit at their company, they may still think about where else you might be a fit.
Calling it a professional network turns out to be extremely apt, because if you build it properly you will expose yourself to positive network effects.
I’ve had multiple occasions where I interview for a job, they or I decide it’s not the right fit, and then they refer me to someone else they know at another company who offers me a much better job that is a good fit.
I also suspect that this is why neuro-divergent people (depression, ADD, etc) have worse career outcomes even if their issue does not explicitly affect their work; they can’t drum up the extra energy to “just do the thing” on the off chance that it’s valuable in some unforeseeable network effects way. When you are working with diminished capacity, you have to place value judgements on what calls you take before you expend energy on them.
Likewise, people who have children at a younger age probably have this problem as well. Although I’ve also had co-workers who have made incredible professional connections by meeting people at their kids’ sports practice–so maybe it evens out.