Self-help. A whole micro-industry faithfully devoted to the burgeoning art of self-improvement.
Bookshelves today are groaning with an intoxicating array of work from the (now bankrupt) financial adviser Robert Kiyosaki - to the completely delusional ‘The Secret’.
The fact that there’s such an over-abundance of these so called “life-guides” is a direct proof that nobody has a clear answer. Perhaps worse, an industry built upon fraud, false promise, a-priori assumptions, pop-psychology and emotional exploitation. I shudder to think that this is the material our youth is being raised to value.
This is a less sentimental, more sobering—and perhaps less patronizing—guide of 30 edicts in which I sincerely hope young and critical minds may find solace.
1. Don’t worry about school too much.
It’s not that important. The real lessons only begin after you finish.
2. Make enemies.
All friends and no enemies is a life spent with no convictions. It’s too easy to be liked - simply gravitate toward normality. Every great contributor to the human race has been hated, often by a great many. Popularity is the quiet sigh of mediocrity.
3. Don’t work.
Work is anything that you are compelled to do. It is undesirable by it’s very nature. Do not waste the majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the remaining sliver in modest comfort. Those who “make a living” are in fact slowly dying. Resist the temptation to get a job. Shun all those who insist you follow the path of others. Find what you love to do - and never work a day in your life.
4. Stop taking offence.
Foolish people take offence. Intelligent people propose counter arguments. Saying “I’m offended” does not give you special rights. It’s no more than a cheap and childish whine.
5. Seek truth, at all costs.
Never accept truth from authority, tradition or revelation. Seek it on your own accord and through evidence. If you cannot defend a position or belief; relinquish it.
6. There is no Karma.
An attempt to reconcile the gross disparity of unfairness in the world. A mental crutch that’s both lazy and cowardice. The entrusting of a cosmic order to deal with the problems and injustices we cannot, or aren’t willing to combat ourselves, and a concession that all those suffering in hellish misery are somehow deserving of their plight. A detestable belief system. You will only ever receive the rights you are willing to fight for.
7. Train how you think.
Your brain is capable of reason and logic - and the most powerful weapon on the planet. Use it wisely. Know the difference between imagination and superstition. The crux of an independent mind lies not in what one thinks, but in how one thinks.
8. There’s no such thing as a soul mate.
If you’re lucky, the most you’re going to get is a mate.
9. Discard all that demands servility.
Most would trade freedom for security, not understanding that in the end they’ll receive neither. Revolt against all that invites you to subordinate yourself or discard your critical mind.
10. Principles are overrated.
Principles are to be stood upon, but changed with new information. Always.
11. Speak your ideas.
Your ideas can only manifest if spoken. The day is short and the grave will provide plenty of time for silence.
12. Don’t avoid learning.
There’s no such thing as a sacred cow. No subject taboo. Avoidance behaviour is the absolute negation of the learning process and a form of fear and arrogance. Accept truth even if it may be unwelcome to you.
13. Be open-minded, not empty-minded.
Know the difference between the two. Making informed decisions is a part of adulthood.
And not just to countries of your own ethnicity. Live with peoples of different backgrounds and cultures. This will open your eyes and your mind in ways a college education cannot.
15. Discard illusions & delusions.
The highest attainment of personal human achievement is when one consciously sheds all delusions: whether they be of the world, the cosmos, or himself.
16. Learn to love criticism.
Separate your emotions from your work and your views. Allow the critique of others. This is a means of improvement. Views that go untested are views not worth holding.
17. Argue, for argument’s sake.
Argue intelligently against others and also yourself. The Socratic method, the art of the dialectic - there is no greater means of learning. Time spent in intellectual argument is never wasted.
18. Don’t tolerate unfairness.
Life is unfair. It’s the human job (that means you) to ameliorate this.
19. Don’t expect to be rewarded.
Accolades, awards, recognition. These are all forms of self-validation not needed. The joy is in the work. Never chase shiny trinkets - let them come as a welcome surprise.
20. Read non-fiction.
The real world is marvellous. Know it.
21. Be grateful, but unsatisfied.
Don’t expect—nor yearn for—contentment. This very often leads to complacency. Be appreciative of all you have, yet unsatisfied enough to keep desiring more.
22. Keep things in perspective.
Remember, right now there’s thousands dying or suffering in slavery. No matter your troubles, you’re doing alright.
23. Don’t be confined.
By simply following ritual without question is to become a mere automation. Tradition is dogma, ritual and unquestioned habit - handed down from generation to generation. Don’t let it stifle you.
24. Question all authority.
Those in positions of unelected influence or divine sanction exist solely on the credulity of the masses. Their ignorance masquerading as wisdom, extortion masquerading as benevolence. Lavish gowns and extravagant jewels serve only to cover their absolute nudity.
25. It’s OK to be a loner.
There’s nothing wrong with dissenting from the masses. By large, human beings follow and congregate. Individualism—while a celebrated concept—is still very rarely practiced.
26. Never accept stupidity.
The consequences of offending a single person is infinitely less than the consequences of allowing the spread of false knowledge. To allow a friend to believe in a false promise is to cease to be a friend at all.
27. Forget certainty.
The only certain principle in life is that of uncertainty. Humility only exists in realising how little you know. Look askance on all those that profess certainty where certainly is not possible.
28. Happiness is overrated.
The more you chase it, or try to gain it with material things, the more it will elude you. Prefer wisdom to happiness. True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new. Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.
29. There’s no point to your life.
Except for what you make it. Destiny is a false concept and one that abolishes personal responsibility. Your path is unwritten and what you do—or how you affect others—is completely up to you.
30. Defend civilization.
Civilization is a group project. Science, medicine and culture have all been developed to protect us from natural elements. It has many enemies. Defend it.
31. Realise you’re going to die. Maybe soon.
Life-expectancy is a false promise. People very often die of genetic diseases in their 40's, 30's and even their 20's. Think to yourself that every day is your last; the day to which you do not look forward will always come as a welcome surprise. Acting in accordance with the promise of reward or punishment after death is not morality; it’s an animal reflex, and it doesn't count. You’ll probably not exist past your own demise, nor will you be granted immortality, nor be reassembled or reincarnated. Accept this and you may find yourself cherishing this life—and those you love—a bit more.