Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bill Gates' "Rules of Life:" some clarifications...

For years I’ve listened with trepidation as lazy guest speakers grabbed this off the Internet and used it to insult the morals and motives of educators and the young. My New Year’s resolution is to do something positive about everything I complain about. Here’s the first shot...

By now everyone has heard of “Bill Gates’ Rules for Life” in some form. Gates’ attribution is an urban legend. The source is an editorial by a conservative columnist, Charles J. Sykes, in San Diego Union Tribune, September 19, 1996. Sykes may be misquoted here, as these have become “urban maxims.” Anyway, I felt like some of them needed comments or clarification…

“Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it.”

Clarification: Our sense of fairness underpins the concept of justice that our laws and our society are built on. Justice is an ideal, but one worth dying for. Many have. You should believe in fairness, even when it is not evident. Your struggle for fairness makes a better world.

“Rule No. 2: The real world won't care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It'll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. “

Clarification: The real world is in many cases much kinder than school. Most people in the real world have something to do, and won’t torment you for amusement. At work, they often train you for something you’ll use right away, instead of spraying information at you like fertilizer. If you don’t like your company or your boss, you can try to change jobs. Real life has pain and suffering, but most people prefer it to high school. If you’re like me, you’ll find it much more rewarding of your efforts, and that's better for your self esteem.

“Rule No. 3: Sorry, you won't make $40,000 a year right out of high school.”

Clarification: What he's saying is... you should go to college or a technical institute after high school. He's right. It’s usually the surest way to increase your income. But remember the big picture, too. Satisfaction comes from working hard and getting good at something you like. It’s not a dollar figure. And your income is nobody's business, as long as you are not a burden on the state or your relatives. :)

“Rule No. 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.”
Comment: Did you think it was? He must know some really spoiled kids.

“Rule No. 6: It's not your parents' fault. If you screw up, you are responsible.”

Clarification: When (not if) you screw up, you'll have to forgive yourself before you can move on. It isn’t easy. If it’s something really bad, it’s OK to get help. There's a saying: “The only way out… is through.”

“Rule No. 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are.”

Clarification: This was directed at me, (born 1952) not at you. (It’s pretty heavy, man, but I deserve it. I’ll take the heat.)

“Rule No. 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn't…”

Clarification: A lot of life’s winners were losers in school. They weren’t really losers, but the school system made them feel that way. Don’t look at every improvement in schools as a fad. School doesn’t have to be the same as it used to be.

“Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don't get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don't get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on.”

Clarification: In real life, there are changes all the time. You can initiate them, and sometimes they happen to you, and sometimes it’s really awful, but it’s not boring. For most people, it’s way better than high school (as long as you've got your diploma. Without that, Sykes' rule #9 could be spot on.)

“Rule No. 10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your
problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials.
In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs…”

Comment: Duh.

“Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for one”

Clarification: Everyone is a nerd. Everyone is a potential ally. Just be nice. Radiate it… like the sun.

And here's a maxim of my own:
“If you have kids, you’ll need quite a bit more money.”