Life Lessons for my Kids

Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix (and new author!) posted a list of 9 lessons for success that his father gave him… that I reposted last week. It was great, but it got me thinking: did I agree with all of them? Was there anything else I’d add for my own kids, from my own experiences?

Me and them, 2006

Me and them, 2006

With a nod to Marc, I sent an “extended” version to my kids yesterday and asked them if they felt these were useful, and somewhat actionable. They liked the list enough that they encouraged me to share it. And so with their blessing, I present the listing here (at least in part so they can always find it.)


1.     Under-promise, and over-deliver.

2.     Notice when things you present as “facts” are really “opinions” – nothing wrong with having an opinion but you undermine what you’re doing when you confuse the two.

3.     Avoid hyperbole – it’s rare that something is an extreme (“the best” “the worst” “always” “never”) and usually when people hear that hyperbolic statement they disregard it. You’ll be more impactful and persuasive if you sound measured.

4.     Treat everyone respectfully – both people above you and below.

5.     Don’t insult, don’t complain. Stick to constructive and serious criticism.

6.     Get informed and expeditiously make the best decisions you can. Realize you’ll almost never have ALL the facts, so you’re always making decisions with incomplete information. Just do the best you can. Keep making decisions and moving forward. Spending extended time getting more facts generally has diminishing returns. (And if you find later a decision was wrong, make another decision to course-correct and keep moving.)

7.     Quantify when possible – be methodical and specific, particularly when problem solving or analyzing.

8.     Be open minded, but skeptical.

9.     Be prompt. No excuses. If you say you’ll be there, be there on time. Period.

10. Help out.

11. Listen. As a general rule of thumb, when you’re about to say something, pause.

12. Always be learning. Reading is ideal, but learn by any method that works for you.

13. Find out what everyone else is doing, then don’t do that.

Christmas, 2008

Christmas, 2008

Homework, 2013

Homework, 2013

14. Accept that you might be wrong. It’s okay. Accept it, change direction. Keep going. Certainly don’t beat yourself up over past errors. If you’re not willing to be wrong, you’re not ready to solve your issue.

15. People want to follow confidence. It’s a highly attractive trait. Just not to the point of conceit. It can be a tricky line.

16. Be good-natured about things. Find the humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And oddly, when things really fall apart, the absurdity is often at its most comical. [Confidence and humor will tend to trump appearances or wealth]

17. Success is largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. Push through the plateaus and pain points. The good stuff is on the other side.

18. Early impressions linger — and little things can matter: spelling, grammar, saying “like” and how you dress – people judge quickly and often don’t change their minds about you.

19. Look people in the eye. Make sure they know you’re paying attention. In work situations this might mean taking notes. People like it when you take notes while they’re giving you info.

20. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit you don’t know something. People want to help. What they don’t want is for you to seem like you get it, and then you don’t.

21. Swing for the fences. Aim big. You won’t hit it out of the park every time (or even often).

22. Be honest. Aim for transparency and candor. Frankly, it’s easier than being deceptive. Notice when you’re drifting toward “spin.”

23. Being an entrepreneur involves a fair degree of self-delusion. The odds of success are astronomically small, but you can’t go into a venture with that sort of attitude. So be optimistic and also be aware when you’re drinking your own Kool-Aid. (#27 and #22 notwithstanding)

24. Beginner’s Mind. Practice remembering what it was like before you knew something, when you saw it or learned it first. This will serve you.

25. Avoid brilliant jerks. This is true in business as in life. People who bring negativity along with whatever positives they have… simply aren’t worth it. The cost to your psyche and to your organization is meaningful. I know it seems like you can’t live without them, but you can. [This is a lesson from Netflix and the “famous” culture deck. RELATED: everyone is replaceable.

26. There are fewer rules than you think. Try to recognize when limitations are external – dictated by a problem, or internal – things you believe are constraints but that aren’t really intrinsic. What is called “out of the box” thinking usually involves recognizing which limitations you can disregard. (see #24 Beginners Mind)

27. Be self aware. You’re easier to be around if you’re reasonably conscious of both your strengths and limitations. Particularly the limitations—they’re not quite as bad if you know about them, and better if you can talk about them openly.

Summer, 2009

Summer, 2009

28. Appreciate your good fortune. You’re lucky. Your problems are relatively small. Keep that perspective when things aren’t going your way. And be gracious about it. Seriously. (Fate can also change any time, so enjoy it while it’s good.)

29. Having more options makes us less happy; ironically, we tend to want more choices. Be aware when you’re creating options for yourself counter-productively. This, btw, is why rich people are often less happy than you’d think they should be: more money means more options.

30. Avoid holding secrets, particularly about yourself. You empower a secret by keeping it quiet. The fear and shame and embarrassment (or whatever) multiplies when you hold that shit inside; let it out and you kill the power it holds over you. Own it and it actually becomes an asset.

31. People tend to do what they want, and think how they think, regardless of facts and influence. “Fact-gathering” is done primarily to make them feel better about doing the thing they wanted to do anyway. You can always find facts to support your position, and friends who endorse your view—recognize when you’re not really assessing direction and only making yourself feel better about doing what you would do anyway. It’s okay to make gut decisions, just don’t pretend they’re well-considered or objectively analyzed.

32. The great art in life is doing what you want to do, are passionate about, and then finding someone to pay you to do it. Do anything really really well — be the best at it — and no matter what it is, you’ll be able to make a living doing it.

33. Make other people look good. Particularly people you work with (and specifically, your boss) but really, anyone. It’s a good general rule to staying employed. (Also #10)

34. “Fair” isn’t always “equal”. There are many ways to divide things and making everything look equal is often the wrong goal. “Fair” takes more judgment.

35. Fancy expensive things—like Ferraris and jewelry —these are not items for parents to give kids; those are rewards you give yourself when you can afford them. It’s great to want shiny toys, but let that motivate you to accomplish goals—and not expect (or even hope) your parents hand them to you. Imagine your folks going to a store and buying you a big trophy for you to show off. Ridiculous and pointless. Also: being given that stuff will make you an asshole.

36. Things rarely go as well as you had dreamed, nor as badly as you feared. In our minds we tend to exaggerate in both directions, but the reality is usually somewhere in-between.

Prom, 2019

Prom, 2019

37. Floss.

38. Your social circle should include people across a range of ages. Support and mentor younger people. Learn from, and apprentice yourself to, older people. The young usually have naïveté, enthusiasm, curiosity; the old have experience, perspective, and wisdom. Learn from everyone.

39. Travel when you can. See the world. Meet people different from you. But realize that what you’re looking for isn’t out there; everything you need is right where you are. If you’re doing it right, you could be just as happy tending a little garden in a small town. The grass often seems greener somewhere else. It’s not.

40. Everyone and everything dies. Death isn’t a problem to be solved. Whether it happens sooner or later, spending your life trying to avoid it is a spurious kind of goal. Living, for any period of time, is the gift. It’s all good.

Mutiny at Disneyland, 2007

Mutiny at Disneyland, 2007

Santa Cruz, 2014

Santa Cruz, 2014


That seems like enough for now…