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Six Simple Rules

Posted on: 25 April '09

A few years back, as my younger son, Bonny, moved into the higher classes in school, I noticed he would often be pensive, and remain preoccupied in the evenings. I would ask him what’s bothering him, and after some prodding I would gather there are far too many assignments to complete. At that age, he had a deadly mix of two traits. One, his interests were diverse – from games, fiction, and quizzing to academics, mathematics and programming. Two, he needed to be perfect at anything he attempted. While I liked the first trait – at a young age one should be open to variety of interests, I was concerned about the second.

The desire for perfection is a happy trait to have, but it becomes a burden whenever it leads to results-anxiety and consequent stress. Equally bad, at times it prevents us from even attempting. Fortunately, Bonny was attempting all right, but the desire for perfection in multiple areas caused avoidable anxiety. On probing, I also discovered the fear of admonition from teachers also added to the stress, even though the teachers seldom rebuked him.

I realized I have to create a formula for living – something that keeps alive his desire to explore multiple interests without fear of not performing every time he attempts something. The formula should be easily understood for a ninth grade student, so I concluded on something simple. I told him there are three simple rules in life, “work hard, be honest, and love others – and so long as you practice these three, you need not be worried about anything on earth.” The formula seemed to work in all situations, not just for a fourteen-year-old, and I myself kept repeating the same whenever I would be unhappy. And I would tell this to anyone else who’d seem unnecessarily stressed.

Last year, however, this formula was challenged. 2008 was a particularly difficult year, specially for those students graduating and looking for jobs. They were ridden with anxiety and uncertainty, and asked questions for which I had no answer. I realized a large number of students were studying computer science or related subjects with no real love for the discipline. Many wanted to be in here either in expectation of easy money or because someone pushed them into it. Often I’d question a computer science audience, “how many of you are passionately looking forward to software as a career”, and not more than one-third of the hands will go up. I am disappointed with such response, as there’s no greater tragedy than being stuck in a career one has no passion for. If the only reason for me to go through four years of drudgery is to find a well-paying job, and I do not find that job, of course I’d feel cheated!

My three-step success formula thus needed to expand, and I added three more:

4. Dream big
5. Avoid greed
6. Focus on action, not results

I am aware the scriptures teach us the same, but if these are the simple rules for life, so be it! Intrinsic traits of human society probably haven’t changed so much over the millennia that the basic rules of living must change.

We need self confident children in our society, who are not driven by the sole aim of finding a well paying job. We need children with a variety of interests, and passionately driven by some of these. If as a society, we must grow into a more confident and happier future, the younger generation must be driven by big dreams and a desire to realize these. When such goals drive us, temporary setbacks like not finding the job of my choice are occasional hurdles along the way that will challenge our resolve and our creativity, and we will not merely wait for the sun to shine in our direction. Often, despite the best efforts, we will not find immediate returns; that’s when we need faith and conviction, that we have chosen the right path, and the humility that not everything can be within our control.

Postscript – the expanded list seems to work for Bonny, too; big dreams create the magic of responding to current setbacks with equanimity. We understand there’s life beyond this hurdle.

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  • Hi Kalyan,
    Thank you for this post. I love the last sentence: We need to accept with humility that not everything can be within our control.
    I need to accept this.
    Best regards,

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,

    I can’t think of a better way to start a Sunday morning than to read and respond to this extremely thought provoking article from you. Thank you very much for setting my thought processes churning!

    You have said:
    ‘I told him there are three simple rules in life, “work hard, be honest, and love others – and so long as you practice these three, you need not be worried about anything on earth.”‘ The third rule, “love others” matters a lot because it means empathy and inclusion which are really, really very important? Not to forget the importance of hard work and Integrity of course!

    Having brought up two daughters I can say with confidence from my own experiences that it is parental and peer pressure that puts a lots of unwanted stress on children. Both my daughters chose to take the road less travelled – one entirely by her choice which has really worked out well for her till now in academics as well as in her work life, and one by circumstances which has not really gladdened her heart!

    Yes, the harsh realities of life do, at times,beat the ‘impulse to dream’ out of all of us. But whenever life throws an odd curveball at us, as it did to us as a family a couple of years ago, I personally think it helps to remember The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

    “God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;….”

    And during those dark days when my child was fighting some serious health problems in the hospital, out of the blue, I got these wordings which helped me to be her Rock of Gibraltar!

    “Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always, it we have faith, God will open a door for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us.”

    Yes, we can make a lot of plans but if they go awry for some reason or the other, we must have the equipoise to accept things gracefully and move on to double our efforts with renewed vigour.

    Again, as you have so rightly said, things will be much, much more tranquil if only we realize with humility “that not everything can be within our control.” There are times when we have bow down to the sheer majesty of Mother Nature? Could we do anything to stop the sheer fury of the Tsunami? As Blaise Pascal says:

    “For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.

    And your point about the Scriptures:

    “By making the equable mind the bed-rock of all actions, the Gita evolved the goal of unification of work ethic with ethics in work, for without ethical process no mind can attain an equipoise. The guru, Adi Sankara (born circa 800 AD), says that the skill necessary in the performance of one’s duty is that of maintaining an evenness of mind in face of success and failure. The calm mind in the face of failure will lead to deeper introspection and see clearly where the process went wrong so that corrective steps could be taken to avoid shortcomings in future.
    The principle of reducing our attachment to personal gains from the work done is the Gita’s prescription for attaining equanimity. It has been held that this principle leads to lack of incentive for effort, striking at the very root of work ethic. To the contrary, concentration on the task for its own sake leads to the achievement of excellence and indeed to the true mental happiness of the worker. Thus, while commonplace theories of motivation may be said to lead us to the bondage or extrinsic rewards, the Gita’s principle leads us to the intrinsic rewards of mental, and indeed moral, satisfaction.” While I have quoted the Gita here, I am positive the other religions also have something similar to say about this.

    And finally, I have adopted Harvey Mackay’s statement – “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” – as my personal credo and fortunately, it has worked wonders for me!

    Sorry about the lengthy comment!

    And my best wishes to Bonny!

    Thanks and regards,


  • Kalyan K. Banerjee

    Thanks for sharing your experience, , Geetha. Thanks also for bringing in views from so many sources!

    I agree with you bondage with extrinsic rewards may bring in immediate results, but is not sustainable unless we find intrinsic motivation.

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,

    Thank you!

    I can’t take credit for what I said about the Gita. The source is:

    Thanks and regards,


  • Ravi sankar

    Hi kalyan,
    Thanks for the wonderful post. I have a question
    “Focus on action, not results” how is this possible.

  • saj

    People are imperfect, so are their lives, ways and experiences. Many times the unintelligent man doesn’t realise what exactly is the problem and the reasoning and rationale is also many times incorrect and misleading though one might be contented about the thought process. This doesn’t mean that one should stop thinking however learning everything from others experiences might not always be the right way of learning. To understand perfection man himself has to move towards perfection and self realization. How would one reach towards perfection? As the scriptures say, one should first get rid of the Shad Ripus – 6 enemies of a man. Lust/Desire, Anger, Greed, Infatuation, Intoxication and Jealousy. Untill and unless one gets rid of them one can neither be happy nor think perfectly. Only sages who have conquered these 6 vices can think neutrally and perfectly.

  • Hi Kalyan – very nice post. Based on my mentor’s input, you could also paraphrase the last one – Promote the cause, not yourself. For me personally, I have seen it bring much relevance as I focus on what I can share from my experiences. The journey becomes more wonderful, you make more friends as well along the way rather than become the envy.

  • Krish

    Great Post Kalyan. Simply love the 3 rules… work hard, be honest and love others.
    This in essence summarizes how you should look at life. There are so many variable things that have an influence on your life on which you have no control of.. but then if we apply this 3 principles.. you will never be unhappy.. thanks again

  • Thank you again for a wonderful read. You are an uber-designer sir. Your post reminds me that Deiter Ram’s 10 principles of good design can be applied to life as well honesty, big dreams, hard-work, love for people and in the end humility.
    here is a link