I am constantly talking about my Personal Code of Ethics, which replaces or supersedes the more clearly-defined rules of modern society. I am constantly getting into conflicts because I prioritize my Personal Code over what is common, established, or sometimes what is legal.
My Code of Ethics is complicated, and frequently contradicts itself, so much so that even I have a hard time putting it into words. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” My personal ethics are kind of like a disorganized office desk: I have a system and I know how it works, but to a random observer it looks like a total mess.
So instead of trying to explain my ethics, I present a much more coherent and entertaining list of Jack’s Rules. There are 11 Rules which I consistently follow but occasionally break, all of which have led to happiness and personal success over time. These Rules are the closest thing I have to a “Plan” or “Morals”. I don’t encourage you to follow Jack’s Rules, but I don’t discourage it either, because I’ve had a lot of success following these Rules. I’m just presenting the information, and what you do with it is your decision.
Throughout the course of the article, I will explain why each Rule is in place, and hopefully explain why one’s Personal Ethics might sometimes compromise ethics that are more common in society – as well as why this might not be such a bad thing.
1) Hit on Her
“I’m sorry, but I’m Not sorry, John…I’m a Cocksman!“
- Vince Vaughn, Wedding Crashers
America has trended in such a way that Men have gotten way too deep inside their own heads when it comes to Women. 50 years of Feminism, Romantic Comedies, and single-parent upbringing have made Men, on the whole, both much-more sensitive and much-more insecure when it comes to the Fairer Sex.
The problem has gotten so pervasive that entire sub-cultures have popped up to help Men learn how to Be Men. A notable, popular book on the subject is The Game by Neil Strauss, in which the author champions Men that have never learned how to interact with Women the natural way.
Regrettably, the majority of Men today seem to fall into this category. This has led to a convoluted American social landscape in which many Men act disinterested in or even hostile toward the Women they are attracted to as a means of winning the affection of Women. It’s insane. Just as prevalent are the Men who have been taught to embrace their feminine side to too strong of a degree, who hesitate throughout every step of the courting process for fear of coming across as insensitive.
To combat this, I have made my #1 Rule as simple as possible, throwing out all of the socially-conditioned Negative Reinforcement that’s been beaten into my head as a 21st Century Man: when in doubt, Hit on Her.
If I stop and think about it, I can find all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t flirt with a given Woman: she could be married, she could have a boyfriend, she could be totally disinterested, she could have just buried her cat, etc. Without much effort, I can come up with a dozen perfectly-logical reasons why you should not talk to a Woman.
This is an example of being afraid of success. God forbid you hit on a Woman and she responds positively. Many, many Men are overwhelmed with imagery of how the situation could go wrong without considering how the situation could go right. For all you know, you are a Woman’s exact type, and she’s been eye-balling you since you walked in the room. Don’t be afraid to be the best thing to happen to her that day.
Not Hitting on a Woman demonstrates poor self-image most of the time, though many Men would have you believe that they are just highly-selective and have a veritable army barrack full of ardent Women waiting for them at a moment’s notice. Most Women have “a Desire to be Desired”, and your indication of attraction to them only serves to makes You more attractive in their eyes.
There is a great quote from the book “Shit My Dad Says” on the subject:
“That Woman was sexy. . . . Out of your league? Son, let Women figure out why they won’t screw you. Don’t do it for them.”
Sure, many times a Woman is not going to respond positively to you hitting on her. There are countless reasons for this, none of which you as a Man can reasonably anticipate. Frankly, it’s not your job to know all of the little things that could be needling a Woman emotionally at any given time. Your job, as a Man, is to initiate the courtship phase and validate all of the effort a Woman puts into her personal appearance by showing Sexual Interest. It’s easy.
Best-case scenario? She was already scouting you, and thinks you’re a Hunk of Burning Love.
Fair Warning: things can and will go wrong sometimes. To cite a fairly-recent example, I had a girl’s live-in boyfriend stalk me on Facebook because he had a problem with me hitting on his girlfriend. Now, the girl in question had told me that she was single and more than encouraged my flirting, but that did not change the fact that I had made an enemy out of someone I did not know. Had cooler heads not prevailed, this could have ended in a fistfight or worse.
But I could not have reasonably anticipated this. Personally, I would rather make mistakes of ambition such as this one rather than lose out on opportunities because of inaction.
So, my #1 Rule is Hit on Her. This is a Rule, and is thus non-negotiable. If I am standing next to a girl in line at the coffee shop, I flirt with her. I then flirt with the coffee shop girl. I then go and sit down, and if I happen to sit next to a Woman or Women, I flirt with her or them. An easy way to tell that something is wrong with me is if I am not strutting around like a walking hard-on.
Now, there are exceptions to this Rule: for example, if a pregnant Woman is holding her husband’s hand, she probably does not need the self-esteem boost my attention would provide. Unlike Vince Vaughn, I don’t make a habit of hitting on high-school girls. There are lots and lots of exceptions to Rule #1. But the exception is to let a Woman pass without chatting her up, not the other way around.
It’s worth repeating that this is Jack’s Rule. This works for me because I am a very old-school, traditional Man, and that I accept the responsibilities that go with Manhood. If this Rule does not jibe with your natural personality, I would not expect you to stock up on Drakkar Noir and breath mints and go off like a sailor on shore-leave. But if you spend most of your time silently pining for some satisfaction from the opposite sex, I suggest you ditch the self-doubt and fully embrace Rule #1.
2) ABC/TCB - Always Be Closing and Take Care of Business
There is a movie starring one of my favorite actors, the absolutely-ridiculous Alec Baldwin, called Glengary Glen Ross that talks about hardcore cold-selling. The movie is frequently-quoted by Men of a certain age, and one quote in particular is associated with the film: Always Be Closing:
There are two opposite groups of people in the world: Accounts and Creative, both of which are represented on my current-favorite television show Mad Men. If you are Accounts, that basically means you are good with people, driven, and goals-oriented, but not necessarily innovative. If you are Creative, that generally means you have a complete inability to get along with people on a professional level, but you compensate for this by having 1000 brilliant ideas a minute. You may also have a drinking problem.
I am textbook Creative. To cite an example, I have over 100 unfinished articles such as this one in my drafts folder. Put a stimulant into me, and I’ll have a torrential downpour of brainstorms. But I also have a remarkable tendency not to see these ideas through to conclusion. I’m a dreamer, not a finisher.
So, one-half of Rule #2 is Always Be Closing. I have to make a conscious effort to outsmart my ADD, and the most-effective way to do that is to force myself to see all tasks to completion, no matter how large or small. I sometimes have to write my tasks down like a grocery list, lest my concentration wane. I also have to avoid time-wasting activities like the plague, as one of my favorite things to do is to engage in a brainless activity that allows me to fully devote my attention to these impressive ideas I have. Most of the time, it’s a fruitless, worthless endeavor.
The other half of Rule #2 is Take Care of Business, or TCB. This is taken from the six leisurely years I spent in Undergrad.
At my Alma mater, my beloved Duquesne University, there is a brick walkway that stretches the length of Campus called A-Walk. My absolute favorite activity in the world aside from Hockey was to steal coffee from one of our eateries (Off-Ramp) and to engage in Rule #1 for hours on end.
The problem with this was that my pesky Class Schedule was getting in the way of my busy coffee-drinking and flirting schedule. So, at some point either my roommate or I developed the term TCB, which means to go Take Care of “Business”. At the time, my “Business” consisted of sitting through 50 minutes of 100-level Physics or placing a phone call or e-mail to Father Hogan or Bob Arturo in which I abjectly-lied about something my lackeys or I were doing. After these arduous tasks, I was free to engage in my more-important pursuits:
To no one’s surprise, I’m the guy in the black Hangover Hoodie holding the stolen coffee. But I digress.
The notion stands: the first thing is to Take Care of Business so you can go back to the things you enjoy doing, whatever those things may be.
3) Focus on the Good News & Expect the Best
My current-favorite television show, as stated above, is Mad Men. I enjoy most episodes of the show, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the episode The Good News from Season Four. Without barraging you with details, the episode is divided into two-halves: in the first half, Don (pictured above) learns that his best friend Anna is dying of Cancer. It’s bittersweet, as Don knows he is likely seeing Anna for the last time. As a kicker, he’s also getting divorced from his shrew of a wife, Betty. It has not been a banner week for Don.
Don deals with the News about Anna and his impending divorce in the only way he knows how, which is to grab a buddy and go on a mini-bender:
I identify with this because, as usual, I would do the exact same thing. Like Don, I do not wallow by nature. Surprisingly, I am a relentless optimist, and at times this optimism includes a probably-unhealthy repression of the disappointing details in my life in favor of Hedonism.
I do not fully agree with the concepts of Optimism and Pessimism, as I think both are inaccurate distortions of reality. What I do believe in is Focusing on The Good News, whatever that may happen to be.
In Don’s case, the Good News is that he is a good-looking, wealthy businessman who has recently disposed of his nattering shrew of a wife. The Good News is that he has the means to grab a buddy, order a couple of T-Bone steaks, sneak a flask into a movie theater, and then go have unprotected sex with a call girl. It may not always be a long-term solution, but there is usually an upside to a given situation. Like Don, I would prefer to focus on the upside, rather than be overcome by despair.
Rule #3 is two-part, as my personal take is also to Expect the Best. Let me explain how this ties in:
I have a friend who was recently trying to give me some constructive criticism. As delicately as she could, she told me that I hold myself and others to unreasonably-high standards of behavior.
While I have a horde of unwanted acquaintances, I have relatively-few friends, or at least people I consider quality friends. There are dozens if not hundreds of people who will go out to the bar with me or who will beg me to solve their personal problems, but very few that I could count on if I actually needed something in return.
My friend was trying to convince me to be more-accepting of the fact that not everyone has my level of personal integrity, and that I should just appreciate people for being fun-loving or whatever. As sweetly as she could, she told me that I expect too much of people.
I listened to her, and after she finished, I kind of shrugged and said, “Well…yeah.”
Admittedly, while I never judge people on credentials or monetary worth, I am constantly judging people on Character, or lack thereof. My friend is right: I do expect a ton from people, because I expect a ton from myself.
I am not going to go on and on about this, because it will turn into a Valentine To: Me, From: Me, and given how much I adore myself, it could end up be a lengthy one. But just to cite one example: I drag myself to the gym almost every day and do as many Deadlifts and Weighted Chin-Ups as I possibly can. I do this because, selfish prick that I am, I have a dream of dragging people out of burning buildings to safety. I go to the gym 5% so I can engage in a little Rule #1, and 95% so that I am physically-prepared to help other people, should I need to be.
I get no awards for this, nor do I want any. But every day I strive to be Better for other people. You may notice this article is Free of Charge, yet well-written and meticulously-edited. I do this because I can, not because I have to. I don’t expect everyone else to be wired the same way as me, but I do expect some other people to be community-minded and interested in being Excellent.
I think it’s perfectly fine to Expect the Best out of life and others. I would argue that we individually need to raise our expectations of other people, rather than lower them.
There is going to be a pocket of people who completely agree with me, and a number of people who completely disagree with me. Either way is fine. I Expect the Best because it helps make me a better person, which in turn helps me better serve others. If that makes me an elitist or a snob or whatever, I’m cool with it.
4) Do It Natural
I could take this is so many directions (like Bareback?), but let’s stay out of the gutter for the moment….
In short, pick the natural alternative to the synthetic one. Your body can tell the difference between running on a treadmill and running outside, just like it can tell the difference between brown rice and Rice Krispies. The Natural approach pays dividends over time.
5) Face Forward
Like most people, if you give me some time, I will sit and dwell on the mistakes I’ve made. I’m not one to beat myself up over the past, but there are times when I think “if only I’d done that differently…”
The antidote for this condition is Rule #5, Face Forward. Regret is for losers. While it’s fun to reflect on past successes, it’s more exciting and ultimately more rewarding to focus on your next challenge or conquest. Facing Forward keeps you motivated and out of your own head, which is a boon if you’re prone to being too harsh on yourself.
6) Keep Your Word
As they say, a Man’s only as good as his word. I make an effort to follow-through on the things I say, and try not to make a bunch of empty promises. Keeping Your Word can range from showing up on time to going to Kansas City for a nice steak dinner before keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh. No matter how large nor how small, it’s good practice to keep your promises.
7) You are worth more than ______
This is going to come to a huge shock to you, but I rarely have lacked for self-confidence. In fact, shockingly, I have had to spend much more of my energy corralling my natural instinct to treat myself like a King than I have had to spend developing positive self-image.
I do not expect you to hug yourself with both arms and swoon like I do every time I walk in front of a mirror, but there are important reasons why you need to love yourself to a degree. Not to sound like Dr. Phil, but you really cannot help other people until you learn how to take care of yourself. Part of this means understanding how valuable you are as a person, and not allowing circumstances or other people to compromise your value.
I have two stories to share on Rule #7, one Funny and one Not Funny. The Funny story helps explain how I have always valued myself, while the Not Funny story is an important lesson on trusting your instincts and not letting others degrade you.
First, the Funny story:
When I was five or six, I wore a Batman costume every day to school until it became such as issue that my teacher and principal asked for a sit-down meeting with my parents. I was not causing trouble or anything – in fact, I was doing the opposite, sitting at my desk with absolute vigilance while my Kindergarten teacher taught the Letters of the Alphabet or whatever – but it was apparently distracting to the other kids that I was showing up as the Dark Knight every day. Lord, do I wish I had a picture.
Keep the faith, brother. Anyway, my principal told my parents that I was no longer allowed to come to school dressed like Batman. Not that my parents sent me out of the house this way, as I stuffed my homemade cape-and-cowl and $10 drugstore costume into my Batman backpack and changed into it once I got to school. So, my fun-hating teacher, Nazi principal, and father (who, like the Hulk, had issues with Rage Control) very sternly told me that I would no longer be allowed to come to school dressed as Batman. I recall my mother at least finding some humor in it, but she went along with the program. No more Batman costume.
I was pissed. How the hell was I supposed to fight crime and protect the innocent in my doofus white polo shirt and navy slacks?
Refusing to yield to the oppressive fascists at my school but needing to adapt in some way, I came up with an alternate solution: I would wear my Batman pajamas underneath my school clothes. Batman certainly didn’t bow before any totalitarian regime, and neither would I. Both Darkseid and the dream-killers at my elementary school could kiss my skinny white crime-fighting ass: if I wanted to dress as Batman, I was going to dress as Batman.
So, I started showing up for school with my Batman pajamas on underneath my school uniform in my Secret Identity as Kindergarten student. I vividly remember laughing my ass off each day, because all these kids were sitting around not realizing that I was Batman. I’m sure my teacher noticed my grey-and-blue pajamas poking out from under my Jack-boots and Third Reich school polo, but she must have at least been relieved that I was no longer wearing a cape and mask to school every day.
The little kid who refused to compromise is exactly who I am, in a nutshell. To this day, I rub a lot of people the wrong way because I do not back down if I really believe in something. Some would-be psychoanalysts think I learned how to be a narcissist, but I was born this way.
Flash forward 20 years to the Not Funny, but Important, story:
Most people cannot pinpoint the Biggest Mistake of Their Life. I can not only pinpoint this mistake, but the exact moment the mistake was made.
My first job out of college was working as a Personal Trainer for LA Fitness, a notoriously-unethical gym chain. My line of thought was, “I like working out, so wouldn’t it be great if I got a job teaching other people how to work out?” At the time, it seemed like a good place to start my professional life.
The job paid next-to-nothing, but I chalked this up to paying my dues. I was routinely being lied to and taken advantage of by my employers, but I had basically no professional experience at the time and didn’t know any better. I thought being marginalized and deliberately misled for obscenely-low dollars was a normal part of the “adult” world, barring a few exclusions. I believed that the situation would improve over time if I proved what a diligent worker and professional I was.
The gym was happy to run me ragged, as I frequently worked 50-60 hours per week for an average of $6 Dollars Per Hour. It would take a sub-article to explain why this was allowed to transpire, but for the moment take my word for it.
To add insult to injury, I was given a single, cheap work shirt that I was expected to wear every minute I worked for the company. As you can imagine, working a very physical job 8-10 hours per day will wear out a $3 nylon shirt in short order. Still, I tried my best to be a professional, washing the thing religiously and doing my absolute best to maintain professional decorum, since my clients were paying the gym $30-$50 per half-hour for the privilege of working with me.
(You read that right: the gym was charging people $60-$100 per hour and paying me no more than a taxed $12 per hour, if I was lucky. If you drive past a shiny new LA Fitness gym, now you know how it was paid for.)
I was not consciously aware of it at the time, but being paid and treated like a slave takes a major toll on your psyche and self-esteem. I was used to having girls fight over me and an army of lackeys who reinforced whatever opinion I gave them. I was not used to having to agree with – or at least stifle my contempt for – the often-ridiculous opinions of my clients and co-workers. I was certainly not used to being brow-beaten for $6/Hour, especially coming from bartending jobs in which I would routinely make $300-$400 to get drunk for six hours.
Up to point, while I had taken the work itself seriously, I had not paid too much heed to the asinine rambling from my co-workers and supervisors. My logic was that I was an excellent worker and the job paid dog-shit, so as long as I kept my clients happy, there was really very little any supervisor could say to me. Anyway, the weeks piled up and there was a changeover in management. The new manager sought to establish his authority by giving me a hard time, for whatever reason.
The LA Fitness rule was that I had to wear that God-awful, $3 nylon shirt while working. My former supervisor had been at least cool about it, and didn’t bitch if I showed up in one of my nice-looking Nike or Puma training shirts. This new guy really wanted to needle me, and since he couldn’t complain about the stellar work I was doing, he decided to rake me over the coals over my work shirt, which by now was literally falling apart from overuse.
I showed up for work one Monday morning with a clean, professional-looking Nike shirt on. The supervisor asked where my work shirt was. I calmly explained to him that the shirt was falling apart from overuse, and that I could use another one. I don’t remember his response, but he didn’t jump to get me another shirt.
On Wednesday of the same week, I show up in the work shirt, the collar of which is literally falling off. He gets indignant and asks, “What’s the deal with your shirt?” I remember choking back my considerable rage – I have quite a temper – and reminding him that I had asked for another work shirt two days ago. Again, I don’t remember his response, but he again did not rush to get me another shirt.
On Friday of that week (which I recall because I always trained a lovely cougar named Sophie M-W-F at 8:30 AM), I had a very professional-looking Nike zip-up over-top of my work shirt, which reeked of gym-sweat and was basically torn from neck to sternum like something an oiled-up cowboy would wear on the cover of a romance novel. While I had Sophie on the leg extension or whatever, this supervisor comes up to me – while I’m with a client, which is a big no-no – and starts harping on me about the shirt.
I snapped. I told him, in my most authoritative Sobe Voice, “TO GO GET ME A NEW GODDAMN SHIRT.” I may have said “fucking shirt.” I don’t recall, as the rage had taken hold by that point. He was aghast, because really, who has the balls to tell his boss to fetch him a shirt? Hint: you’re reading his blog. He got visibly red before telling me “go find my shirt”, which was nonsense because I was wearing it.
After I finished training Sophie, who was flustered and teary-eyed because she thought her boy-toy trainer was about to lose his job, I walked over to my supervisor. I was so entitled at the time that I expected him to apologize to me for interrupting a training session to bitch at me about my work shirt. It had barely occurred to me that I was at-all in the wrong.
Meanwhile, my supervisor, who I’ll call “Benji”, was expecting me to give a full and remorseful apology. When I started tearing into him like an irate football coach, things quickly escalated to a boiling point. I suddenly had the choice of going for Benji’s throat at the risk of my job, or backing off in the interest of keeping it.
Remember above when I mentioned making the Biggest Mistake of My Life? I was about to make it.
You have to first understand that I have this complete inability to quit anything, ever. It’s one of my great strengths. But it’s also a weakness, particularly in situations such as this. Quitting to me is an admission of cowardice and low-character, which is in direct violation of Rules #4 and #11. Unfortunately, when I was younger, I could not separate “quitting a shitty job or relationship” from “quitting in Mile 7 of an eight-mile run”. Back then, quitting was quitting, no matter what the circumstances were.
What I should have done was calmly taken off my smelly, tattered work shirt, thrown it at Benji, and told him to come outside and fight me like a Man. I had just turned 24 at the time, so it would not have been the most-immature thing I had ever done. Whatever I ended up paying in court costs would have been worth what I gained in dignity and self-esteem, and like I said, I was young enough that I could have survived any financial or legal repercussions.
Instead, I put my clients and my notion of professionalism in front of my own well-being. I pictured poor Sophie, on the verge of tears because her newest boy-toy was about to quit his shitty job, as well as my other 15 or 20 clients. I pictured the indignity of telling people that I was fired from my first “grown-up” job, which was still relatively-new. In one moment of poor decision-making, I decided that the desires and impressions of other people were worth more than what I thought of myself.
I did not exactly apologize to Benji, but I did just enough to not get fired. It was a colossal mistake. In exchange for keeping this crap job, I made a huge payment in self-image. I compromised in the face of a nerdy, small-cocked little bully, the sort of person I would have mauled and scraped off my shoe a mere six months ago. Unwittingly, I had pegged my own self-worth at $6/Hour, and that was reflected in most of the interactions I had with clients and co-workers going forward.
As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Over the next 2-3 years, I continued to work for LA Fitness, again for the insulting rate of $6/Hour while a veritable Rogues’ Gallery of social castoffs ate up all of my ambition and energy. Between being overworked and underpaid, my body began to fall apart, culminating in a severe knee injury that took 18 months to heal properly.
Once Benji realized that I would not cross the line enough to get fired, it was like blood in the water: he spent an inordinate amount of time aggravating me and making me look bad, because he knew that I would not quit. The atmosphere at work was an absolute nightmare, which of course carried over into my personal life.
While it’s true that I genuinely valued my clients, I should have made the hard choice and put myself and my own well-being in front of them. Because I did not, I let a bunch of lowlifes suck the energy and joy out of me to the point that most of my positive relationships deteriorated.
That’s not a happy-go-lucky story, and it’s not meant to be. But there is an important lesson, and that is that You are Worth More than ________. If you are in a bad relationship or working a bad job, it’s better get out and cut your losses than it is to suffer the gradual erosion of your self-image.
Changing the negative things in your life is one of the key ingredients to True Happiness. Sadly, many people will suffer for months or even years on end in the name of Integrity or Principle or Professionalism or some other gossamer concept. Being so Proud, this is something I have to be very conscious of, lest I let my personal integrity eventually lead to self-destruction. There is no Honor is Being a Martyr, only in Being a Victor.
8) Mean, But Clean
This is one of my Hockey rules that I’ve transferred to Real Life.
The Hockey Rule “Mean but Clean” is the credit line of Viciousness I have established for myself. As a puck-carrier, you get frustrated when people repeatedly take liberties with you while you are busy trying to create goals; less-skilled or unskilled players will slash you, hook you, knee you, and hit you from behind while you are concentrating on Offense and thus relatively-vulnerable. This gets old really quick, and your instinct becomes to seek immediate retribution.
But I draw the line at “Dirty” play. I think hitting people from behind or trying to blow-out their knees is cowardly, which conflicts Jack’s Rule #11.
This is a textbook example of a “dirty hit”:
Claude Lemieux boards Kris Draper from behind. Draper has no reasonable way of protecting himself. Lemieux could have killed or paralyzed Draper. This play is absolutely craven. Watching it makes me want to fight Claude Lemieux, but thankfully D-Mac did it for me.
And this is a dangerous, dirty play called a Slew-Foot, which is basically kicking out a player’s skates from behind:
The word that occurs to me as I watch both of these plays is Cowardly, which is something I do not abide. I think it’s much Cleaner to hit someone while he has a chance to defend himself, or to fight him Man-to-Man.
So, the restriction I have put on myself is that I can be as Malicious as I want, even Ruthless, as long as I do not cross the line into spineless, or underhanded. As far as Hockey is concerned, this usually means that I tolerate an amount of insubordination, depending on my mood, before the claws come out.
If I am in my normal state, which is Surly, this is more likely to happen:
Pull the Tiger’s tail on the wrong day, however, and you get this:
In both cases, Mean, but Clean. Peter Forsberg puts his shoulder into Vladdy Konstantinov’s chest, not the back of his head. Mario gets fed up and drops the gloves like a Man, rather than trying to slash the guy in the neck or slew-foot him.
This extends into Real Life. Most of the time, I cannot hit or fight someone on the street who offends me, because we live in a lawsuit-happy era. Yet the desire to make someone Accountable for cowardly, disingenuous, and/or inappropriate behavior remains.
In the Real World, Mean, but Clean could involve getting aggressive or confrontational in a very direct manner. What it does not involve is getting back at someone at any cost. You might dislike someone, and it might be satisfying to go key their car or pour sugar in their gas tank, but ultimately you need to establish a level that you will not sink beneath in the name of retribution.
For me, keying or otherwise defacing someone’s car is completely acceptable…if the person in question is watching me do it. Going behind someone’s back is the Real World-equivalent of a Slew-Foot, in my view. The point is that there are levels I will not sink to because of what a given action says about me, not because of my thoughts on a given individual.
9) Pick Your Friends Carefully
“Oh, good, my lackeys have arrived.”
As they say, you are the Sum of the Five People You Spend the Most Time With. In my view, it is crucial that you find and maintain a quality group of friends, but it is equally important that these people be positive influences in your life.
My tendency is to over-invest in people who ask for my help. Like all Disney Princes, I am a sucker for a Damsel in Distress. Shrewd individuals, Women in particular, have spotted this trait and tended to exploit it as much as possible. This has led to Rule #9, Pick Your Friends Carefully.
In choosing friends, I start with people who have personality traits that I respect or admire. I am not going to turn this into an article on how I personally make friends, as long the takeaway message is that it will serve you to be somewhat-discerning in who you choose to be friends with.
My litmus test for Friendship is “Would this person cancel all plans and drive 45 minutes to help me change a flat tire in the pouring rain?” I do not expect everyone I socialize with to be this committed, but the willingness to help me when I really need it is what takes someone from “Acquaintance” to “Friend” in my eyes.
This litmus test rules out a lot of married people, who understandably have already committed this level of care to their spouse and/or children. This also rules out most of the under-25 crowd for me, as many younger people tend to be a little too self-preoccupied for my tastes.
(Note: some other time, I’ll explain to you the differences between Self-Love and being Self-Absorbed. Night and day.)
I certainly do not try to be friends with everyone, because a lot of people are worthless vampires who will use your time and resources while offering almost nothing in return. If you are one of those people who wants to be liked by everyone, more power to you, but don’t say that you were not warned.
Again, not trying to make this a mini-article about I pick my pals. It’s my Rule #9 because I tend to be overly-accepting of people when they ask for my help or position themselves as victims. I have wasted a lot of time trying to find value in worthless people; time that could have been spent with positive, worthwhile people. I am also trying to save you the trouble of having selfish or self-centered types leech off of you. As everyone eventually learns, not every smiling stranger out there has your best interests at heart.
“…’Cause sometimes you just feel tired,
Feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.
But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation to not give up
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse…”
- Eminem, Til I Collapse
I have written much about this, and I will probably continue to write much about it. Rise is my life philosophy. Let me explain why I made it Rule #10:
Rule #10 was almost “Be True to Yourself”. I think that’s a Rule everyone should follow, not something that is specifically mine. Thankfully, I have never really had any issue being true to myself, so it’s not something I need to reinforce in print.
Rule #10 became Rise because I no longer wanted to have a choice in the matter. Like Jim Carrey in “Yes Man”, I want to be on auto-pilot when it comes to Rising.
If you ask any Football or Hockey Player, they will tell you that if they get knocked down, they pop back up immediately, almost on instinct. There have been a couple of times when I’ve actually been knocked unconscious, but still immediately got back on my feet and finished a shift or whatever. There have been entire minutes after being hit that I have been up and skating around that I can’t recall, kind of like a drinking blackout.
NHL fans might remember this happening to Sami Kapanen:
Sami is out cold, but he still manages to get to his feet and get to the bench on instinct. That is so Hockey. Great courage by Kappy. But I digress.
In a similar vein, I want to Rise on instinct. I do not want to consider a daunting task and consciously think, “I probably should try to do _______”. I just want to do it. If I have a kid and he tells me he wants to go to Harvard, I don’t want to think “How the hell am I going to pay for that?” Without thinking, I just want to find a way to do it.
Let me explain something else that older readers understand but younger readers may not:
It’s easy to find motivation and manufacture your own enthusiasm when you are younger. There is always something you want, whether it’s a girl or a car or an internship. You have not let learned how to be completely discouraged with people.
As you age, one of two things happens: you start achieving your goals and become complacent, or you become jaded and bogged down by despair. One way or the other, you begin to lose your motivation to Rise to the challenges life presents you. It becomes easier to just go with program or to acquiesce or relent.
Personally speaking, throughout life I have had a lot of doors slammed in my face. When I was younger, this used to be a major source of motivation for me. For example, if I got cut from a sports team, I would either train like a maniac, come back the next season and dominate, or I would go get some guys, come back, and beat the hell out of the team that cut me. This hyper-competitiveness is called Michael Jordan Disease. I used to feast on the negativity others presented me.
Around the time I graduated high school, I mostly outgrew this mindset. Negative Reinforcement irritated me more than inspired me, and honestly I stopped having so many doors slammed in my face. I have continued to Rise when have I needed to, but as I’ve matured, I’ve been presented with a different problem: a complete, almost disrespectful, lack of appreciation from people.
I wrote above on some of the misadventures I had working as a personal trainer. To use just one example, I would put in these insane 16-hour work days in the interest of accommodating other people who asked for my help. I would Rise to the challenge of every work day turning into an endurance event, but it would be to almost zero thanks or acknowledgment. I did not ask to have my ass kissed for going out of my way to help people, but I did not expect dismissive entitlement, either.
This is not a unique situation. There are plenty of people reading this, yourself likely included, who have been similarly under-appreciated. Most people are selfish by nature, and as you age the selfishness of others begins to enact a toll on you. You want to stay enthusiastic and positive, but you start to become cynical and jaded by the nature of other people.
Over time, you may begin to develop to the unfortunate condition where you start asking yourself, “What’s the Point?” You know you can Rise, because you’ve done it many times in the past – but why should you?
Are they going to appreciate or pay you any more at work if you put in a greater effort? Who really cares if you shave a minute off your 5K time, or hit a new Personal Record on the Bench Press? Is your girlfriend or wife really going to care (or even notice) if you go the extra mile to do something thoughtful? Why should you go out of your way to help out people when they are not likely to reciprocate?
The solution to this corrosive mentality is to take the thinking out of the equation, and to keep finding new challenges for yourself. Rather than choosing to Rise, I have made it a requirement, dismissing all other considerations and factors. That’s how Rise became my Rule #10. Rather than being a choice such as “Who should I vote for?”, I’ve made it an automatic response, like “Red means Stop, Green means Go.”
11) Don’t Be a Coward
This is my 11th, and probably most important, Rule.
If I had to distill my Identity down to a single sentence, it would be: I am not a Coward. People can say many different nasty or negative things about me, but woe be the wretch who dares question my Courage. Calling me a coward is like calling Marty McFly “Chicken“.
This has been a constant theme in my life. Here’s just one example:
In college, my girlfriend claimed to be pregnant. Now, I would later find out that she told me this just to keep me from breaking up with her (awful story), but for two or three months she had me convinced that she was carrying my child. I was 22 and had basically no life experience, so I took her at her word.
I was still in college when this happened. I worked as a bartender, and had no interest in having a child, particularly with this train-wreck of a girl. I spent a lot of nights not sleeping, trying to think about what to do.
As I’ve written before, I have this insane ability to get calmer as the situation requires: I will chase someone like a maniac for blocks if he or she cuts me off in traffic, but a pregnancy scare barely fazed me. I remember this sense of acceptance and peace coming over me, as I plotted out a checklist of things I had to prepare in the next seven or eight months.
Here is what I did not do: run crying to my family, demand that she get an abortion, or even blame her for not properly using her Birth Control. Again, this was a girl whose drinking/drug use/self-mutilation was so excessive that I hated being around her, yet I was stoically prepared to give up all of my other plans to be her Baby Daddy. This was not because I cared much for her, but because I thought it was cowardly to get a girl pregnant and then try to run away.
Fast forward a few months, and of course this girl was not pregnant. This was a desperate, elaborate lie she cooked up to keep me from leaving her. Lord knows I give Women a hard time, but one of those reasons is that Women are capable of some truly despicable things. Faking a pregnancy for the purposes of trapping someone in a flawed relationship is one of those things. It’s a miserable story that I wouldn’t mind forgetting, but I am extremely proud of the fact that I was prepared to stand by this girl and accept responsibility for my actions.
Rule #11 may be macho and even senseless, but it’s my most-important Rule. Whether it’s falling to block a shot in Hockey, admitting to the police that I was hosting an underage drinking party/orgy, or taking financial responsibility for a group of irresponsible people, time and time again I have not turned into a worm when the going got tough.
According to my Family Crest, I come from a family of Lions. While Lions might be ill-tempered, indifferent, lazy, and Proud, they are certainly not cowards (usually). Courage is probably my most-essential personality trait, which is why my lips curl into a contemptuous snarl when I see people try to dodge responsibility or run-and-hide.
If you want to follow Jack’s Rules, the most-important of those is Don’t Be a Coward. Be an Asshole, be a stubborn prick, even be vindictive or ruthless, but Do Not Be a Coward.
These are my Rules, and I certainly do not expect you to follow them to the letter. But as our morality as a civilization declines and you being to lose understanding of what’s truly Right and Wrong, it’s important that you have a Code of Honor that you seldom deviate from.
Having an Ethical Code is far more important than the Rules themselves. The world is moving in such a way that almost anything can be justifiable. People are rapidly losing their Identities because they can no longer distinguish between Good and Evil, or even Good and Bad. Having a Personal Code, or a list of Rules, takes much of the guesswork out of 21st Century morality.
Use My Rules, use my template, or make your own Rules, but make sure you have something to guide you during times of uncertainty.