Rules to live (and work) by

Rules to live (and work) by

How to be your best self and do your best work

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We just came back from our three-week vacation in Scandinavia. While on the road with our camper van, I had some time to reflect on the last couple of months. Maybe the last couple of years. Being self-employed for more than five years now, I‘ve always been pushing hard to get everything right. I‘ve wanted to be a great guy to work with, satisfy my customers, roll in enough money, have a lot of free time, and be very happy. But things don‘t always work out the way we expect them to. While I‘m fairly good at building software, I‘m terrible at separating myself from my „work-self“. But we try, we fail, we learn, we improve. Over the last few weeks, I thought a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, things I‘m good at, and stuff I want to generally improve – both personally and in a business context. Finally, I tried to come up with a ruleset I want to live by. A ruleset I want to run my company by. A framework to build the house I want to live in.

1. Learn every day

The only constant is change. Most people think that they‘re done learning once they finish school or education. Wrong. By the time you‘ve finished school, you probably don‘t know much. You‘re only getting started there. It‘s important to know that you should learn every day and that you can learn from everyone. Develop a new skill, satisfy your curiosity, and try something completely different. Learning is fun and can get you anywhere. Never stop learning.

2. Help as much as you can

I‘ve always been convinced that helping others and sharing knowledge without expecting anything in return is a positive-sum game. But only since I started blogging last year, I‘ve experienced this in practice. My post on How to design better APIs recently hit 150k views. It resonated with many people and was genuinely helpful to a lot of folks. Knowing that something you‘ve created is valuable and helpful to others is an incredible feeling. I think that everyone can and should create more things.

3. Take ownership

I‘ve made it a habit to publicly acknowledge my own mistakes. If something goes wrong, you should always take full responsibility for it. You shouldn‘t blame it on anyone else. Explain what went wrong, why it happened, and how it will never happen again. By the end of the day, it‘s more important to be high integrity and honest instead of making up some random excuse and blaming it on someone else. Customers will forgive you. They will appreciate and value your openness. That way, they can verify that you‘re a trustworthy and long-term partner.

4. Give credit

Similarly, if someone else does something great, give credit to them. Say „thank you“, „nicely done“, or „I couldn‘t have made it without you“. It‘s extremely powerful to actively show a team member, business partner, or customer your appreciation. It makes them feel valued and appreciated. Their work is important and should be treated that way. Never underestimate the effect of saying something nice.

5. Don‘t take it personally

This is something I need to work on myself. I‘m extremely proud of my work and I don‘t want to make any mistakes. Consequently, I quickly take things personally, which is unnecessary. If a customer is – for example – angry because of some nasty bug in their software, they‘re angry because of that bug, not because they consider you an idiot. It‘s important to differentiate yourself from your company, especially if you‘re working alone. Focus on fixing the problem instead of feeling attacked.

6. Celebrate your achievements

In our fast-moving world – particularly in the software industry – it’s easy to lose track of your achievements and successes. Milestone after milestone, it often happens that victories are not properly celebrated. It shouldn‘t be that way. Once you publish that first version of an app, take a break, get a cold drink, have a nice dinner, and celebrate. If you don‘t celebrate your achievements yourself, why should anyone else? Consciously taking time to celebrate is important to get new energy and stay motivated.

7. Learn from your mistakes

Failing is not a shame. It’s one of the most important factors to grow – both personally and as a business. No matter how hard you fail, there’s always an upside. You just have to see it. Find that positive side, accept it, and draw your lessons from it. Failure is natural. Failure is OK. Not getting better with every failure you make is not.

8. Don‘t get lost in details

There‘s a saying. Make it work, make it fast, make it beautiful. The order is important. Whatever you do, don‘t lose yourself in tiny details early on. It‘s more important to ship a working feature that delivers value to a customer rather than building it in the most beautiful way. Focus, get in the zone and don‘t go in circles. Execution is everything.

9. Say „no“ more often

People generally want to be nice and don‘t want to hurt their counterparts. It‘s therefore often hard to say NO. But it‘s important. Always saying yes to everything makes you prone to being exploited by people. Also, it‘s irrational to accept and do everything that‘s expected from you. You‘re an individual human and you have the right to do things your way.

10. Don‘t make promises you can‘t keep

It‘s tough to let someone down by saying „no“. But it‘s even worse to make promises you can‘t keep. Be honest, say the truth, and only do realistic things. It‘s better to decline something up front instead of being sorry later on.

11. Make your own decisions

It‘s great to listen to people and get their feedback and opinions. Feedback can be really valuable. But be careful who you get feedback from. Most people care about themselves and act according to their interests. Use your judgment. Listen to yourself. By the end of the day, you must make your own decisions and live with them.

12. Don‘t define yourself solely by work

People are multivariate. You are not exclusively your company. Of course – if you‘re working on your startup, work will take up a big part of your life. But that doesn‘t mean there‘s nothing else. You still have hobbies, you have interests, and you have other opinions. There are people out there that value you for things other than your MRR or your startup‘s valuation. Don‘t couple your personality too tightly to your business.

13. Don‘t chase arbitrary things

Live in the here and now. Most people choose to be unhappy until something arbitrary happens. Don‘t chase an arbitrary 1 million dollars. Don‘t wait until you‘re 30. Don‘t wait for that special day to come. It probably never will. Be the person you always wanted to be and do the things you always wanted to do, now. Just do it.

14. Watch yourself

You are busy building your startup. I get that. Everyone is. I am so too. But while you‘re working hard, you shouldn‘t do so to a detriment of your health. Slow down. Take some time off. Take care of your body. Take care of your mind. Be happy. Be healthy. Nothing else matters.

15. Don‘t take it too seriously

Life is short. Your lifetime is limited (I know, it sucks). Don‘t take yourself so seriously. It doesn‘t always have to be hard. Laugh about yourself. Have fun. Do some crazy stuff. Make it count. ✌️

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