EDIT: I’m leaving the original post intact, but this is a great example of a good way for a skeptic to approach life. It turns out this speech was not from Bill Gates in his high school days. It’s actually from Charles Sykes. Score a win for skepticism. Rather than take it as read, I did a little more research and learned the truth. Unfortunately, I hit “Publish” prematurely because I was in a hurry this afternoon. So, as per my own advice, I’m owning my mistakes. Instead of deleting the post or changing it before anyone has the chance to catch me, I’m just putting it out there. I was sloppy, and didn’t do my research properly, and it bit me on the ass. Lesson learned! -HD
Bill Gates is well-known as a philanthropist, an atheist, and a staggeringly successful businessman. It’s also rumored that he’s a pretty nice guy to boot. Since this blog is all about excelling at life as a non-believer, I thought it appropriate to pass on some words of advice from someone who’s “made it” in most every sense of the word.
Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!
Rule 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.
We can probably take it as read that Rule 11 might have been thrown in as a bit of a self-serving joke, but there’s a lot of good wisdom in here. I particularly like that he begins his advice by pointing out that life is not fair. If there’s one thing about atheism that I think scares more believers than anything else, it’s the inherent unfairness of the universe. The evil are not always punished and the good are not always rewarded. Sometimes, a lifetime of good faith effort ends in dishonor and public ridicule. Children are born with incurable diseases. Assholes kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of people for personal or political gain and get away with it.
I can understand why this scares a lot of people, but skepticism is all about facing ugly truths. When life treats us poorly for no good reason, we need to be prepared. Instead of getting angry at god or karma, we are better served jumping back into the fray and trying that much harder the next time. Similarly, when we roll a long series of 7s, we need to realize that there are lots of people who were not so lucky and could use our help. (Bill Gates has more than lived up to this moral imperative.)
Rule 7 is deceptive. On the surface, it seems like odd advice. It’s almost like it’s letting others off the hook because life is hard. But there’s a deeper truth to it. In life, we can sometimes have anything we want, but we can never get everything we want. When your parents decided to have children, they gave up a lot. And once the decision was made, there was no going back. As individuals and as a society, we sometimes have to make hard decisions about what we want. And when we choose, we have to then realize that we will be giving something up, possibly forever.
This may seem like a bizarre tangent, but I think it’s related. A couple of days ago, I bought a new set of mini-headphones for my laptop. I spent ten minutes extracting them from their packaging, all the while bitching and moaning about how the package was at least five times the mass of the product. I was particularly irked since I had just that very morning listened to a piece on NPR bemoaning the problems we have with waste. WELL DUH! We have to individually wrap every damn thing we sell! It’s part economics and part red tape. But in the end, if we want to produce less waste, we have to produce less waste, and the only way to do that is to sacrifice something. Maybe we’ll lose more to theft or damage. Maybe there will be some occasional tampering with products. But those are the breaks if you want to reduce waste.
This is a concept that doesn’t come easily to Americans, and I think it’s to our extreme detriment. Take environmental change as an example. We can have reduced greenhouse emissions or we can all run our AC’s at full blast all summer and drive our 15mpg SUVs. Sure, we can design better SUV engines and better ACs, but there are physical limits. My first car got 42mpg, and it got me everywhere I needed to go for a decade. It was also the size of an Escalade’s back seat.
Rule 2 is also a great one. It lines up well with psychology, too. Self esteem is not something that can be given. It must come from within, and the only way it happens is with accomplishment. We feel good about ourselves when we do something good. Simple enough.
Too much emphasis is put on not hurting other people’s sense of pride or self-esteem. That’s simply the other part of the same equation. If you have self-esteem, it’s because you have accomplished something. This taps into one of the dangerous lies of Christianity where believers want to give all the credit to God when they succeed and shirk responsibility when something goes wrong, thinking that God will work it all out in the end. God will not work it out. If you screw up, it’s your fault. If you succeed, it’s your accomplishment. Own both your failures and your successes. Your self esteem will be a reflection of how you’re doing in life. And that’s a good thing.
There are plenty more gems in this advice, but those are the ones I found particularly insightful. What do you think?