My 12 Rules to Live By

Anybody worth learning from has plenty they stand for.

I love hearing the rules of thumb, the standards, the conventional wisdom and the accrued learnings of these people. Similarly I try to capture tightly-phrased aphorisms and holding myself accountable with plenty of direct and specific lists and resolutions.

So of course I was a sucker for the concept of ‘12 Rules for Life.’ It’s a book published early this year by Jordan Peterson that spiraled from popular to, fitting for today’s era, being engulfed in a strangely hyper-gendered debate. The book’s over-simplified approach of ordering one’s life with structure did gain positive feedback, including a podcast episode from Malcolm Gladwell. But because Peterson is aflame in lots of identity politics, I walked away from the the book less interested in adding to that debate than with something else.

I spent the last several months taking notes of the many universal truths I held myself to, and recommended for others. It became a fun game for parties among friends and family: what are your 12 Rules to Live By?

Let me share.

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The Americas were more populated than Europe at the time of first contact

The Americas were home to some of the world’s most complex and established civilizations in the world at the time of European contact.

As many as 100 million people may have lived in the Americas in 1491, far more than Europe. In the next century, an estimated 80 million of them died, largely because of diseases humans didn’t understand yet.

Though those estimates are still actively contested, a growing number of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians defend the concept that perhaps as many as one in five people on the planet died. It would have been the largest epidemic in human history.

That massive change in understanding pre-Columbian was chronicled in the celebrated 2006 book 1491, by Charles C. Mann, who had written on the issue for the Atlantic. It made a stir then, and I finally got to picking through it, regularly reading news articles on the topic.

I shared my notes below.

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01:09: Daily Show Correspondent Dulcé Sloan

One of the highest profile jobs for young comics is a correspondent role on The Daily Show, the acclaimed satire-news anchor. Today’s guest has just that.

Atlanta-bred comedian has appeared on Conan and in 2017 was highlighted by Rolling Stone as among 10 comedians to watch. Last fall, she joined the cast of the Comedy Central staple.

In this episode of The Writing Process, hear her talk about when she chooses to write a joke on stage and when she crafts it on paper.

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01:07: Poet Danez Smith

For as subjective as poetry can be, there is little ambiguity is being named a finalist for a National Book Award in poetry.

That’s what Danez Smith earned with the 2017 poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead. Hear from Danez in today’s episode of my Writing Process Podcast.

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01:06: Memoirist Lori Tharps

The editing experience is always challenging. But it’s perhaps most difficult when you are telling your own story.

That is the focus of what I discussed with memoirist and journalist Lori Tharps, who is most recently a collaborator on Proud, the autobiography of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics. Tharps, herself, has written memoir in several forms, including her 2008 book Kinky Gazpacho.

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01:05: YA Author Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh comes from “book people, going back generations.”

The author of the 2017 Young Adult Fiction novel “Who’s That Girl” from HarperCollins, she says there is a saying around her family. Never give a Thornburgh a book — or you’ll be forced to sit there politely while they read it in front of you.

She’s just 28 but as an editor at beloved novelty publisher Quirk Books and in the midst of a two-book deal with a major industry powerhouse, she has some insight.

The author of two books, an editor on several others and working on her next novel, she reminds us that the joy of a book is that, as author, “you’re making a promise to the reader” and want to deliver.

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Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work, or even what you deserve.

Among the many complexities we are confronting in our fist-flying, partisan online discourse, this is a translation issue. If you’re telling someone they’re privileged and you can’t understand why they get frustrated or tune you out, pause for a moment. Likewise, if you’re someone who has been called privileged and don’t understand why they ignore how hard you work, stop to consider.

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Don’t try to be Silicon Valley: a SXSW panel

I moderated a panel on the topic of cities branding their entrepreneurship ecosystems.

In case you haven’t heard my ranting before: I think it’s silly for cities to talk about being the Silicon Valley of anything. Find my rants here and here and here. Funny enough, I was leading that panel at SXSW, another important vibrant national tradition I don’t want cities to try to copy.

Below are some questions I asked and a wrap video from the Amplify Philly house, where I did the panel.

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