Five Principles To Live By

I’m lucky enough to be able to live in a fascinating country (China) and have enough disposable income to travel when time allows. The other day I unexpectedly received an email from a student in the US who was interested in knowing how I managed to afford to travel so much as it was also their goal once they graduated. What they probably didn’t know is that I actually have a full-time job and my blog isn’t really a representative view of my life as a whole but this got me thinking about the wider issues of how you can achieve your goals and be successful in life.


There are a million and one books and websites you can read about how to improve your life and anything in it (Amazon lists 124,526 titles in their “Self Help” section alone). Likewise, there are just as many people claiming to know the “secret” to success and so on. Whilst I’m sure there are some useful nuggets of advice contained within these tomes I’m always dubious of anyone doing it for profit and frankly think much of that industry is a con (or a smart placebo).

Shenzhen Book City

I’m not going to make any such claims here but there are a few principles which I have found useful in both work and life over the past few years which I thought I’d share today (for free and with only limited bias!). By no means do I assert these to be original; they’re just things which I’ve picked up along the journey of life so far and may or may not be useful to you personally:

  1. Life can’t be learned in advance; you make it up as you go – when you’re young you expect your parents and teachers to have all the answers. They don’t and nor do you. Accept this and move forward as the best way to learn is through experience which will include both success and failure. Treat failure as an opportunity to improve.
  2. Embrace change and take calculated risks – many people fear change and avoid risks which might take them outside their comfort zone but unfortunately this is the only way you’ll ever make progress. Regret is the consequence of inaction and avoiding change causes stagnation. This is not the same as being reckless with your life.
  3. You can’t please everyone; don’t waste your time trying to – life is short and if you spend all your time trying to make everyone you meet happy then you will just end up unhappy yourself. You don’t have to be rude or unkind about it but it does require some discipline. Likewise don’t expect everyone to always do your bidding.
  4. 80/20 Rule: 20% of effort (input) leads to 80% of results (output) – I’m a strong believer in focusing on the things which provide you or your objectives with the most value/benefit. The applications for this principle are endless; learning how to focus your energy is the tricky part. Delegate or discontinue doing anything outside the 20%.
  5. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid – I can think of no circumstance where making something simpler isn’t beneficial. Be it designing a product or planning a holiday keeping things simple will lead to a much more pleasurable end experience and less stress/confusion all around. For me, the key is to evaluate and reduce then repeat.

I’m still fairly young (24) but it seems with every passing year things become less black and white than they once were which validates my belief that it’s important to keep an open mind when developing a sense of direction. Life is a learning experience and the above is just a list of things which seem relevant to me now; no doubt it will further evolve with time.

What would be on your list? How do these translate to your goals in life?

David avatar

9 responses

  1. Very inspiring post. My little David is all grown-up. 🙂 You can very KISS me now.

    1. 😮 I’m not quite sure how to take that but glad you found it inspiring!

  2. Shuo avatar

    Thanks for sharing,David.

    You gotta know that you’re already annoyingly successful at your age.Keep leading the way.

    1. Hehe, not so sure about that but thanks!

  3. The first principle is one that I’m working on right now.
    It’s been a slow start to understanding, that you cannot learn to do everything before you try it and screw up. I’ve never heard anyone say it aloud before and it feels reassuring to hear that someone else has thought the same!

    1. Good luck with that Aku. Remember “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”!

  4. Hann avatar


    Really loving the blog that you have here as I just spent the last hour or so reading through it! I’ve never been to China before so the Chinese Culture 101 posts have definitely helped a lot to gain a better perspective. Just something I wanted to add here too is the principle that sometimes you have to be selfish and put yourself first before others to get what you want.

    I’m also young (23) so I know I still have time to take such risks like traveling to a country in which I’m not familiar at all with the language or culture. Boy am I in for a culture shock! But I’m definitely fortunate at the same time where I earn enough income online that I can be anywhere in the world.

    I really enjoyed reading the principles that you have listed here and it just gently reminds me that sometimes you have to really embrace change and take the leap as regret can always creep up on you if you don’t. I really cannot wait to leave for China so I will be sure to follow your blog and comment about my travels as well 🙂

    1. Really glad to hear you’re also preparing to take a leap into the unknown – do you know where/when you will go yet?

      I think there’s nothing better than to get out in the world and do something different (and a little scary). There’s also nothing wrong with being selfish in moderation – if you spent your life doing what others wanted you’d never be happy.

      I’ll look forward to hearing about your experiences in due course!

      1. Hann avatar

        Hi David,

        Traveling to another country is something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time now especially since I got laid off about a year ago in the States. I have a good friend that lives in China so I figured it’s a great opportunity for me to learn the language while getting better acquainted with the culture.

        I arrive March 21st at the Hong Kong International airport and will take a ferry back to where my friend lives in Zhongshan in the Guangdong province. I pretty much plan on traveling throughout China while I work on my online sites. I’m very nervous, anxious and excited but I’m definitely looking forward to it!

        I totally agree with you that happiness can never really be achieved by always doing what others want of you. It’s actually another reason why I’m moving to China indefinitely as I just feel I need to get away for a while to clear my head and to try to make something of myself while I’m there. I’ll probably be documenting my travels and thoughts in a blog so I’ll keep you posted also 🙂


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