Campbell’s Rules of Life – Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about Campbell’s Law:  Nothing is ever easy, but you can make it if you persevere.  And Campbell’s four critical criteria for success at whatever you try to do.  I might note that I put my name on these in order to identify them as my personal opinion and not because I expected to gain any fame from them.  In Part 2 we’re going to talk about Campbell’s critical facts of life – not because the facts are original with me – but they are the common things one hears that I think may be the most important to remember.  There are obviously many more “facts of life”, but if I can only remember 3 – which is close to my limit – these are the ones I try to remember.

  1. Life is not fair.
  2. Nothing is as simple as it seems.
  3. There is no free lunch.

We’ll take these one at a time:

  1. Life is not fair.

We don’t always get what we deserve and sometimes that’s a good thing.   Sometimes we get more rewards than we deserve or expect, which leads to sayings like, “I’d rather be lucky than smart.”  Sometimes “bad things happen to good people”. In other cases we don’t get as much blame as we deserve for things that don’t go well,  Our reaction in this case is somewhere between a simple “whew” to rationalizing why we didn’t deserve more blame to begin with.

Often we tend to judge “fairness” based on the rewards that others get relative to what we think they might deserve.  Fairness is often, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.  When we start to judge the fairness of what others have when they appear to have more than we do , it’s often difficult for us to take the “I” out of fairness.  Do they deserve more than we do, maybe not – but life is not fair, accept it and move on.  To do otherwise frequently leads to envy, and as we may remember, envy is one of the “seven deadly sins”.  Fairness is difficult to judge objectively in many real world circumstances even if we have all the information; and often we do not know or understand all the relevant information.  So if something happens to us “that is not fair”, or if other people seem to get things they don’t appear to deserve; remember “life is not fair” so get over it and move on.

  1. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. 

I like to say “all the easy problems have been solved”.  Someone has all ready solved the problems that have simple, obvious solutions.  These are usually problems with a single cause and a single effect – to which there are usually perfect (no down side), easy to implement solutions.  So what we are left with are the multi-dimensional  problems which have no perfect, easy to implement solutions.  Solving these problems requires a good understanding and definition of the problem and all it’s facets;  development of several possible solutions; and a thorough, objective analysis of  both the positive and negative aspects of each potential solution.

The best answers usually come from a “team” approach involving people with different views of the problem and different interests in the possible outcomes.   The most innovative, best solutions usually come from teams made up of people who are not competing with each other, but are teaming up against the problem.  They are on same side against the problem and are seeking an alternative that is truly a “third alternative” (not just a compromise) that will end with a solution that provides a “win-win” for everyone.  Unfortunately in today’s public policy world it seems to be difficult to have such a “team approach”.  Television news is limited to one or two minutes on any topic and 10 second sound bites.  Multi-dimensional problems can’t be adequately described in those time periods.  And most of us want to hear solutions, not problem definitions (despite the fact that many of us were told in school that “a problem well-defined is a problem half solved”).  So TV news tends to simplify both the problem and the potential solutions.  Daily newspapers are not much better.  They are limited on space, and tend to have a written equivalent of the 10 second sound bite.

When we do talk about the problem it’s usually a discussion about who to blame.  I think the “blame game” is mostly a waste of time.  It sometimes helps to know how we got into a fix in order to better understand the problem, but in most cases there is not one person or one group of people who is solely responsible.  So the “blame game” is too often a way to shift responsiblity away from ourselves.  Charlie Campbell (no relation) has written a book, Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People, which traces our habit of blaming other people back to the Garden of Eden.  He points out that humans have a long history of blaming other people for problems that we ourselves are responsible for or that we simply do not understand.  Nothing is as simple as we would like it to be – all the easy problems have been solved.

  1. There is no free lunch. 

Sometimes we can postpone paying for lunch – the credit card companies encourage that.  One thing to remember is that a lot of things are like the lunch we charge on our credit card – we can put off paying for it, but the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us.  Sometimes the cost of something is not obvious.  Sometimes how we end up paying for it will not be easy, and/or the day of reckoning is far enough in the future that we opt not to think about it.  Advertisers and scammers like to offer us something for “free”, or a lot for a little.  A good rule is “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

Often the cost is not only, or purely, in money.  Frequently it is also non-tangible (but real) things like our self-esteem, or a feeling of obligation, or the spoiling of a relationship.  This is a lot about taking personal responsibility for ourselves.  If we take “something for nothing”, we may be on the path of becoming dependant on someone or something else.  That does not usually have a good outcome.

So there hyou have it.  Remember this is “free” advice – take it for what it’s worth.  Only you can be responsible.


About tjc13

BE - Chem Engineering, Vanderbilt Univ, MBA, University of Tulsa - Worked for an energy and chemical company for many years and then started a management consulting business working for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.
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2 Responses to Campbell’s Rules of Life – Part 2

  1. Bob Traband says:

    Regarding no free lunch, don’t forget Friday.


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