The Rules of Life: A Cold Shower of Reality on the Picnic of Youth

In 1995, an American educator named Charles J. Sykes wrote a scathing criticism of the US education system entitled Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why America’s Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write, or Add. In the book, Sykes gives a list of “rules for life” that kids will never learn in school, and in one of the more worthwhile urban legends to pollute the Internet in recent years, these “11 Rules” (there are actually 14) are erroneously attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The rules might not get as much attention if they weren’t mistakenly credited to a famous achiever but that doesn’t make them any less valid, and while Professor Sykes wrote them with American high school and college graduates in mind, with some minor modifications they are just as applicable to Pinoy youth. In much the same way as American society – and in some respects, even more so – Filipino kids are allowed to grow up in a protective and unrealistic bubble that presents few challenges to help their developing minds and emotions grow stronger, and sends them unprepared into a world where metrics of achievement based on good intentions or a misplaced sense of entitlement simply do not exist. Maybe bringing these rules up now as the country settles into another school year will help the next generation of graduates make the most of their time in the classroom and avoid a lot of disappointments later on:

Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. Your right to seek your own happiness and success does not mean that you are guaranteed to find it.

Rule No. 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. You can earn the world’s esteem by accomplishing something, but how you feel about yourself doesn’t matter to anyone but you. When your expectations are crushed because your inflated self-esteem has been overwhelmed by reality, see Rule No. 1, then pull yourself together and do something worthwhile.

Rule No. 3: You are not going to make P50,000 a month right out of college, and certainly not right out of high school, you are not going to be a vice-president, and if you have a job that has “manager” or “officer” in the title, that’s only because your employer wanted to make it sound better in order to attract some applicants.

Rule No. 4: If you think your teacher is tough and unreasonable, wait until you have a boss (which you will have – see Rule No. 3). Your boss does not have tenure, and what’s more, from his point of view, keeping his job is not only dependent on his not screwing up, but on keeping you from screwing up as well. So don’t be surprised if he does not seem to care how you feel about it when he calls you on the carpet after you do screw up (see Rule No. 2).

Rule No. 5: Bagging groceries or cleaning tables at Jollibee is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different name for that sort of thing: They called it “opportunity.” Remember, every ladder has a bottom rung.

Rule No. 6: After announcing to your parents (many times, if you’re a normal young person) that “It’s my life” and “I can make my own decisions,” if you make mistakes, it’s your fault, not your parents’.

Rule No. 7: Before you were born, your parents were as cool and idealistic as you think you are now; they turned into the boring and out-of-touch people they are today by paying your bills, making sure you were housed, clothed, and loved, and listening to you tell them how boring and out-of-touch they are compared to you. So before you try to save the world from all the wrongs committed by your parents’ generation, try to keep your generation from committing its own. Your children may appreciate it.

Rule No. 8: By the time you’ve finished college, it is likely you will have “graduated” half a dozen times, and been showered with awards for adequately meeting the most trivial expectations. Schools do this to keep you motivated; it does not at all resemble anything in real life. If this confuses you, re-read Rules 1 through 5.

Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. No Spring Break. Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter are one-day holidays, if that. You are expected to show up every day for a full day’s work, and you don’t get to start over every 10 or 12 weeks.  On a related note, “finding yourself” or “cultivating your self-expression” are probably not in your job description. Do that on your own time.

Rule No. 10: Television and movies are not real life. Your life and the challenges you face will not fit into neat hour-long episodes. Rocky and the Karate Kid only seemed to train themselves into fight-winning shape in a relatively short amount of time because they can’t make movies 10,000 hours long, which is about the length of time it takes to become an expert at anything.

Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them, because nerds are usually the people who understand Rule No. 10.

Rule No. 12: Smoking does not make you look cool. Even smokers will usually agree with this, because almost every one of them has or will at some point deeply regret ever picking up the habit. The ones who will say they don’t are either liars or idiots.

Wearing three-inch heels with your school uniform also does not make you look cool, and neither does wearing your cellphone on a lanyard around your neck, a T-shirt with a marijuana leaf, swastika, or Che Guevara’s head on it (do you even know who Che Guevara is?), baller bands, rainbow-striped mesh trucker’s hats notched down three sizes too small, pants that are three sizes too big, or hair that is more than one color. Doing your best to look exactly like everyone else in your age group is not an effective way to express your individuality, not even ironically. Those of us who have been through it already have an embarrassing collection of pictures of what we looked like 10 or 20 years ago to remind us of this fact.

Rule No. 13: You are not immortal, and no matter what religion or other belief system you follow, every one of those known to mankind frowns on one’s hastening his own entry to the Afterlife. If you think there is something tragically romantic about the philosophy of “live fast, die young, and leave a nice corpse,” then you obviously have not actually seen a corpse. So take care of yourself.

Rule No. 14: Enjoy it while you can; you will be the age you are now only once in your life. School is a drag, your parents are oppressive, and the future is worrisome and uncertain. But there will come a day when you remember how great it was to be a kid.

If you want to read these rules in their original form click here, and for a slightly different but still very informative excerpt from Syke’s book on education, click here.


About bkritz

I'm a writer, and I do things my own way. That might sound cool to you, unless you're one of the people who actually knows me, in which case you're probably shaking your head in exasperation at the depth of that understatement.
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42 Responses to The Rules of Life: A Cold Shower of Reality on the Picnic of Youth

  1. sticktoexecute says:

    Oh my sweet Lord! This is full of win!

  2. ChinoF says:

    Man, even if I’m a writer at this site, there are some articles from others that still hit me. Especially No. 5.

    The picture above shows just how overrated “being cool” is in today’s society. LOL

  3. WTF DUDE!!! says:

    hey how come i already know rule number 1 since grade skul?? no fair xD

  4. concerned_citizen says:

    Life is so unfair indeed.In other words,shit just happens when you least expect it.

  5. Jon Abaca says:

    Does anybody think the eventual dumbing down of children has led to a generation that is more likely to get depression.

    • ChinoF says:

      Or a generation that looks to useless escapes to avoid this depression.

      • Lorenz says:

        That is because of the intense harshness of reality and admitting defeat to it.

        Japan may be a first world country and Japanese may be hardworking and professional people but their society have high rates of suicide.

        What do you say about suicide? Is it an escape or is it a shortcut to the finish line? Why does Japan have high suicide rates when in fact their country is doing so much well than ours?

      • Jon Abaca says:

        Maybe Japan excels because the Japanese who can deal with the stress turn into excellent specialists.

        In Japan, individuals experience a lot of stress so that they can excel for the sake of the family/community. In the Philippines, when people fail to excel, they fall back on the family/community.

      • ChinoF says:

        Many reasons. Include a culture of suicide upon dishonor. That’s one proof that culture can cause societal problems. Personally, I think suicide ain’t the way. It’s a cop-out. Live it out to have more options and chances. But the thing is, if that life is lived moronically, is it worth living?

      • famous wolf says:

        I think it’s more having low expectations when one does not work for it rather than disappointment. Disappointments come and go but so does success, on both sides of the spectrum, I’ll choose to strive for a better life any day even if I stumble on roadblocks.

    • shadowbroker says:


      But isn’t the reason why Pinoys in general are not as depressed because they have a tight knit community they can always have as an emotional crutch known as familial connections? Of course that was then and some of the people I have talked to and friends of mine are kids who never learned to deal with things as children and thus was never filled the initiative to learn how to deal with life.

      • Jon Abaca says:

        It is hard to get statistics about depression in the Philippines. Many Filipinos hide their problems. There is also a stigma to admitting depression.

        Hiding depression will make it worse. I know many Filipinos think it is considerate to keep their personal problems a secret but their family will only worry more when they start harming themselves.

      • ulong pare says:

        … daaang

        … depression does not affect flips… it’s alien to flip psych thingy…..

        … otherwise, flips will not be considered as the HAPPIEST PIPOL IN DA HOLE WAYD WORLD… :mrgreen:

      • Hyden Toro says:

        We have a fellow in Malacanang who suffers from Depression or is it mental retardation? We just voted him in as our President. Maybe we are all depressed also, or mentally retarded?

      • ulong pare says:

        … daaaang

        … flips voted for a retard (down syndrome) as their prez…

        … doc fcukyao oooopsie pacquiao has a better mental sharpness than abnoy akin’o…

        … you be the judge… ain’t judgemental… :mrgreen:

      • ChinoF says:

        Wowowee and others constitute the Prozac of Filipinos. Problem is, it also acts as intellectual cyanide. Contrived happiness is most likely the right diagnosis for some.

  6. benign0 says:

    The only true to path to happiness is through the achievement of something worthwhile. And there are no worthwhile undertakings that do not involve some degree of difficulty. The trouble with today’s generation of kids is that they expect everything to be easy. It is an age where anyone can be a celebrity simply by acting stupid in front of a camera. When achievement is confused with the temporary “happiness” provided by instant gratification that is what becomes a sure recipe for chronic disillusionment and depression.

    • Lorenz says:

      When one is burned with passion, he/she loses sensation of difficulty with only the goal and dream in his/her mind. Whether it’s easy or hard to do, it doesn’t matter anymore and it can’t be felt anymore. Great people are often burned with passion and self interest, never for the good of people but for glory and honor by having accomplishments.

      This expresses very well the philosophy about following your passions.

      When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself. – Shunryu Suzuki

      Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau

  7. innagadda54 says:

    The road to success goes straight through the garbage dump.

    Baseball is a game that embraces failure. You are considered a great hitter if you fail 7 out of 10 times.

    The all time leader in strikeouts by a batter is Hall of Famer and World Series MVP Reggie Jackson.

    My blog entry on the Necessity of Failure. Please listen to the audio file attached


  8. ulong pare says:

    … daaaang

    … the youth of today??? … sad…

    … 2nd gen flipflams end up as cashiers and/or baggers at walmart, jcp, grocery stores, etchastera, etc…

    … back in flipland, left-behind flips worship and adore flipflams kids… anybody who speaks ferpeckt slangish egoyish englitztched… yo’ wuzzzzzzup gee!

    … to satisfy the adoration, flipflams, aka ‘merkan rejects, ‘bakwet to flipland to star in wowowee, teleseryes y telenovelas … :mrgreen:

    … flips/flipflams kids rule the rules… 😳

  9. Hyden Toro says:

    I’ve gone through the byways and highways of life. Life is what you make it. It depends on your perception. If you want to live in a peaceful universe, or a hostile universe.

    This is what I’ve learned:

    The truths in morning of your life (adult age); becomes lies in the afternoon of your life (mature age, not old age to me). This is why experienced people must be valued. They have the wisdom, while the young have their strength. People who have lived long years on this Planet Earth, have already gained a lot of wisdom, to tackle life.

    I was also young, newly graduated from University. I thought, I have all the answers to life. I thought, I can make a good difference to the world. However, we become tied up with: jobs, families, bills to pay, untoward misfortunes, plain stupidity, toxic people, etc…

    Lastly I qoute from the excerpt of the good essay: “DESIDERATA” written by Max Ebrmann, that states:

    ” You are a chiild of the Universe; no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you; no doubt then, the Universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God; whatever you conceive him to be. And, whatever your labors and aspirations, in this noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgeries and broken dreams. It is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

    • ulong pare says:

      … daaaaaaang

      … ay sus ginoo… ‘sang tambaks ang figures of speech…

      … my two sentimos in the highways and byways of life…

      … i grew up as palaboy ooooopsie playboy… a.k.a asong kalsada (askal)…

      … mi papa y mama sent my lousy ass to school to learn how to wread and rite… the only time i’d see them was to bail out my ass and tossed my ass back to iskul bukol…

      … to make the story short, which i don’t have much to brag about anyway, i graduated with flying ‘onor sa kabalastugan…

      … i learn more about life in the street… and, mind you, what i learned from the street commands a high price in the open market… :mrgreen:

      … kaya heto, pahataw-hataw sa kanto… nagtutulak ng kariton >>> BAKAAAAL, BOTEEEEE, GARAPAAAAA, DYARYOOOOOO!!!! 😳

  10. Hyden Toro says:

    If you are happy and content by being: “magbobote”, magdidiaryo”, and “magbabakal. So be it. Like those people living around the garbage dumps. During the night; they make babies. During the day, they fight for scrap metals to sell. to earn for the next meal. No scrap metal to sell, no next meal. Yet, they are happy in their lives. If that is what makes you happy. Then, it’s your decision. I have a different view of life.

    • ulong pare says:

      … daaaang

      … da flips >>> da ijits, ‘toopids, ignos, hilominatis… da gung gongs… the flipland’s bestest…

      … my pipol, the smokey/payatas group of companies, have more clout than y’all combined… we are the power, we are da world…

      … picture this:

      >>> election time, party time… my turf is flooded with newly minted ninoys/pesos and benjamins/dolyares to garner votes… crates of balikbayan boxes full of corned beef and spam and sunkist orenj lined the north pier in manila… any gung gong we support, siguradong panalo… :mrgreen:

      >>> rain or shine, all occasion/reason/holiday/etc rally/demons’tater thingy… just call ulong’s rallyistas de gung gongs, inc… P500/day + ride to and from rally point … instant crowd for CNN… :mrgreen:

      >>> poster kids for charity/calamities… will provide gusgusing pulubis for abyssman photo ops… hay naku, siguradong ‘sang tambaks ang ukay-ukay and milyon dolyar pledges from civilized countries… :mrgreen:

      >>> mail order/fedex sexy gurlz… instant kabits, wifey, jump-on-jump out, lifetime hugas pfwets, etchastera, etc…

      … that’s only the tip of the garbage oooooopsie iceberg… 😳

  11. J.B. says:

    Rule 15:

    Wisdom beckons and whoever won’t heed to pre-learn it must pay the price of post-learning.

    Divorce high rate is post-learning what is really the meat behind marriage and bows.
    Cool kids who failed to pre-learn the beauty of hardship will post-learn the difficulties in harsh realities like depression.

    • ulong pare says:

      … daaaang

      … that’s deep… di ko maarok…

      … allah eh, ano ba ‘to, pagandahan ng inles sentence construction?

  12. maikimai says:

    Pardon me, I don’t understand Rule # 5.

    • J.B. says:

      #5 is one big solution to Philippines woes.

      If only our politicians who got elected and became warm benchers in Congress and Senate had work in Jollibee or MacDo as teenagers, they will most likely better understand the plight of the poor workers.

      But the problem is, as told by rule #5, Filipinos find it a stigma to their ego to work in those areas or doing such a chore.

  13. Hung Hang says:

    The adage “Youth is wasted on the young” is never more appropriate than in today’s iPod generation.

  14. killem says:

    anti-dynasty law is the solution…

  15. killem says:

    why you guys hate wowawee so much??

    • ChinoF says:

      Seems you’re not aware of the stupidity it represents. Better look up the article about Wowowee here, and find out why. Time to crawl out from under your rock.

    • J.B. says:

      Actually I like wowowee when the viewers are oldies. The smile on their faces shows being oblivious of their age.

    • Ponse says:

      Wowowee represents everything that is wrong with the pinoy mentality. Here is my simple list:

      1) It is a fact that the greatest draw of Wowowee is the chance to get cash from its games and prices. Money for nothing, a microcosm of our handout society.

      2) It is a celebration of our flawed FIESTA mentality. You know when poor people actually pawn their valuables and unnecessarily borrow money so that they can prepare food for Fiestas/Birthdays/celebration so that they can show off to their neighbors. Then they worry and lament that they don’t have enough money to feed their family and pay tuition of their children.

      3) Telling their life stories in front of the camera and fishing for pity. Pinoys are such drama queens why can’t they be like the Japanese or the Chinese who just shut up and work hard.

      I digress, if I continue this I would have a long laundry list but his are my top three.

  16. The knowledge dealing with a system of moral principles has been a systematic of exploitation. From time immemorial, individuals were set apart into two groups: those that must obey the rules, and those that need not. The Filipino Youth must observe ethics and morals, while those that governs do not. The ethics that the Filipino Youth must follow and observe correctly advocates that, one should not steal the property of others, should not or intent to commit any premeditation of any crime, and should not influence others to do something against their will. But note that those ethical rules do not apply to “Oligarchy” government our “trapos“government takes your money, calls it democratic taxes, and presto and now given or endowed with authority to steal.

    Sometimes, as these Filipino Youth cultures need to understand that, life itself are not a free handout for them to receive. Next thing you know it is poverty time. Not a good contention to live by. They themselves are the ones to propel themselves into existence into our Filipino society and cultures. Or, they will be lost forever in our convoluted governance system of ours.

    Wake-up Filipino Youth, do you want to become like they…[…]
    Filipino Youth are to excel, and, are the one to govern our future growth of our nation, The Philippines.

    Shake your “Money Maker” is not going to propel you anywhere.

  17. BenK,

    Nice column. One more thing!

            “Knowledge is Power”
                   Read a book.
                  It will open up,
                     your mind.
                Turn that TV off,
                   it’s a VIRUS

  18. Double says:

    I know this is really random and off tangent, but it’s been bothering me for a while now and I’m afraid I might go crazy if I don’t say this.

    Is your avatar change to Shining Agito a symbol that in each and every one of us is limitless and shining possibility that we just have to work hard to let out through a burning passion for improvement? Kind of like how it went from Burning Agito to Shining Agito in the show? In that you’ve given up “policing” the stupids (hence Shaider) and just went on to just to fight to remind everyone about their potential (hence Agito)?

    And if that is so, I want to be the Gills then, for that time this country sinks under the sea of stupidity even further.

    • ChinoF says:

      Haha, I love your piece! Actually, it’s Burning Agito, but you could say I’m upgrading from Shaider who had no ultimate form. hehe. Besides, Agito books more badass. You have a good message, we need to remind people that they can upgrade from stupidity and do the right thing. That’s one purpose of AP.

      Hey, is that Shotaro or Philip in there? 😛

  19. Double says:

    Uh, that was to ChinoF, I need to get around to properly the reply function for the comments. My bad.

  20. bokyo says:

    ima gonna share each points here to facebook BenK, too many of these apply to most of us , especially to our young readers 😉

    I’ll credit it to this post :mrgreen:

  21. reality says:

    The Filipino youth need to shake off their bizzare sense of selfish entitlement if they expect the Philippines to go anywhere in the future. The Philippines is theirs by birth right and need to start acting like it, rather than expecting handouts from authority, i.e. parents, government, etc. If it’s change they want, then THEY THEMSELVES need to work and work hard to achieve anything worthwhile. Unfortunately, they choose fantasy over reality, fearing the implications of sober thought and inner discovery. They do not want to give up what’s holding their country back; the artifical wowwowwee culture. May the strong and wise inherit the Philippine Islands and prosper while the ignorant continue digging their living graves.

  22. John says:

    Tactful and very sincere. I personally have to deal with various versions of these rules every day, especially when in theater (my former course in College and my lifetime pursuit/career).

    The world does not care about feelings, but it DOES care about triumphs and failures, however small or personal.

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