“I just wish to shine brighter, and if it burns my body to a crisp, I’m happy to go right now.”
That bit of high-intensity wisdom comes from a man who I admire deeply: singer, songwriter, spoken-word artist, author, actor, radio and TV show host, publisher and true renaissance man Henry Rollins.
Henry made his mark on pop culture as the frontman for the quintessential punk rock band Black Flag, and then later via the Rollins Band, and he turned that experience into a multi-faceted and eminently interesting career fit for a true polymath. His career continues today, mostly through writing and one-man spoken word shows that combine the intensity of a punk rock concert with the intellectual stimulation of a TED Talk.
If you are a longtime reader of The Deep Woods, you probably know that I am a huge music fan and a huge fan of renaissance men (and women) who are able to do many different things in life and to do those things very well. In fact, I have an entire website and podcast appropriately called Way of the Renaissance Man, which is dedicated to extracting wisdom and knowledge from these types of individuals so that we can apply that wisdom and knowledge to our own lives.
A couple of years ago, another polymath I admire, entrepreneur, investor and business inspirer Evan Carmichael, compiled a list that he called “Henry Rollins’s Top 10 Rules for Success.” You can watch the video on YouTube. I recommend doing so, as it will give you a sense of the intensity and focus Henry puts into just about every breath he takes.
Here is a list of those top 10 rules (complete with sage advice straight from Henry himself), rules that I also try to live by, and rules that can help everyone — regardless of what stage they are at in life — achieve just that little bit extra that makes life glorious.
Rule 1: Be Driven
Rollins says he uses childhood anger and fear of failure to fuel his sense of drive. “I descend from the sky and land on things really hard, and I go at everything with that amount of fury,” Rollins says. Now that is a definition of drive that we all can admire.
Rule 2: Work Hard
Rollins says that no matter what he does, he goes at everything “fully engaged, and that intensity has served him quite well.” He also credits his punk rock roots for that work ethic, as everything in the early days was a sort of do-it-yourself exercise in just trying to make it from week to week.
Rule 3: Keep Moving Forward
Continue to consistently work hard and always move forward in life. “I keep moving forward boldly because I have nothing to lose,” Rollins says. Of course, regardless of whether you think you have nothing to lose, life requires constant movement, or we fall into stagnation. “I like to work… It’s about activity and challenge,” he adds.
Rule 4: Just Do It
He tells the story about starting his own book publishing company, which was the essence of punk rock “DIY.” “You just do it; you don’t even think about it… and without hesitation I’m making my own book company. Stop me. I dare you,” Rollins recalls.
Your editor doing a little Henry Rollins reading.
Rule 5: Take Your Shot
The “shot” for Rollins came when he was asked to audition as the singer for the iconic punk band Black Flag. He took a train from his home in Washington, D.C., to New York City and sang every song the band had. About 10 minutes after the audition was over, he was offered the job as the frontman of his favorite band. Now that is taking advantage of your “shot” in life.
Rule 6: Communicate Emotionally
“I feel a genuine need to communicate with an audience,” Rollins shares. That’s the way he describes his interaction with a crowd, because he sees it as the best way to genuinely connect with others. “It’s about communication, warning, broadcasting, emitting and trying to leave something of myself with the audience,” Rollins says. This rule is one of my favorites, because it’s also what I attempt to do each week in this publication.
Rule 7: Try Out Different Things
“Yeah, I’ll try that. I mean, why would I hold back?” This also is one of my favorite rules, as it encapsulates the fearlessness with which life should be approached. If there is something you want to do in life, try it out. The worse that can happen is you don’t like it, or you aren’t good at it. So what? At least you challenged yourself to stretch out and experience life in a different way.
Rule 8: Manage Yourself
“The repeating factors of my life have been application, discipline, focus, repetition,” Rollins says. These keys for Rollins are also largely the keys to success of many high achievers. The reason why is because application, discipline, focus and repetition are how you really get good at something. No matter how much natural talent you might possess, you never will be extraordinary at a skill unless you apply yourself with the requisite discipline, focus and repetition required to achieve the highest levels of whatever it is you do.
Rule 9: Learn from Your Past
“The past holds all of your mistakes and humiliations. The future holds whatever you can make it,” Rollins says. He doesn’t think you should ignore the past, but he doesn’t think you should dwell on it and be miserable. Instead, you should learn from it and move on. “The future’s ready for you to not make those mistakes,” Rollins adds.
Rule 10: Have Passion
Here is the key rule to life that both Rollins and I embrace, as it’s really at the heart of your existence. Because whatever you do, and whatever time you have to do it, why not live it all the way? Forget about half-hearted effort or “just okay” results.
Have the passion to attack life like a punk rock frontman — with all the intensity and hardcore aggression that meets life head on and that embraces the struggle. Because in the end, all we have is how we lived.
P.S. If you like this article, then I invite you to listen to a very special audio version of “10 Punk Rock Rules for Life,” which has just been posted to my website, Way of the Renaissance Man.
More Beautiful Tears
“The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.”
— Alain de Botton
The writer and television producer is known for trying to make philosophy relevant to everyday life. I like this mission, because that also is what I do in this publication, and in all of my publications and via my podcast. Here, de Botton reminds us that unexpected beauty is one of the most sublime experiences a human can have, and that is the type of experience I recommend seeking out regularly.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.