by Niall Doherty

I used to be the kind of guy who would always finish what he started. Take books for example. Even if I found myself reading a book I hated, one that was giving me no enjoyment whatsoever, I would force myself to keep reading and finish it.

Because conventional wisdom told me that was the right thing to do.

I didn’t want to be a quitter. After all, quitters never win and winners never quit.


Well nowadays I find myself quitting all sorts of things, often abandoning projects before they’re complete. And it’s not just because I have a short attention sp…

(Just kidding.)

I’ve become comfortable abandoning projects because I realize that it’s rarely worth sticking it out til the end if you’re not enjoying the process. Why would I force myself to keep reading a bad book when I can can just drop it and go read something that I’m more likely to enjoy?

Now sure, sometimes it’s worth sticking it out. If you quit everything as soon as the going gets tough, you never amount to much. So my criticism of conventional wisdom shouldn’t be taken as absolute. The point is that we should be wary of abiding blindly. We need to question whether or not such nuggets are applicable to our given situation.

With that in mind, here’s me poking holes in 21 other bits of conventional wisdom…

1. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t

Like the rat in this story, we often stick with the crappy, familiar situation because we’re afraid to embrace uncertainty. The logic goes, “Yeah, I hate my job and I have no friends, but at least I can rely on three hours of good ol’ Xbox every evening.”

I’ve found though that the devil I don’t know rarely turns out to be as scary as I imagined him to be, and oftentimes I find that he never even existed in the first place.

2. Never mix business and pleasure

If your bottom line in business is to make money, then I can see how this makes perfect sense. You’d have to be ruthless and not worry about upsetting people. But personally, I’d rather earn less money doing work I love with people I respect and admire. Zillion sum game and all of that.

3. There’s no such thing as a free lunch

Sure there is. I had one just last week.

4. Always have a backup plan

Over to Chris Guillebeau for this one…

You’ll hear something like “Airplane pilots always have a Plan B,” as if it’s an open-and-shut case that you’re wrong to chart a course without considering the contingencies. And when you are presented with such logic, you are expected to say: “Oh, you’re right! It really is better to play it safe. Gosh.”

But hold on a minute. Personally, I want my pilot to safely land the damn plane. Assuming that’s Plan A, I’m happy to stick with it. Anything else doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.

5. All good things must come to an end

All things must come to an end, not just the good things. And while that may sound depressing at first, keeping it in mind helps me appreciate the good moments while they’re happening, and reminds me that the bad times won’t last forever.

6. Better safe than sorry

This is the mantra of procrastinators everywhere. If you don’t try, you can’t fail. But as Tynan reminds us, “You can’t get what you want in life without taking risks.”

Besides, that sorry, as unlikely as it usually is, always stings less than the regret of not giving it a shot.

7. The clothes maketh the man

Even as a minimalist, I concede that it feels good to dress well and own nice things. The problem occurs when you begin to derive your sense of self-worth from such material objects. Be wary of anyone who judges you by your khakis, and be careful not to judge likewise yourself.

8. Don’t burn your bridges

Sometimes burning your bridges is the best thing you can do, because it leaves you no option but to move forward.

9. An eye for an eye

I was walking through the narrow streets of the Red Light District here in Amsterdam on Tuesday when a guy on a moped almost ran into a pedestrian. They were both young men, full of bravado. They started mouthing off at each other and before I turned the corner I saw that they had come toe to toe, ready to fight. I couldn’t help but think that a truly courageous man in that situation would have simply walked away.

As Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

10. Good men are hard to find

Only if you believe that to be the case. The more I put myself out there, and the more I expect to connect with like-minded people, the easier I seem to find them (or they find me).

11. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all

As a former, chronic people-pleaser, I used to abide by this all the time, so scared I was of saying something that might cause someone to dislike me. I’ve since realized that nothing I say or do will ever be good enough for everyone, and so I just try to speak and act my truth as best I can. With that, at the very least, I know I’ll like myself.

12. It’s a good horse that never stumbles

I’d assume he’s a very young horse if he’s never stumbled. Just give him time. Because bad things happen to everyone. It’s how you handle those things that determines the quality of your life.

13. The customer is always right

Nobody is always right. I don’t care if your customer is the pope, you still gotta stand up for yourself and not let him take advantage of your generous ass.

(Totally didn’t intend to make a joke about the pope and bum sex there, I swear. I’ve obviously been reading way too much Ashley Ambirge.)

14. All’s well that ends well

I don’t believe the end always justifies the means. You can lie, cheat and steal to get ahead in life, but that’s a shitty way of doing it.

15. Knowledge is power

I’d say that without action, knowledge is pretty useless. Take the book Think And Grow Rich for example. It’s hard to argue against the information in there. The formula it lays out is pretty much guaranteed to lead to success. But the vast majority of people who read such a book aren’t willing to turn that knowledge into action, and so they stay stuck where they are.

The same is true of me. Pretty sure I know lots of things I could do that would take my business to the next level. But knowing isn’t enough. I need to do the work.

16. Money can’t buy happiness

As Michael Norton explains in the video below, “If you think money can’t buy happiness, you’re not spending it right.”

17. All good things come to those who wait

I’m a big fan of not waiting. If you want something, take action now. At the very least, get the ball rolling in the right direction. Yeah, you may have to be patient and give it some time, but don’t just sit on your hands and expect it to happen on its own.

18. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today

In the same vein as “finish what you’ve started,” this one might be more useful rephrased as, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can avoid doing altogether.”

19. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

I say it’s never too late. I’m obviously still quite young, but I believe I’ve learned many more important lessons as a self-directed student than I ever did in school. When you have the interest, you can learn plenty of new tricks, no matter what age you are.

20. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves

I’m no finance expert, but I agree with Ramit Sethi: “You can’t out-frugal your way to rich.” Because while there’s only so much you can cut back on your expenses, there’s no limit to how much you can earn.

So instead of worrying about the pennies, to me it makes more sense to go after big wins. Which is why most of my pitches on oDesk are for a few big jobs that pay serious money, rather than lots of little jobs that pay next to nothing.

21. Think before you speak

As I found out from my two-week flirting experiment here in Amsterdam (lots more about that next week, by the way), thinking is often my worst enemy. Instead of walking up and starting a conversation with someone I found attractive, I often held back trying to first think up of the perfect line to open with. And then the moment would be lost and I’d never get to talk with her.

More important than thinking before you speak is to trust yourself, and know that even if you say something stupid and the girl ends up thinking you’re a complete tool, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Your turn

What other bits of conventional wisdom do you think we should be wary of? And which are just flat-out wrong? Here’s a big list for inspiration. Share your thoughts in the comments.

P.S. I’m finally moving on from Amsterdam, after three great weeks in the Dutch capital. This weekend will take me to Frankfurt. Next week, I’m not quite sure. Any recommendations for places to visit between Frankfurt and Zurich?