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Six Clever Words to Live By: A Maxim for Business and Life

Six Clever Words to Live By: A Maxim for Business and Life

We all need a maxim to live by – a short and sweet sentence that encapsulates what we do and why we do it. I have a simple six-word maxim: freedom and responsibility, goodness and mercy, perseverance and achievement.

These words were espoused to me by my friend Carl Tannenbaum, and they fascinated me as soon as I heard them. Carl told me that his principal, Doctor Dehuff at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, championed those words to all of his students.

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute is a STEM school that specializes in advanced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It has a long history dating back to 1883, and it’s still at the cutting edge of the field nearly 140 years later. In 2019, Newsweek ranked Baltimore Polytechnic Institute 36th out of 5,000 STEM schools across the United States.

Their maxim gives us some good ideas, on both a personal and a professional level. Let’s take a look.

[Related: Nine Things New Leaders Need to Know]

Freedom and responsibility.

Freedom and responsibility have always gone hand-in-hand, especially under a democracy. Assuming that you’re fortunate enough to live in a free society, you have:

  • …the freedom to start a business, but the responsibility to protect the environment and the public.
  • …the freedom to develop any product you wish, but the responsibility to source ethically and to provide a quality product with excellent service.
  • …the freedom to select the best team, but the responsibility to be inclusive and to incorporate diversity.

Without freedom and responsibility, our society would collapse.

Goodness and mercy.

Showing goodness and mercy doesn’t just make you look good – it’s also good for the soul. Some companies provide employees with a paid week every year for them to volunteer with a non-profit.

Think of AppDynamics. They give five days to their employees to volunteer annually. This puts goodness and mercy at the heart of the company’s culture, simultaneously boosting employee satisfaction.

During troubled times, companies can donate their time, resources, and products. For example, as Claire Zillman explained:

With thousands of residents displaced by Hurricane Harvey in need of food and water, beer maker Anheuser-Busch has announced it is shipping emergency water to victims of the natural disaster.

They ended up turning their brewery into water plants and sending a fleet of trucks with 155,000 bottles of water. It was a win/win situation for everyone. The workers and survivors received a much-needed resource, while the company benefited from the positive publicity.

Some companies create employee-friendly policies such as extended maternity leave, on-site childcare, and free computers for employees who can’t afford them so their kids can use them for school.

[Related: Meaningful Giving: How to Make the Most of Your Charitable Donations]

Perseverance and achievement.

In the face of adversity, we need to persevere. Think of NASA’s two space shuttle disasters, which befell the Columbia and the Challenger and led to the deaths of fourteen US astronauts. Despite this misfortunate, NASA persevered and continued to launch missions. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have a rover on Mars.

Another example of perseverance comes via Steve Jobs, the legendary Apple visionary who was fired from the company that he’d created after nine years of service. Jobs persevered, becoming one of the founding members of animation studio Pixar before eventually returning to Apple.

Ryan Robinson explains:

Once he returned, he led the charge on Apple’s new [operating system], which redefined how personal computers function, the iPod, which completely revolutionized the music industry, and the iPhone, which has been equally as important in the evolution of personal technological devices.

Jobs used to say "we’re here to make a dent in the universe," a maxim that he lived his life by. His legacy of failure, comeback, and success should empower all of us when we think about our own life and work.

No achievement comes without perseverance. For example, marketing campaigns often require analysis and tweaking before they produce the best results. In the face of adversity, don’t cut your nose off to spite your face. Be consistent and persevere. It’ll pay off when it comes to your bottom line, making your personal and business successes all the sweeter.

What’s next?

Carl ended up teaching the smartest of the smart at the Naval Academy for the Trident Scholars, where his maxim formed a part of the curriculum. Moreover, he started his own computer company and instilled the six words as part of the business culture. Carl says that the world would be much improved if people and companies of all sizes implemented it.

I agree with him, and though I never went to the Naval Academy or Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, I’ve made the maxim an important part of my company culture. May these six words empower you and your company, as well.

[Related: Six Lessons to Prepare Inclusive Leaders of Tomorrow]


Pichi Bellingrath McClure is the founder and CEO of Pichi LLC. She’s a resilience expert who helps people to strengthen their personal leadership and overcome the impossible through her content, tools, and strategies. Subscribe to her biweekly Resilience Tips and follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.