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Five H's to live by

Recently I’ve been reflecting on attributes shared by people I enjoy spending time with and working with most. Unsurprisingly these values are shared by my favorite professors and mentors, friends, colleagues, and family. I think they’re best summed up by five H’s: honesty, humility, hard work, humor, and honor.


When asked, pretty much everyone will say that they’re honest. But, the honesty I’m describing is when the truth is hard to share. I appreciate it when people just share the facts without any sugarcoating. They don’t tell half-truths or lies of omission; they share things the way they are no matter how unpleasant that might be. Straight shooters are suprisingly hard to find. In these types of sticky situations, while it may be easier to tell a white lie in the short-run, the people I admire pause, and then share their opinions even if they’re unpopular.

This type of honesty takes courage and self-confidence. It’s easy to tell the truth when everyone agrees. It’s much harder when you know that people will be mad or disappointed, but it’s precisely in these moments that the truth matters most.


We all have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong. But, some people are more willing to acknowledge when they’ve met their limitations. Those with keen self-awareness know when it’s time to step aside in the interest of the team. Pride is what gets in the way of people asking for help or facing the fact that they may not be the right person for a particular role.

My favorite people know that it’s important to hear people out, even if their ideas sound crazy at first. Keeping an open mind takes discipline. The people I admire most are always willing to evaluate new data that may demonstrate that there’s a better approach.

Hard work

Working hard can take many forms. Sometimes it means putting in the necessary number of hours to get a job done. Other times it means a willingness to take the initiative to come up with a creative solution to a hard problem. In both cases, people who are willing to work hard aren’t discouraged by failing. They know that these hiccups along the way are just part of the learning process. They are persistent and never give up. Some people refer to this as grit.

Their determination to get the job done is contagious. They also know that they can’t rest on the laurels. So, they’re constantly looking for new ways to improve. They know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch (except possibly for diversification). They value their work based on whether they put their best foot forward. They focus their energy on what they can control and don’t waste time comparing themselves to other people.


The people I enjoy spending time with know that it’s important not to take themselves too seriously. Their humor helps to break the ice, so that people feel comfortable around each other. Ideally, work should be fun. They know how to keep people laughing and having a good time without always being at the center of attention.

The reverse is also true. The know how to take a joke and they appreciate a good prank. They presume the best of intentions before jumping to conclusions. And as a result, I don’t worry about them getting offended. If they do take issue with something that I or someone else has done, then I know that it’s worth paying attention to. It’s probably something I should be sensitive to in the future.


As a noun:

Often a litmus test for this is being comfortable with your decisions being reported on the front page of the newspaper. This means going beyond what is technically allowed by the rules or the law. They’re going to play by the rules even if no one is watching. People I respect know that they need to do right by people and they go out of their way to take care of people in their communities. They have a strong moral compass.

As a verb:

In addition to being honorable in how we conduct ourselves, we also need to honor the people around us. I appreciate it when people take time to honor the work of others that make what we do possible. It’s important to have a habit of showing graatitude and to never forget the support that we receive from others. Sometimes this means doing things publicly, and other times this means performing random acts of kindness to help make someone’s day.


While this may sound cheesy, it’s been a useful heuristic in deciding which people I want to spend my time with. Looking over this list, I think it’s notable that “smarts,” whatever that means, isn’t on the list. More than anything, I care about people having a good attitude about life. I’ve found that as long as people have the right mindset, there’s usually a way for us to bring out the best in each other and everybody benefits.

Life is too short to put up with people that don’t live up to these values. Live long and prosper.

P.S. I’m still heavily influenced by my high school’s 3 H’s: head, heart, and hands.

Category Opinion