Monday, November 21, 2011

Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work

Tim Gunn, star of Project Runway and Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne Inc., works in an industry that's known more for cultivating divas and temper-tantrums than for kindness.

And yet, in his latest book, Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work, he credits good manners for paving his way to success.

Good manners, he writes, leads to "better relationships, more career success, and less personal stress."

Gunn's Golden Rules exudes such positivity and kindness for others that it has changed the way that I think.

When I'm stuck in traffic, I don't yell in frustration or throw up my hands at the person who cut me off. I ask myself, "Is being rude or angry going to make traffic move faster? Are my plans so urgent that they can't wait another five minutes?"

The answer, of course, is always no. Why make a bad situation worse? Unfortunately, not everyone subscribes to this theory.

When I first moved to Buffalo in 2005, I was driving on Elmwood Avenue near Bidwell Parkway when the light turned red. The man in the oncoming lane of traffic hollered "You couldn't let me in?" and released such venom that I sat there in dumb silence. He called me all sorts of names, each one an expletive worse than the last.

What he said was shockingly hurtful, and the irony of it is that he expected a kindness of me but was unwilling to show any himself.

Tim Gunn's Guide to Living Well

"In this book, I will share my thoughts on what constitutes a life well lived," Tim writes.

He encourages us to be thoughtful, but in doing so, he never sounds preachy or patronizing. He comes across as a friend, someone talking to you, not at you, and shares stories of his life, including the things that he has struggled with and learned from.

Gunn's book addresses everything from cultivating relationships to being a considerate houseguest.

Some of his words of wisdom:


Be a good listener.

"Listen and listen intently when you’re being spoken to about something."

When an opportunity for conflict presents itself, take the high road.

"Don’t get into a conflict in that moment. You’ll feel better about yourself for it."

Gunn subscribes to the theory of not burning bridges. You might need those bridges later on. But don't let yourself become a door mat either. Gunn says that even as you take the high road, think about how you can avoid such a situation in the future.

Don't tolerate racism.

"It isn’t bad manners to point out when someone is being gallingly racist. You have an obligation not to let it slide."

Earlier this year, I encountered racism in someone whom I'm close to. We were traveling at the time, and I struggled with what to do – should I say something and cause an argument or bad feelings? Would it only draw more attention to him? In the end, I kept my mouth shut, and I wish that I hadn't.

I still think about it with sadness – not only because of his ignorance but because of my cowardice in not standing up for what is right.


Be low maintenance.

"The people who have the best careers and the best lives (and often who do the best work) are not the demanding, screaming, flinging divas. They’re the people who take their ego out of it and put all that energy into their creative life. Everyone wants to work with people who are low maintenance. You have a huge advantage over the competition if, in addition to being a talent, you are easy to work with."

Keep learning.

"If you’re not learning, what makes you want to get up in the morning? Why wake up if you have it all figured out? People who coast are not having any fun. It’s also dangerous. People around you are still working and pushing themselves. If you don’t keep up, it doesn’t matter how advanced you were when the race started – you’re not going to win it."

I see a lot of coasting when it comes to new technology. People will say, "I just don't get that stuff," and "Oh, that's for young people."

But, the world around us is changing. We have to change with it, or we risk making ourselves obsolete. You wouldn't expect your doctor to stop learning – that would be bad news for everyone. Hold yourself up to the same standard.

Be open to change.

"'But this is the way we’ve always done it.' I banned that phrase from my office. You just mustn’t think that way. There is always room for improvement."

Take risks.

"Risk taking in fashion is fun, but risk taking in our careers and in our education is essential. Ambitious people are more attractive and more fun to be with than people who maintain the status quo."

Gift Giving

Give to people who appreciate it.

"Whether you get or make a present for someone, you want to have the gift appreciated, or at least acknowledged. When there is no reaction – no thank-you card, no e-mail, no phone call – you start to wonder whether it even arrived. It’s like throwing gifts into a big black hole. If people don’t even acknowledge your gifts, you have to assume they don’t like them and don’t want any more. When people don’t communicate with you, you can only go by their actions, and if their actions are to give no indication that they want you to keep doing what you’re doing, you might as well stop."


Always look your best, and look appropriate.

You don't need to spend a lot of money to look good, and you'll feel better for it.

"It feels good at the end of the day to take off your fancy shoes and put on your slippers, but it also feels good to know that all day you looked good and smelled good and that the people you encountered had a positive impression of you and enjoyed having you around."

Gunn harbors a particular hatred for Crocs:

"I’ve yet to see any condition where Crocs look good, including the beach. Why not flip-flops? I know Crocs are affordable. Well, so are Converse and lots of other brands that don’t look like hooves."


    Provide Food Options for Everyone

    "As much as I believe it’s good manners to eat what’s put in front of you as long as it won’t send you into anaphylactic shock, I also believe that, when a host, you really need to think about what will suit your guests. I think it’s bizarre when you assume no one is a vegetarian or has an allergy."

    Before I became a vegetarian, it didn't occur to me that someone might not eat meat or might have an allergy to peanuts.

    But now that I'm on the other side, I've found myself in countless situations where I couldn't find anything to eat, not even a side dish. I've also been made to feel as if my eating preferences are a personal affront to the host, designed to inconvenience him or her. I try to avoid those situations whenever possible.

    Being a Houseguest

    Be independent, and be considerate.

    "To be a good houseguest, you should be as independent as possible. You should buy groceries or take your hosts out for dinner. Pick up after yourself. Pretend to have a good time even if you’re not. Say, 'I’d like to make a dinner reservation tonight. What’s your favorite restaurant?' Try not to break anything. Be quiet."

    Giving Advice

    Be helpful.

    "The question I ask myself before giving advice is: Is what you want to say really going to help them? When you’re thinking of volunteering advice, you also need to ask yourself this question: Will revealing my feelings on this subject actually help?"

    This one was an eye opener for me. I couldn't understand why my husband didn't want to know when he had a pen stain on his shirt or his outfit didn't match. His response would be, "Why would you tell me that? I can't do anything about it now!" To which I would reply, "I just thought you'd like to know."

    But, he was right. I didn't help to fix a problem, I created a problem where there was none before. Now, if I'm going to say anything at all, I say something before we walk out the door, not after.

      Gunn's Golden Rules should be required reading, it has such valuable advice. The book is available at the following libraries:
      • Central (downtown)
      • Audubon
      • Clarence
      • Clearfield
      • East Aurora
      • Julia Boyer Reinstein
      • Kenmore
      • Lancaster
      Click here to search the catalog.

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