The Real Rules of Life Book Summary



Life happens.

How do you find your way forward when you’ve lost your job, your career, your 401(k), your spouse, or your dear friend?

Are the rules you learned about life serving you?  Does the early bird catch the worm?  Do good things happen to good people?  Is life fair?

It’s time for a wake up call.  The rules we learned aren’t real.

In his brilliant book, The Real Rules of Life:  Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own, Ken Druck, Ph.D. teaches us the real rules of life.

Insight from a Visionary Leader in Psychology

Ken is the author of The Secrets Men Keep: Breaking the Silence Barrier, Healing Your Life After the Loss of a Loved One, and How To Talk to Your Kids About School Violence.  He is one of the first to use the concept of “executive coaching.”

He’s appeared on Oprah, Donahue, Larry Kind Live, and Anderson Cooper 360.  He’s been a pioneer in the field of psychology and has won awards including “Distinguished Contribution to Psychology,” “Visionary Leadership,” and “Family Advocate of the Year.”

His clients include leaders from leaders in business, and government, and top-tier companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer, and IBM.

Life Has a Say

What I especially like about this book is Ken’s twist on life.  I like to say, “Live life on your terms.”, but Ken points out that “life has a say.”  And indeed it does.  So many plans look good on paper or in our heads, and then life throws a curve ball.  Kens’ book is about dealing the curve balls of life.

We learn a bunch of rules growing up from various sources.  Then we have defining moments.  We face unspeakable pains, shattered reams, and great adversities.  We learn that life’s not fair.  We learn bad things happen to good people.  We learn that things don’t always turn out for the best.

Deal with the Tough Stuff

That’s the beauty of this book.  It’s not about shoving your emotions under the rug, or breathing in the fresh air of positivity.  It’s about dealing with the tough stuff, and acknowledging how tough it really can be.  It’s how to summon up the courage and the strength to go on, when the life we thought we’d signed up for, is not the one we get.

Most importantly, it’s the secrets of how to survive life’s worst losses and how to find it’s most precious and sometimes darkest gifts – the hidden opportunities for spiritual deepening, renewal, discovery, meaning, and even joy.

Chapters at a Glance

Here are the chapters at a glance:

  • Introduction
  • Real Rule #1: Life is Not Fair: It’s More Than Fair
  • Real Rule #2: Around Every Corner: Keeping an Open Heart
  • Real Rule #3: There Are No Deals: Life’s Real Terms
  • Real Rule #4: Running from Reality: Truth as Courage
  • Real Rule #5: Life is Designed to Break Your Heart
  • Real Rule #6: It is What It Is: Dancing with Reality
  • Real Rule #7: There Are No Quick Fixes: It Takes What It Takes to Mend
  • Real Rule #8: Listening Is Love: How to Really Listen to Strengthen Relationships
  • Real Rule #9: Closure is a Myth: Healing is a Lifelong Process
  • Real Rule #10: Control is an Illusion: Knowing When It’s Time to Let Go
  • Real Rule #11: Joy is a Muscle: Putting More Joy into Your Everyday Life
  • Real Rule #12: A Breakdown Can be a Breakthrough: Authentically Navigating a Crisis
  • Real Rule #13: Real Value Has No Dollar Signs: Self-Wirth and the Currency of Love
  • Real Rule #14: You’ve Gotta Have Skin in the Game: Taking Risks, Investing Yourself
  • Real Rule #15: Taking Honest Inventory: Overcoming Blind Spots
  • Real Rule #16: Life Can Be Messy Business: Making Peace with Chaos
  • Real Rule #17: The Value of Being Real: Intimacy and Connection
  • Real Rule #18: Losing It Is Finding It: Don’t Shoot the Messenger (of Emotions)
  • Real Rule #19: Ain’t No Fairy Godmother: The Courage to Move Forward
  • Real Rule #20: You Have Far Less and Far More Power Than You Know: Balancing Control with Surrender
  • Real Rule #21: “Home Free” Is a Bill of Goods: Stop Waiting for Perfect
  • Real Rule #22: Let It Be: Mastering the Art of Allowing
  • Real Rule #23: Your Life is Your Birthright: Live It as Though

What’s In it For You

Here’s what’s in it for you:

  • Learn the rules that truly govern your life and the lives around you.
  • How to make life more of what you always wanted it to be.
  • How to embrace life’s deep, rich joys, and weather its sorrows.
  • How to deal with extreme loss in a very real, and authentic way.
  • How to find your voice of self-compassion and kindness.
  • How to be more honest with yourself and authentic in the way you are living.
  • How to become more humbly aware and accepting of how life really is, while living more boldly than ever.

Key Features

Ken’s book is a labor of love.  Right up front he says, “… writing this book has been the most daunting act of creation I have undertaken in this lifetime.” And it shows.  The book is well written, insightful, and actionable.  Here are some of the key features of the book:

  • A coaches advice. Because Ken is a coach, the book is more than words of wisdom – it’s a playbook for life.
  • Conversational.  The tone of the book is conversational.   This makes it a nice, friendly read.
  • Exercises.  Each chapter has a few key exercises to help you implement what you learn and make it real.
  • Getting real. Throughout the book there are callouts titled “Getting Real” that reveal insights or actions you can use.
  • Simple structure.  Each chapter is about the rule.  It makes it easy to read the book either end-to-end or flip to a rule and explore it.
  • Take aways.  Every chapter ends with a summary of key take aways.  This makes it easy to catch, keep, and remember the main points of the book.

The Rules Aren’t Real

There’s a problem with the rules we learned growing up.  They aren’t working.  They aren’t real.  Ken writes:

”From day one, there are the rules we’re taught to live by.  We get them from our parents, our teachers, and our culture at large, and as we grow older, they form the foundation of our hopes, expectations, and beliefs.  In theory, it’s a great system.  All we have to do is treat people fairly, set positive goals, and work hard to achieve them.  Since life is fair, everything works out in the end.

Here’s the catch: these rules aren’t real.”

Real Rules

What if we swap out the rules that aren’t working or trade up for ones that do?  Ken writes:

“The Real Rules presented in this book will set you on the path of far greater awareness, more vibrant joy, and a deeper effectiveness in coping with life’s ups and downs.  It’s not about doing it perfectly.  It’s about debunking the the false rules and opening yourself up to the real ones.  You’ll discover that significantly greater clarity, personal effectiveness, peace, and contentment come when you understand life’s terms — and how to balance them with your own.”

Moments of Truth

Each of us has moments in our life that demand every ounce of courage and strength we have, and then some.  Not to mention our full attention.  All of the superficial noise and static of the world fades away and we are touched at the very core of our being.  For me, that moment was losing my daughter …

The Fine Print of Life

Life comes with fine print.  It’s everywhere.  The problem is, we don’t read it, or we ignore it, and we hope that it’s not really there.  Ken writes:

“We close our eyes to the fine print of life most of the time.  Who wants to read the ‘side effects’ label of the chemotherapy drugs that may potentially save their life?  Or hear that their beautiful 21-year-old daughter may die in a study abroad program? But when we truly understand life’s terms, we see that it is filled with suffering and joy, ups and downs, clarity and confusion, good and bad.”

Life Can Be Messy

I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced plenty of messes in life.  Acknowledge the mess.  Ken writes:

“Life can be messy business.  Trying to “fix” that mess doesn’t guarantee anything.  In fact, only acknowledging the awful, nasty, brutal truth of the mess do we begin to muster the strength and courage to get through it.  Again, it is only by allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, rather than hide, deny, resist, hurry, or avoid these emotions, that we find relief, strength, and some semblance of peace.”

Surviving the Rounds

We all fall down.  But do we all get back up?  That’s the secret in life.  It’s surviving another round.  Ken writes:

“Like boxers, we all have plans — until we get hit.  Especially if the punch comes out of nowhere.  Finding ourselves lying on the canvas, dazed, wondering what hit us, can be a defining moment of truth.  It’s a turning point.  We can either use our brains (‘What’s the smartest thing for me to do right now?’) or our bravado, (‘I’d better do something quick to look good.’)  As any good trainer will tell you, doing what’s necessary to gather your wits and survive the round gives you a fighting chance of getting back into the game.  And possibly even winning.”

Life Has Its Say

We need to get real about the way things are.   When we get real we can make the most of it, and we set the stage for the best expression of ourselves.   Ken writes:

“Now, I’m not suggesting that we’re always at the mercy of forces great than ourselves, or should give up on boldly setting the terms by which we aspire to live.  There’s no excuse for not passionately pursuing our dreams and striving to become the highest and best expression of ourselves.  This is our time and we need to make the most of it.  Our challenge is to both go after what we passionately want and accept that, regardless of the plans we make, life will have its say.  Getting through the tough times — transforming adversity into opportunity — requires courage, humility, and getting real about the way things are.”

Get the Book

The Real Rules of Life:  Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own, by Ken Druck, Ph.D. is available on Amazon:

The Real Rules of Life:  Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own, by Ken Druck, Ph.D

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  1. I liked the metaphor of Fine Print and when compared with a boxer who has plans and the being hit from nowhere.
    I am amazed on daily basis how many people not only read the fine print of life but read it only by headlines without reading the core text or let along re-reading it and trying to get an insight from what they just have read. It keeps folks less alert – I thoroughly believe good sense of urgency or even some daily anxiety is a good thing that makes the hit life prepares to us a little less surprising.

  2. A very thought provoking and truthful post on what clearly is an amazing book, one I will be looking out for now! Thanks J.D. for introducing me to Ken Druck. This post has provoked alot of feelings for me and made me reflect on my life! Zoe x

  3. J.D., thanks for the review. I especially liked the chapters entitled, “Closure is a Myth: Healing is a Lifelong Process.” I lost my first wife 12 years ago this month and there are places of healing that were not accessible to me in the first 5 years, even first 10 years. I remember saying to a therapist friend,”I just wish that I had resolved some of these issues back when I was 25.” He laughed and smiled at me and said, “You couldnt have addressed these things then. You are right on time.” Making closure our goal can short circuit our healing,we just can’t put a goal or a timetable on it. Thanks again. It was good to think on these things this morning.

  4. @ Alik — I know what you mean. It’s a lot easier to hope for the best, and ignore the worst.

    When we actually internalize the fine print, and acknowledge potential downsides, then we can still hope for the best, but at least plan for the worst, so we don’t get knocked down for the count.

    It also reminds meo of the adage that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and that’s where the fine print comes in.

    @ Zoe — This book really took me by surprise. I was hoping it would be insightful, and it turned out to be very refreshing in terms of keeping things real, going deep, using examples that are easy to relate to, and being an overall great read.

    @ Aaron — I am deeply sorry about your loss.

    > Making closure our goal can short circuit our healing,we just can’t put a goal or a timetable on it.
    That is a beautiful insight and so true. I think the truth in there is that closure is often a by product. I think the other truth within is that sometimes the best we can do is not let a lack of closure, get in the way of our day to day, or moving forward.

    Ultimately, I think closure is when we shift what something means to us. Maybe closure isn’t always the right word. Just like any wound, some things heal well. Other times, we stop the bleeding, and we heal, but the scar remains. I wear some of my scars as badges of life.

    Some people pick their scabs in the process of healing, and I think that’s the behavior to avoid or limit.

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