There’s an old saying: “Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.” We are usually qualified to give advice on a particular matter only after we’ve screwed it up in spectacular fashion. With that in mind, here are eleven nuggets of wisdom that I can pass on from an expert perspective:
1. It’s just a job, not your life. – Various
Similar to the famous Dave Barry quote, “You should not confuse your career with your life,” I’ve been given this advice from several people over the years. However, I never truly listened until my wife said it to me in the depths of my public accounting-induced PTSD several years ago. Only then did it finally make sense. You are not your career, and you should never define yourself by it. I had inadvertently made my career my primary reason for existence, and I was miserable. Instead, define yourself by your passions and the things that bring you happiness and fulfillment.
2. A mule in a tuxedo is still a mule. – American proverb
Similar to the anecdote of putting lipstick on a pig, this adage reminds us that appearances can be deceiving. We live in an age and in a society where authenticity is a lost art. Nothing and no one seem to be what they truly are, and we have to exercise a great deal of caution and wisdom before we measure anything at face value. I always get burned when I don’t.
3. The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. – Henry David Thoreau
This is one of the greatest observations about the human condition, from one of the greatest books about life, written by one of the greatest philosophers in modern history. In our consumerist culture, we too often measure cost in dollars. But our most precious resource is time—we are given a limited amount and we can’t make more. Spend it wisely.
4. If you’re fitting in you’re doing something wrong. – My wife
My wife, in another instance of uncanny wisdom (she has quite a few of those), also provided this truth nugget while I was working at a company where I felt even more out of place than I did in public accounting. Virtually no one around me seemed to share my values, principles, or convictions. It was here I finally realized we are not meant to conform to others, but find a place where we can be true to ourselves. If you feel you have to change in order to fit in, then it’s not the right situation for you.
5. Never miss a good chance to shut up. – Will Rogers
There are talk shows, talk radio, talking heads, talking points, Ted Talks, and talk TV. We talk trash, talk back, talk dirty, and we talk down. But rarely do we listen these days, and when we do, we often listen with the intent to reply instead of to understand. Most of what I’ve learned in life was learned when I shut up and listened. We would all do well to shut up a little more often.
6. Don’t let the bastards get you down. – Gen. Joseph Stilwell kept this motto at his desk in its Latin form (“Get” may be better translated to “grind”, but I like “get”).
I have met a staggering number of assholes in my life. I endured more than 15 years in the cesspool of self-interest, irreverence, and greed that is corporate America. I have never experienced anything as depressing and exasperating. I escaped, and as I slowly recovered I rediscovered the joy and fulfillment in pursuing my own interests and passions. My takeaway: remove the assholes from your life as quickly as you can before they can affect your mental state.
7. Never let so much reality into your life that there’s no room left for dreaming. – Unknown
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day routine of living. Too often, paying bills, rushing the kids to school, taking out the trash, and the grinding responsibilities of our job consume our lives. If that happens to you, break the habit and introduce a few minutes each day to examine your dreams. Then turn those dreams into goals by taking small steps toward reaching them. We are not meant to just pay bills and die.
8. The best things in life aren’t things. – Art Buchwald
We live in the most consumer-driven society the world has ever known. Advertising executives have done a fantastic job convincing us that we will be happier if we buy a new car, a new TV, a new smart phone to replace the other new one we bought last year, or an infinite amount of other “things.” But inevitably, once obtained those things only leave us empty and wanting more. Fill your life with intangibles—experiences that result in memories, knowledge that grants us wisdom, or generosity that fills your soul. Those are the best “things.”
9. Most of the things you worry about never happen. – American proverb
Try this experiment. Keep track of what you worry about every day. Each time something worries you, write it down on a list, and then if what worried you eventually does happen, cross it off. After some time, you’ll discover you won’t cross off many worries. Our minds are often our own worst enemies, generating multiple “what if” worst case scenarios that ultimately never happen.
10. Yes dear, I’m sorry. – Trevor Shurtleff
Shortly before my wife and I were married, my nephew-in-law delivered this advice—a simple phrase I should use every time my wife and I disagreed. He was 13 at the time. Smart kid.
11. If your life is free of failures, you’re probably not taking enough risks. – H. Jackson Brown, Jr
Our society often views failure as unacceptable—and it’s making us risk averse and afraid to be bold. We need to accept failure as not only possible, but as a positive outcome in many situations. Google, usually at the forefront of progressive thinking, is already doing this—read about it here. Life is not a spectator sport—you need to constantly push your boundaries and move outside your comfort zones. This involves risk and failure—embrace both.
Remember, though we may have to earn the right to give advice, we’re always qualified to receive it.