Eleven Bits of Advice That Changed My Life


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 understood it until my wife provided this wisdom in the depths of my public accounting-induced PTSD several years ago. Only then did I realize I am not my career, and I should not define myself by it. I had inadvertently made it my primary reason for existence and I was miserable. I realized I should instead define myself by my passions and by what brings me 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 must 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, written by one of the greatest authors in modern history, from one of the greatest books about the human condition. Our consumerist culture too often measures cost in dollars. Yet 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), also provided this truth nugget while I was working at a company where I felt more out of place than I did even in public accounting. Virtually none of my peers seemed to share my values, principles, or convictions. It was here I finally realized we are not meant to conform to others, but instead to find a place where we can be true to ourselves. You are not in the right situation when you feel you have to change in order to fit in.

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 these days do we listen, and when we do, we often listen with the intent to reply instead of 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 fifteen years in the exasperating cesspool of self-interest, irreverence, and greed that is corporate America. I eventually escaped, and in slowly recovering 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 off-course in the day to day routine of living. Paying bills, rushing the kids to school, taking out the trash, and the grinding responsibilities of our jobs consume our lives. If you realize this happening to you, break the habit by introducing a few minutes each day examining your dreams. Then start 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 do a fantastic job convincing us that we will be happier if we buy a new car, TV, smart phone (to replace the other new one we bought last year), or an infinite amount of other new “things.” But inevitably, once obtained these things only leave us empty and wanting more. Fill your life with intangibles—experiences that provide 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. Write down each worry on a list, and then cross off each worry that eventually does happen. After a short time, you’ll discover you won’t cross off many worries. Our minds are often our own worst enemies, generating multiple 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 views failure as unacceptable, and it’s making us risk averse and afraid to be bold. We need to accept failure 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. Push your boundaries and move outside your comfort zones. This involves both risk and failure, so embrace them.

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