I’ve received my share of good advice, but when I got to thinking about what I consider the best piece of advice offered me, I drew a blank. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m inclined to think that most people would probably find it far easier coming up with the worst piece of advice they’d ever received. While I’m sure there are some who can look back to a dramatic defining moment in their life that resulted from their having followed what they now see as the best advice they ever got, that’s not the case for me. And I think this is because I find it hard to narrow it down to just one piece of advice that really stands out as being the very best, having moved through the years with a variety of tips, warnings, suggestions, recommendations, and earnest counsel coming at me both formally and informally, purposely and willy-nilly. So, instead I’ve selected a representative sampling of a few helpful guiding thoughts that I’ve come by, and fortunately, at points in my life when I was suitably receptive to them.
For instance, when I was transitioning into young adulthood, two pieces of practical advice I received came to mind. The first was from my dad just before I left home. My dad was a moderate drinker, and at the time I wasn’t much of a drinker at all. Yet, my dad saw fit to tell me, “Be careful who you drink with.” Being a man of few words, he offered no real explanation as to why he gave this stand-alone counsel to me. (It was a few years later, shortly before his death, when he shared some personal anecdotes that provided a back-story from which I inferred why he’d given me the advice that he had.) Suffice it to say my dad’s advice made me sensibly cautious. A couple of years later I received the second notable piece of counsel; this time from an older friend and co-worker: “Don’t give out any unnecessary information.” My friend considered this a safe generalrule in everyday conversations with people. He went on to demonstrate its value by noting that when you receive a compliment, simply say, “Thank you,” instead of getting flustered or embarrassed so that you downplay the compliment with a flood of unneeded words. For example, if someone likes your new jacket and says so, don’t gush out with how you picked it up at a thrift store. That kind of thing.
As I neared middle age, I found the following saying both humorous and insightful: “At age twenty you worry about what people think of you, at forty you don’t care, and at sixty you realize no one is thinking about you anyway.” To embrace the fact that you’re not quite the focal point for others that you might have once imagined, and to do so long before you turn sixty, has great advantages in helping to influence what you do, or don’t do, and why.
Soldiering on through my middle years, two instructive gems have helped to give me a calming perspective that I try my best to maintain. The first is ascribed to the children’s book writer Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” It strikes me as sensible to reflect appreciatively on something agreeable that has occurred rather than to brood over it being done and gone. (And of course, there are some situations in life where putting a twist on Dr. Seuss’s saying seems fitting as well: i.e. ‘Don’t cry because it happened, smile because it’s over.’) Since our thoughts affect our emotions, I’ve found the following adage attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu to be quite perceptive: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Again, I believe the above words of wisdom of Dr. Seuss and Lao-Tzu can help make for a composed attitude.
So, rather than determining what I deem the best advice that I’ve ever received, I see this matter more in terms of the timeliness of what’s come my way, and that good advice is where you find it, or where and when it sometimes finds you.