What Words Do You Live By?

here is good

Two weeks into a new job the head of my department took me out for lunch and said “the best advice I can give you is the best advice I’ve ever gotten: for the first six months, shut up.” What had served him well at the beginning of every new journey rang in my ears as I made my way through the next 180 days. I didn’t speak out, I fought every impulse to change things to how I had done them before, or do things differently than they were being done. I shut up. I observed. I learned. Only then was I informed enough to figure out where changes were needed (being able to separate necessary improvements from my desire to conform things to old habits), and had the clarity to accept that my way of doing things wasn’t always the best. The advice was work-related, but life-applicable.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about advice. How sometimes something sticks with us even when the person saying it never considered it would leave such a lasting impression. How we tend to give the best advice we’ve ever gotten, or maybe we realize the best advice we’ve ever been given when we find ourselves giving it to someone else. I think of my friend Cameron interrupting me during a phone conversation to tell me that I was getting so upset about something someone had done when I had failed to remember that “people should be judged by their intentions”. How much of an impact those words had on me and how, even seven years later, I still remember them in times of conflict (the [exceptionally difficult but necessary] practice of not taking things so personally is truly liberating). I think of my friend Eric listening to me go on and on about trying to make sense of an irrational person or situation before sharing a Jonathan Swift quote he’d always found valuable: “it is useless to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” (I’m still working on accepting that one). When you have so many smart, inspiring and wise people in your life, as I do, it is important to listen to the things that they share. It’s like currency you must deposit into the bank of becoming a better person.

I recently asked my friends if I could crowd source them every month for input and inspiration*. This month, I asked them to share with me the best advice they’ve ever received, or words that they live by and I am in love with every reply. Enjoy them, and please feel free to share your own.

  • E+R=O. Event + Reaction = Outcome. I am in control of my reaction. That is the only way to change the outcome when I have no control of the event.
  • The Golden Rule. Luke 6:31: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you want to receive you have to keep giving. Even if it takes ages to reap the rewards.
  • Either accept a person for who they are — be willing to tolerate those aspects of their personality which drive you bonkers — or walk away. Do not waste precious time, energy, and emotion trying to change someone into the person you want them to be. Invariably and inevitably you will be both aggravated and disappointed.
  • Life is short…Do not waste time complaining about this or that, do not wait until tomorrow to do something important, or for a better time, or another day. Don’t forget to say “i love you” and don’t spend these precious moments regretting the past. Be present, embrace now.
  • There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.  I photocopied this [Martha Graham] quotation and taped it to the back of my front door so it’s the last thing I see when I leave home every day. I like to think of myself as an artist, even though I’m not particularly prolific or successful [Ed. Note: He is an exceedingly talented photographer]. I am highly critical in general, so when I look at my own work, I have a tendency to just write it off completely as pointless. When I start to feel like maybe I should just pack up that part of my life, I remember what Martha Graham said and realize that there is in fact something that compels me to make things, whether or not other people like or care about them.
  • Don’t be afraid to start over…I find that I say it all the time to friends, to my loved ones, and to myself. I think about it in terms of relationships, jobs, cooking fiascos, and parallel parking. We all have an amazing capacity to get it right. To re-grow from the ashes.
  • Smile….People respond better to someone who is smiling. It doesn’t mean be a sucker or a doormat, but it’s sort of like this idea of being patient, and I guess breathing through it and understanding that it’s not all about me. I don’t know if I’m making sense here. What I know is I like it.
  • I live my life based on the Golden Rule: whenever I encounter a situation or go to speak, I ALWAYS think about the reaction I might get and how I would feel if the other person said that to me or if the situation was reversed, how I would feel. I try my best to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated. And I try to project a certain positivity because I would want to be met that way.
  • Be mindful/be thankful. Just being aware of all of the good. In 2012 I had a goal for myself to have a minimum of 5 entries per day in my gratitude journal. Some days I had way over 5, other days I had to struggle to find 5. It was one of the best things I ever did. I am a lucky son of a gun, even on the shittiest of days.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself.
  • I’ll fall back on the word I probably value most (at least, that I can think of at the moment): Honesty. Other words like “truth”, “reality”, or “fact” are too subjective. The best we can do is to be honest. It is difficult, and often hurtful, but it is the only way I can approach life and be satisfied with my actions and my words. 
  • Be like water. Try to remember to remain flexible in all situations and to stay whole but transform to the ever-changing shape of the world.
  • I was listening to a talk by Ram Dass and he was relating something a Tibetan Llama said to him: “The best place to stand is between hope and hopelessness.” Basically, be accepting of what is, but not too pessimistic either. I’ve been working with the idea a lot lately. I like it because I get tired of the “stay positive!” fanaticism of a lot of New Age philosophy, but I don’t resonate with the so-called “realists” either.
  • The most memorable advice that i’ve received was given to me about a year ago by a professor of mine. I was obsessing about jobs, careers, moving, etc. My approach was to make the “right” decision, or the “best one”. He told me “Don’t worry about the right decision. Just decide, and make it work.”
  • Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is that you fix it.
  • My favorite quote is still “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” ~Lord Byron. I try to invite joy in as much as possible. Being able to really cherish the good around me is an important coping mechanism.
  • Self-care. Recognizing that I can’t care for others if I’m not taking care of myself first.
  • Something I try to do is always enjoy good things while they’re happening — it can be anything: a sunny day, a good laugh, a great glass of wine — then I try to remember them when things are tough. When I’m mad a someone or arguing, or even if a relationship has ended, I try to remember what was good about that person and what I had one time been so content with. The idea of all these things is to not carry anger and hurt around because that makes me a person I don’t like to be around. If I can like myself I have a much easier time seeing all the good things I like in everyone and everything around me.
  • How someone treats you is their Karma. How you react is yours.

*If you would like to be a part of the inspiration crowd, please email me at trickybritblog [at] gmail [dot] com to get on the list. You will be loved and adored forever with gratitude.

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