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Several Lifetimes’ Worth of (Mostly) Good Advice

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“There’s a basic rule of thumb that I think is called Sturgeon’s law (it usually applies to film and TV and literature) that 90% of everything is rubbish, and isn’t worth bothering with. […] Most places aren’t worth going to, most conversations aren’t worth having, most things aren’t worth eating, most items and objects in the world aren’t worth looking at, or contemplating.”

When sifting through some ideas the other day I circled back on a thought that occurs to me every so often: We have more good stuff to focus on or spend our time with than we’ll ever need. In that situation I was thinking about growing up and making trips to local music and movie stores, being limited to pretty much whatever circled through their inventory. Twenty-some years ago I purchased a three-disc compilation of live music containing music from several artists I knew and a few dozen I wasn’t too familiar with. It wasn’t always easy to find “good” stuff, so there was more risk taking. A lot of those risks didn’t pan out, but this particular purchase did for me.

Now, many of those bands’ entire live sets are available streaming for free on YouTube. The Internet has helped create an in-road to an endless supply of media; more books, movies, and music than anyone could ever have time to scan through in several lifetimes. But even accounting for the fact that most of it isn’t very good (as the above quote from Charlie Brooker suggests) that still leaves a lot of good to be had: Good movies, good music, good books, and good advice. It’s just a matter of sorting through all the crap that exists to find it…

Several months ago I was talking with a friend about this ceaseless desire we seem to share for searching to find answers, and how little good it’s done us without actually putting the learned wisdom into practice. A shelf full of dogeared self-help books isn’t going to do a lick of good if the information never transitions from the pages to personal lived experience. I’m reminded of the Kurt Vonnegut quote, “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.” Beware, indeed.

In the last couple weeks a couple lists of “life advice” have crossed my screen, prompting me to pause and consider how I might actually incorporate selections into my own life. (For whatever reason the suggestions to “keep track of something” and “maintain a routine” from “Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience” really stand out, for example.) With that, I thought it might be a good idea to keep a running list of some of my favorite tips, suggestions, and bits of advice here for when I need a little help with personal course correction.

Kevin Kelly’s “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice”

  • You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.
  • A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.
  • The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.

Jim Lehrer’s Rules of Journalism

  • Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

John Perry Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior

  • Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
  • Expand your sense of the possible.
  • Expect no more of anyone than you yourself can deliver.

“The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People”

  • Ruminate: Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous. You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.