In 1999 Baz Lurhman released a spoken word song with the title “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” The song is in the form of a fake commencement speech and is based on an essay by columnist Mary Schmich with the title “Advice, like youth, probably wasted on the young“. I’ve always liked this song for the various pieces of valuable advice offered in it, as well as the style. I think there comes a time in the life of every adult of a certain age when you feel the need to dispense some advice for life. So here’s mine.
The following is just a collection of life’s lessons that I picked up along the way. Following my advice isn’t going to guarantee happiness or wealth nor health. It may be helpful to you or it may not. Nevertheless, I will dispense my advice now, in no particular order.
Don’t try to please everybody
I think one of the most important things anyone can offer as advice for life is this little nugget. If you try to please everybody, you’ll just end up letting everyone down, including yourself. Do what feels best to you, make a choice and stand by it. It’s your life and there’s no one who should determine where it’s going besides yourself. You’ll never succeed in pleasing anyone if you can’t please yourself.
Live in the moment
Your life is unfolding right now as you are reading this. Your life isn’t in the past, it’s not in the future, it is always right in front of you. If you don’t live in the moment, you are either in the past or your thoughts are with the future. Which ever of these two it is, it means you are not living now, the only time that matters. It’s okay to be mindful of the past and to make plans for the future. As long as you don’t forget to live in the moment. There will never be another one like it. So talk to that person, enjoy their smile, take that journey to a far away destination, eat and drink and make love. Simply be.
A quote attributed to Socrates and often to Buddha as well, is the value test of speech: “Is it true, is it kind and is it necessary?” The idea is that speech should only leave your mouth if it is true, kind and necessary. While this is a difficult one to follow, it is immensely valuable if you can manage it. Don’t gossip about people because gossip never passes this value test.
Don’t overthink things
Some people are disposed to worrying. They play out a situation again and again in their mind, trying to approach it from every angle. Thinking too long about something will only freeze you in hesitation. In Hagakure (The Book of the Samurai) there is a virtue that states: “In the words of the ancients, one should take his decisions in the space of seven breaths“. For a general or a warrior, taking too long to decide things will only lead to him or her being killed. However, in life one should strive to have the same quickness of mind, a decisiveness of action. Don’t dwell on decisions too long. Make them. Unlike in war, there’s usually no fatal consequences and it’s possible to reverse bad decisions most of the time.
Another important bit of advice for life is the warning that you shouldn’t complain. At least, don’t complain about everything, don’t complain to everyone and certainly don’t complain all the time. Nobody wants to be involved with someone who is always negative, be it as a friend, a family member or a colleague. Voice your objections to the people who have influence on the matter at hand. Make an eloquent case without drawing in every minor detail and objection. When you’ve done that, leave it at that.
This one doesn’t need explaining, does it?
Get enough sleep
Everyone needs sleep (well, except most bloggers, apparently). How many hours per night is up for debate but if you’re stressed out easily, feel tired all the time and generally lack energy, chances are you aren’t getting enough. Sleep is important for body and mind but getting too much of it or sleeping at weird times, isn’t healthy either. We humans are not nocturnal animals (except for bloggers) so go to bed at a reasonable time and wake up at a reasonable time.
Stress is bad for you so you should do your best to avoid it. However, stress is not the same as being busy. Being busy is okay as long as you are not constantly feeling pressure to do something, maybe even something you are not prepared for or find very difficult. Life will give you stressful times, that much is unavoidable. So my advice for life and for dealing with stress is: meditate.
Wait, I hear you say. Aren’t you an avowed atheist? So why are you recommending meditation? Yes, I am an atheist. But meditation isn’t about religion. The long term health benefits of meditation are well known. Try it, you might like it. And yes, there’s an app for that.
The only constant you’ll experience in this life, is change. Nothing stays the same for long. Things get old and break, children grow up, people will enter your life and leave it, you’ll change jobs, homes, cars, maybe countries and partners. Don’t expect things to be the same in 5 years or even tomorrow. They won’t be. You’ll never know what life has in store for you. Some of it will be good, some of it bad but your ability to accept or even embrace change will be of great value to you. If life is a journey, how boring would it be if you’d never go anywhere or do anything new?
Don’t carry regrets or grudges
Negative emotions cost you energy and end up hurting you in the long run. Regret over things not finished or never started and grudges towards people are good examples of this. The past can not be changed so the only way forward is to leave the past behind. I know, it’s a terrible cliché but it is true. If there’s something you really regret, try to mend it. If it can’t be mended, then let it go. The same is true for a grudge. The person towards you carry the grudge won’t be hurt by it but in the long run, you will.
Don’t take it personally
Perhaps the most important piece of advice for life that I can offer, is the advice not to take things personally. Not everything in life is about you personally. People who said something offensive or negative about you, may not be aware that they’ve done so. They may not know better. Perhaps they are ignorant or simply angry, bitter or resentful people. While it is easy to take offence, remember that nobody can offend you without your cooperation.
My advice for life
That concludes my advice for life, I’m afraid. I hope some of the above is useful to you in a one way or another. If not, I promise I won’t take offence. And above all, if you find out how to do all these things, be sure to let me know, okay? Thanks!