Timeless Advice That Consistently Improves My Daily Routine
Help yourself to these life lessons that never go out of style
When it comes to giving or receiving advice, it’s wise to remember what they say about opinions. They’re like assholes — everyone has one.
In a world full of advice-givers, whose counsel do you trust? What guiding principles stand out from the rest as well-founded and reasonable enough to follow? Just about anyone can offer his take on how to “live your best life.” I put that in quotes because I’ve seen about a million renditions of that tired cliche.
I won’t offer another rendition of a tired cliche.
Instead, I’ll share five pieces of timeless advice that I’ve learned from my most trusted mentors. These life lessons never go out of style because they aren’t glitzy, manifest-your-destiny bits of drivel. They require you to do the hard work instead of calculating how to bypass doing the hard work. I repeat these gems so often one or more might end up as an epithet on my tombstone.
I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with inauthentic people who claim to know how to live authentically. There’s no magic in living your best life, as evidenced by the following ridiculously smart humans.
No one owes you anything
My dad, like lots of dads, is an encyclopedia of life lessons. I’ve learned more from him than any other person on the planet. But if I had to boil all of his lessons down to one simple rule, it’s this: no one owes you anything. Not your parents, the government or society. His core belief is that when you want something bad enough, it’s up to you to figure out a way to get it.
Which means I spent my youth learning the value of a dollar. If I needed money, I had to earn it. If I wanted to go to college, I had to pay for it. Any time I wished for something, I had to decide how to fulfill that wish. Don’t look for handouts, he’d say. Money comes with strings attached, he warned. The message was to finance my way to stay in control of me.
So I worked my way through college and paid for my room and board, vehicle expenses and entertainment. While I waited tables to earn my keep, my friends' parents deposited money in their accounts. I envied my friends who picked up a phone and magically received money, but I didn’t have to account for how I spent mine.
As a kid, I hated that I worked so much harder than my friends. As an adult, I’m forever grateful for my dad’s lesson in self-sufficiency.
After college, I lived and worked in London for six months, earning enough money to backpack around Europe. It surprised some extended family members to learn I financed that excursion myself. But my dad never doubted my ability. He preached for years about how appreciating what I earn myself will always exceed what’s given to me. He was right about that, too. All my prior years of self-reliance culminated in an epic solo journey through several amazing countries, financed by me.
In the following years, I continued working hard, supported myself, and never went into debt. The benefit of funding my own interests is that I get to make all my own decisions. I don’t owe anyone an explanation for how or where I spend my money.
I teach my teenagers the same lesson my dad taught me. But it’s a tough sell today when society offers unrealistic expectations of entitlement. I fight the entitlement battle by denying their handout requests and asking instead, “How are you going to pay for it?”
If they want something bad enough, they figure out a way to get it.
Pay yourself first
When I started working my first job that provided a 401(k) option, I didn’t contribute much. Retirement planning wasn’t a top priority because as a young 20-something I didn’t understand the benefit of long-term growth.
I knew how to save money, but I didn’t know how to plan for my financial future until a friend gave me a copy of the book, The Wealthy Barber.
The author, David Chilton, used fictional characters with common problems to reveal sound financial advice in an easy-to-understand setting. It wasn’t a boring economics tutorial. It was a story.
Roy, the main character, is a barber who becomes a millionaire by saving 10 percent of all he earned and investing it for long-term growth. During monthly haircuts, he advises three young adults about financial lessons they must learn to reach financial independence.
Pay yourself first was Roy’s most important lesson. He encouraged his young proteges to save 10 percent of their income in mutual fund investments with low commissions, like index funds. With consistent saving, year after year, the barber confirmed that one could guarantee financial freedom later in life because of the power of dollar-cost averaging. I couldn’t explain dollar-cost averaging to you, but Roy could.
This was the easiest finance book I ever read. It was simple to understand. The characters were my age at the time so it made sense to me. And I decided if Roy, a barber, could amass a big, fat retirement fund why couldn’t I?
I immediately increased my 401(k) contribution to the max amount. By using payroll deductions and automatic withdrawals, I never missed the money because I never saw it. I’ve continued paying myself first for the last 25+ years, and I can confirm that Roy’s long-term growth strategy works.
The barber’s other gems of advice like always live within your means, keep an emergency fund and remain properly insured at all times continue to serve me well.
Thank you, Roy. I mean David Chilton.
I don’t want to hear your excuses — just show me the results
I’ve had assorted jobs and various bosses over the years who taught me valuable lessons on how to improve my employability. But one boss emerged as the ultimate teacher in a sea of would-be mentors. His characteristic catchphrase influenced my life in ways he never could have imagined.
I don’t want to hear your excuses, just show me the results.
As a fresh-out-of-college rookie, I didn’t have much faith in my skill set. But my boss did. He gave me tasks that required complete autonomy and it terrified my young, inexperienced self. What if I upset someone? What if I cost the company money? What if I fail?
Every time I gave him a reason for not completing the task at hand, he said, “I don’t want to hear your excuses, just show me the results.”
He had problems that needed solving and he counted on me to help to solve them. My job was to make his life easier by sweating the small stuff for him. Since my excuses got me nowhere, I started taking deep breaths and devising solutions.
Some solutions worked, and some didn’t. Some were unsophisticated, and some were spot-on. But I grew stronger and more confident every time I completed a task instead of abandoning it. Every time I weathered the nail-biting, heart-pounding jitters, I realized I can do hard things.
My old mentor’s catchphrase has served me well in life. I think of him often when I crack a confusing code because I put my head down and did the work.
I repeat his wise words often, especially at home. I reject my kids’ multiple excuses and urge them to go find solutions instead. After lots of grunting and foot-stomping, they come up with an answer to their problem.
I must remind my kids to stop making excuses because they’re competent and capable human beings.
They just don’t know it yet.
You don’t get what you don’t ask for
The first time I had a significant salary negotiation, my husband suggested a salary he thought I should ask for based on industry standards and my experience.
Only I didn’t believe I was worthy of his suggested salary. I convinced myself the interviewer would laugh me out of the room if I discussed the proposed pay range in an interview. My husband patiently pointed out the simplest way to get something you want is to ask for it. The worst the interviewer could do was say no.
But what if they said yes? If I wanted a better career path with a salary increase, I had to ask for it. My husband’s belief in me buoyed my spirits, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was right. What did I have to lose?
During the job interview, I took a deep breath, summoned some mock confidence, and asked for a higher salary. I didn’t say another word after suggesting my pay. As I’ve learned from many other mentors, it’s best to remain silent in negotiations because he who speaks first loses.
The discomfort from both sides was palpable as the interviewer shuffled papers and mulled over my request. I bit my lip to avoid saying anything that might jeopardize my chances. After a few torturous minutes, he accepted my offer. Thanks to my husband, I doubled my salary in a matter of minutes by asking for what I wanted.
My husband was always my biggest cheerleader. He convinced me I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. After he died, my confidence took a nosedive.
I miss his wise counsel the most.
It’s better to be thought a fool
We usually give credit to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain for coming up with the following gem. I’m not sure who said it first and according to the Quote Investigator, there are multiple citations.
But let’s not get caught up in the citation. Let’s focus on the message.
“It’s better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
I think about this piece of advice when I hear someone pontificating on a subject way over his head.
You’ve been there? That cringe-worthy moment when a conversation tanks because you realize the other party is an ignoramus?
I’m not saying people have never thought me an ignoramus myself. I can recall conversations that derailed because I thought I knew more than I did. I remember my embarrassment when I opened my mouth and removed all doubt about my foolishness. I remain silent more often now.
We need to bring this piece of advice back front and center. Write it on every high school chalkboard across America and talk about it at every family dinner table. Our younger generations, our future leaders, must learn that trying to remain relevant isn’t worth the unintended result. The world doesn’t need more youth striving for self-worth with likes and shares by opening their mouths and removing all doubt about their idiocy.
Lots of adults need this lesson, too. But if we target our youth, they won’t become adults who don’t know when to shut their pie holes.
I’m grateful to my mentors who taught me there’s no magic in living an uncomplicated life. The bottom line in any successful endeavor is to do the hard work instead of calculating how to bypass doing the hard work.
It’s that simple.