Bill Maher Gave Me the Best Advice by Way of Josef Stalin…Sort Of

Out of context, these words have been pivotal in my ability to shift.

Elisabeth Ovesen
Oct 11, 2020 · 4 min read
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Bill and I out and about in Los Angeles circa 2006

or several years, Bill Maher and I dated and were very publically in love. It was a thrilling time in my life and one I hold in the deepest and kindest regard. He and I have been broken up for over a decade, but we continue to keep in touch, checking in with eachother several times each month. For the past fifteen years, Bill has been an invaluable part of my life and a man to whom I owe alot.

Over the past fifteen years, Bill has taught me so much about the world, introduced me to a myriad of brilliant minds, and sprinkled me with lasting advice and idioms I employ to this day. Frankly, I could write a book about my life with Bill Maher and maybe one day I will, but for today’s intents and purposes, I’d like to focus this article on a singular piece of advice he once gave me back in 2007 –– a mantra I have since passed on to my coaching clients.

No Person, No Problem

I was crying. I usually called Bill when I was crying. Twenty-two years my senior, he was old enough to be my father. Though there was nothing paternal about him, he was never shy about dispensing compassionate, sometimes fatherly advice that would turn my tears into a laugh and my laughter into a good day.

On this particular afternoon, someone had broken my heart. Bill and I ended our relationship the year prior, and I was still reeling from the finality of it all. I still loved him but was doing my best to move forward. In the interest of full transparency, I have since dated and married nothing my losers, abusers, and straight-up crazy people since Bill and I split, so he has often been called upon to ease my tattered spirit –– and he has always answered that call.

I sobbed as I recounted the events of my personal life and the crushing weight of all that had gone wrong. Bill listened before he spoke, and when he did, what came out changed my life.

“No person, no problem,” he said. “They say Stalin said it, but that doesn’t make it any less true,” he continued as he chuckled in his trademark way.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

A brief search of this famous quote. which has been largely attributed to Josef Stalin, the former Premier of Russia, uncovered that, “No person. No problem,” isn’t the exact quote and that it hadn’t derived from Stalin at all!

Russian author Anatoly Rybakov wrote the original quote in his novel Children of Arbat. In this fictional account, Stalin is speaking about an army officer’s execution in Tsaritsyn and says, “Death solves all the problems. No man, no problem”.


Taken out of context, “No man, no problem,” or rather, Bill’s version, “No person, no problem,” has solved alot of conundrums for me throughout the years. Naturally, I wouldn’t wish death on a man just because I’m sick and tired of looking at him, nor do I think “death solves all problems.” However, what Bill helped me realize that day is all my heartaches were attached to other people, and once I got rid of those people, the hurt would go away.

After all, I’m not out here breaking my own heart.

So, to this day, when I find myself in a situation the makes me feel unhappy, I remind myself that even though I cannot control others' actions, I can control mine and other people's proximity to me. I can walk away. I can put space between the source of my discontent and me. I can get rid of the person and with them goes the problem. I don’t have to try to solve or resolve it. There is often no working it out, and that’s okay!

Once I’ve removed someone from my life, I always feel lighter. I feel refreshed and renewed. The arguments stop, and so do those long-drawn-out conversations where nothing gets resolved. Gone are those fake understandings we agree to just so the other person can shut the fuck up. It’s nice not feeling drained from having to talk to them or from complaining about them when they’re not around. It’s lovely not to commiserate.

The Bill Wisdoms

To this day, Bill will share a slice of knowledge and life experience that helps me know what to do. He has seen me out of my twenties, all through my thirties, and into my forties, shepherding me with wisdom, quips, and idioms when I feel lost. There is a treasure trove of people and experiences that have helped make me who I have become over the years, and Bill Maher is one of them. Even when the words aren’t his, he knows exactly when to impart them and how they can change me. I’ve left all my old relationships behind as I have forged different versions of myself over time, but Bill…Bill remains, and his pearls of wisdom always will.

By Elisabeth

3x New York Times bestselling author. Pen name Karrine Steffans. Psych major. Life Mastery Coach.

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Elisabeth Ovesen

Written by

3x NYT bestselling author. Pen name Karrine Steffans. Psych Major. Performance + Life Mastery Coach.

By Elisabeth

Random musings and wisdom from a New York Times bestselling author with more time on her hands than words.

Elisabeth Ovesen

Written by

3x NYT bestselling author. Pen name Karrine Steffans. Psych Major. Performance + Life Mastery Coach.

By Elisabeth

Random musings and wisdom from a New York Times bestselling author with more time on her hands than words.

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