The Only 3 Pieces of Advice I Have on My Wall

We are the average of the stories we tell ourselves.

Michael Thompson
Jan 4 · 5 min read

One of the first things that stood out when I moved to Barcelona 10 years ago is that many of the streets and monuments are named after artists. As someone who grew in the US surrounded by the names of kings of industry or politicians, I found this refreshing.

Whenever I leave my apartment, I’m reminded of the importance of making art. Over time, this message rubbed off as I slowly began to prioritize artistic goals over business ones and since then I’ve never felt more fulfilled.

There’s a lot of truth to the statement made famous by Jim Rohn that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As we get older, the same goes for being the average of the food we eat the most too. But I can’t help thinking that we’re most like the words and stories we consistently tell ourselves.

Seeing how well the constant reminder to make art snuck into my head, I began putting the pieces of advice that I most wanted to follow on my office wall with the hope they’ll infiltrate my thinking to the point where they too become my baseline.

The world is full of words of wisdom. Below are the 3 that currently grace this coveted spot.

“Shut up and go buy your beautiful wife some flowers.”

I was complaining to my dad about my first world problems. But before I could really get on a roll, he cut me off and said — “Michael, shut up and go buy that beautiful wife of yours some flowers.”

I’d heard a million times the key to happiness was getting out of our own heads and doing what we could to place ourselves in the hearts of others. However, something about the matter of fact way my dad said it compelled me to finally internalize it, such that I could put the advice into action. Later that day I went out and bought my beautiful wife some flowers. Upon receiving them, she wasn’t the only person smiling. So was I.

Every time I’m stuck staring at my computer or I’m in a rough mood, I look at this quote. Then I take a few minutes to do something nice for someone else. Quick supportive messages here. Little gestures of kindness there. Flowers everywhere.

No matter how many life hacks people come up with to improve our quality of life, few can compete with doing something to improve the quality of someone else’s.

“You have a life, not a career.”

My friend Todd Brison recently told me about how he and his wife Kate found a stray cat in the street and they spent all day caring for it. He then told me he’s so happy he’s chosen to live his life this way instead of being like a lot of people he knows who never step away from their work.

I’m like the “a lot of people” Todd was referring to, and at times, this ambition can be a strength professionally. But it can also put a serious strain on my personal life despite knowing that any professional success that ends in divorce is a massive failure.

Life isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. Nor is it about being the fastest or the strongest. Life’s about doing a new something, meeting a new someone, and seeing a new somewhere. It’s about treating your curiosity as your primary responsibility. It’s about doing what you can to make sure the people you love, love you back. It’s about taking a random Tuesday to hang out with a cat.

Every time I see the words my mom once told me — “You have a life, not a career” — I’m reminded of this. The people I know like Todd who do great work understand that any level of success they achieve is because of how they choose to live their life — and not the other way around.

“Excellence is the next 5 minutes or nothing at all.”

The words above are part of a longer quote by management consultant, Tom Peters that reads — “They say think big, have a compelling vision. I say think small and do something super cool by the end of the day. Most people see excellence as some grand aspiration. Wrong. Dead wrong. Excellence is the next five minutes or nothing at all. It’s the quality of your next five-minute conversation. It’s the quality of your next email. Forget the long-term. Make the next five minutes rock!”

Like most people, I want to be seen and I want my work to matter. But in order for that to happen, I’m much better off focusing 100 percent of my attention on who or what is directly in front of me instead of getting distracted by everything around me.

Write the best sentence you can in the next 5 minutes.
Commit as hard as you can in the next 5 minutes.
Listen as well as you can in the next 5 minutes.

The future is uncertain. But I’d be willing to bet my house — that whatever world we live in tomorrow — will be designed by those who have the discipline to not jump at every ding, ring, and tweet.

I’ve reached that stage in my life where I’m not looking for better ingredients, but rather better reminders. For the challenges I personally face, the 3 pieces of advice impact me the most.

I have a tendency to get obsessed with work, constantly reminding myself I have a life and not a career helps.

I have a tendency to wake up negative, constantly training myself to think of other people helps.

I have a tendency to get distracted, constantly treating the next 5 minutes as my number one priority helps.

Surround yourself with a few specific messages you want to live by. Read them over and over each day. You may find they not only infiltrate your thinking. But over time, they also begin to dictate your actions.

And remember, if you want to change your life for the better — choose art.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Michael Thompson

Written by

Co-creator of 2 boys with my dream girl • Observer • Catalunya • Career coach • Business Insider, Fast Co., Forge • Join 40K+ others for weekly stories

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Michael Thompson

Written by

Co-creator of 2 boys with my dream girl • Observer • Catalunya • Career coach • Business Insider, Fast Co., Forge • Join 40K+ others for weekly stories

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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