November 14, 2007

Take My Advice--I'm Not Using It

So the title of this post was once a refrigerator magnet or a bumper sticker or something, one that was meant to be funny. But, well, it's true, right? It's so much easier to give advice than to take it. We see other people doing stupid things to mess up their lives, and we feel almost a physical urge to slap them upside the head and tell them that they should be doing smart things instead.

Then at the same time, we go around doing the same kind of stupid-ass things ourselves, just a slightly different version.

When you're young people give you lots of advice, most of which you ignore. And then you get older and you wish you'd paid attention to at least a little of it. So then you see a young person about to make the same mistakes you did and you naturally want to scream: STOP THAT! YOU ARE GOING TO BE SO F*CKING SORRY LATER, I SWEAR!

But either you hold your tongue, or you tell them what they should do and they just ignore you. Sort of like you did when you were young and people tried to warn you about things.

And as we grow up into adulthood and middle age and old age, we keep doing things that later we may regret. You know that saying about youth being wasted on the young? Well maybe all the life stages are wasted on those who are living them, because we get too caught up in what's happening in our daily lives to make smart decisions about the Big Things. Or even the little things. What are we all doing now that we'll regret twenty years down the road?

If someone actually told us now, would we pay any attention?

So here's a chance for any Cranky Fitness readers, of whatever age, to pass along Unsolicited Life Advice to others. (Note: you don't have to actually follow your own advice yourself. That's way harder.)

And Life Advice can be about Big Things or Little Things. Because the Little Things are important too! Remember the "sunscreen graduation speech" that was widely circulated a decade ago? (It was written by Mary Schmich, but falsely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut at the time). Well, part of the reason it was so popular, aside from the attribution error, was that it contained Smaller Truths as well as the Bigger ones. (And because one of the huge regrets many of us have as we age is, actually, that we didn't wear enough damn sunscreen.)

Anyway, this is one of those posts that will happen mostly in the Comments section, because readers always have the best advice! (And it would be particularly useful if people had advice for middle-aged and older people as well as youngsters, because some of us are actually not so young anymore. We need age-appropriate advice that we can ignore too. So, youngsters, don't feel shy about telling us old farts what we should do, since we're always handing out plenty advice down your direction).

Anyway, here are a few initial random pieces of unsolicited advice. And lets hope it gets better than this when you folks weigh in!

1. Ignore almost everything you learned as an adolescent. Adolescence is not like the rest of life--just grit your teeth and get through it and try not to let it permanently damage your self-esteem. Adolescent popularity often seems to involve: obsessing over your appearance; having the "right" clothes or gear; conforming to what everyone else around you is doing; disdaining anyone in authority or anyone below you on the social ladder; and taking lots of reckless chances just for the hell of it.

This is not, strangely enough, the best formula for happiness later in life.

And sure, there are few lucky folks who succeed at being popular and successful both as teenagers and as grown ups--but often there is almost an inverse relationship between teenage happiness and any other kind.

2. Don't slouch. Even if you are embarrassed by your height, your boobs, your lack of boobs, or whatever--you will regret your lousy posture later. There will come a time when you don't even have the option to pull your shoulders back anymore or stand up straight if you don't get in the habit when you're younger.

3. Don't smoke cigarettes.

4. Don't marry or have kids young. Unless you are (a) incredibly lucky or (b) unusually wise beyond your years. This is because there is almost no correlation between what makes someone seem incredibly attractive to the average, say, 19-year-old, and what makes a person a caring, reliable, loving partner worthy of a lifetime commitment.

Play the field first, however you might define "play." Learn whether you are naturally attracted to people who are good to you. If not, teach yourself to find good people attractive before you commit yourself (and possibly your children) to someone who isn't kind or stable. It's not fair to your kids, or yourself, to marry an abusive or neglectful or just-plain-crazy person in order to fulfill some kind of romantic fantasy. The stakes are way too high.

5. Don't fear exercise--get used to it early and it becomes like brushing your teeth--something you may not always feel like but that is so ingrained you feel sort of ashamed and dirty if you don't get around to it.

6. Start saving money and earning interest on it as soon as you are able. If you are five years old and your mommy is reading this blog to you right now and the tooth fairy just left you a dollar? Then make mommy give you change for that dollar and put a quarter of it right in the bank. Seriously, that whole compounded-interest thing is totally amazing. If you save a big chunk of those tooth fairy quarters and babysitting dollars and foregone Starbucks lattes and first paychecks and holiday bonuses and let it all earn interest for a few decades? Voila: financial security. (Or at least a lot less debt!).

7. Hang on to memories too, not just money. Keep those old pictures of yourself, your family, your friends, your exes--even some of the unflattering or painful ones. As time goes on you really will forget what you looked like, what you wore, who you hung out with, where you went and, well, who the hell you were. Later, you will be curious.

8. Put more effort into being kind and pleasant to your loved ones than you do your boss or your clients or your co-workers. Not that you should be rude to or abrupt with anyone. But too many people seem to feel that their own partners or family members don't merit the same patience and courtesy they extend in "social" situations to colleagues or even total strangers. This is backwards, really common, and kinda screwed up when you think about it.

9. If you have safely reached middle age with some cherished long-term friendships intact, and you find yourself telling a funny story: realize that you already told these people this story. Yes, you have, even if you don't remember that you did. If it is indeed funny and it happened more than 24 hours ago--yep, they've heard it. The reason they are smiling and laughing and asking questions is because they like you, and because they're really nice people. So go ahead and tell it again and enjoy the warmth that their laughter brings--but make sure to appreciate those people who make your old stories feel new each time.

10. Notice at least a few things you feel grateful for every single day. This is one of those hokey, saccharine, syrupy, trite, sometimes tiresome bits of advice that is nonetheless incredibly powerful if you follow it. Life is not predictable and it certainly isn't fair--but the part we can control is how we feel about it.

So folks, please don't be shy with your words of wisdom--some of us could really use a few hints!


  1. My advice: if possible, go to college right after high school. Don't "take a year off to work". It will turn into 20 years. And it will be way more expensive. *sigh*

  2. I actually regretted going to college right after high school because I wasted time and money. It was actually way EASIER to go back when I was older. I knew what I wanted and knew how to manage my time. And I got soooo much more out of my classes!

    My most hard-won advice is "Don't be a rescuer." If someone isn't taking steps on his own, you can do nothing to help. Someone who is determined to drown will only drag you under, too. It sounds cruel, but cut them loose until they're ready to make the effort on their own. Then be ready with a helping hand.

    Avoid emotional vampires and drama queens. It's not worth it. Life will provide plenty of drama all on its own. There's absolutely no need to invent more.

    Learn to depend on yourself. Hope your loved ones will always be around, but don't make anyone your safety net because you just never know.

    Start developing good habits while young. Correcting bad habits doesn't get easier as you get older, it gets harder.

    It will change, no matter what "it" is. Don't let the bad times drag you down because they pass. Really. Just do the next right thing and be patient. The wheel will turn and you'll be back on top again.

    Find something to make you smile each day. Take joy in the small stuff-- the angle of sunlight, a flower, a butterfly, or whatever makes you happy. Notice your world and love it. It's the only home you've got!

  3. The Bag Lady's advice applies to everyone of every age:
    Laugh more.
    Be kind to everyone, even if they are being total dickwads. Some people can't help themselves. Listen to your elders, unless you are the elder, then listen to everyone else!
    When talking to someone and their eyes glaze over, shut up!
    Sing. It doesn't matter if you're good at it - it's good for you.
    Try new things, no matter how old you are. It's never too late to learn.
    (The Bag Lady could go on and on, but she's going to take her own advice now and shut up!)

  4. Great post! Boy you described me down to a T, here:
    "obsessing over your appearance; having the "right" clothes or gear; conforming to what everyone else around you is doing; disdaining anyone in authority or anyone below you on the social ladder; and taking lots of reckless chances just for the hell of it."

    My advice (pot, kettle black): Rent a Monty Python tape (or anything that makes you howl with laughter) and laugh it up. Turning off the critical voice inside your head and learning to laugh is amazingly necessary, otherwise you'll crack or turn into a meanie.

    The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to spend time with people who are not only responsible, but enjoy living for the most part. If they can make me laugh, they're a friend for life.

  5. This is good advice - but if only we could live our lives backwards.

  6. Ooo, love reading all of these comments!

    Here's my two cents:
    Get Life insurance if you don't have it.
    Keep a journal.
    Give lots of hugs.

    (This last one is for all of you out there who have mischievous children or pets): My mom says this all the time and I live by it: "Don't get mad, get the camera." It helps you live out "Oh, you'll look back at that and laugh" a little sooner. (Makes for some great pictures too!)

    (While I totally agree with number 4, I have to say I am the exception. I got married young and had kids right away. Lots of 'em. And am incredibly happy. What can I say? I am wise beyond my years and very lucky :)

  7. Rescue a cat! or a dog!

    Also: don't hold grudges. Life is way too short.

  8. "Notice at least a few things you feel grateful for every single day."

    Ah, crabby has a sweet side. I think people should say please and thank you. I get so mad because I hear parents use this one ALL THE TIME with their kids and yet these same parents say to their kids, "I said so, so just do it!" No, "Please can you help me set the table." it's lame. Believe me, parents are not the only folks missing manners though. There's something to be said for the lost art of basic politeness.

  9. My advice is what makes #4 possible: live beneath your means. That fancier car, bigger house, and more stuff will never provide the happiness you think they will, and won't assuage the stress of being financially stretched.

    My other advice is stolen from Maya Angelou & Oprah. Through their words and actions, people tell you who they really are. Listen to them. And my own corollary: no, he's not going to change, not after you marry him, no matter how much you love him. You better love him exactly how he is.

  10. This is priceless. Warm, and funny, and caring. I just wish I'd listened to more of this years ago!

    I'm gonna skirt you, Crabby!

  11. These are awesome!

    I am so totally going to steal, er, use some of these with proper attribution, and do another follow-up post on this later. You folks are coming up with WAY helpful advice.

    Like, "Be kind to everyone, even if they are being total dickwads."
    Can we get that in needlepoint?

    (And Katieo, you are indeed someone wise beyond your years who probably could have chosen a great guy when you were 3 years old. I was so NOT competent to make the right choice until I was about 30 so am perhaps overgeneralizing from that).

    Misicat, bunnygirl, soap box girl, jennifer, hilary--yes yes yes yes!

    And Bossy, I'm working on that living life backwards thing, but so far only seem to be managing ass-backwards, which isn't quite the same.

    Sherijung, all excellent points!

    And Dawn, that's so sweet! (And everyone, speaking of sweet, you have to go see Dawn's puppy pictures over at The Flightless Writer.

    Truly, you guys are getting at some great stuff--and sorry it's another scatttershot comment day, but I hope it doesn't keep more people from dropping by with some more wise words, 'cause I need 'em!

  12. This goes along with the photographs, but...

    Take pictures of yourself with other people no matter how bad you think you look. They will treasure those pictures regardless. I have very few pictures of my mom and I throughout my life, because she has always hated the camera.

    Travel as often as you can before you have a family. Not that you can't after, it just becomes harder (and more expensive!). I traveled after college, all over the country (with work) and I have been exposed to so much that I wouldn't have if I stayed festering in CA.

  13. This week's advice to self:
    Don't act or react hastily solely on feelings--gather the facts! Or at least reflect on what makes up a gut reaction. (This from a menopausal woman who has of late been at the mercy of hormonal mood swings. And whose loved ones keep hanging in there.)

    And another thought: first, take care of yourself, physically and mentally, before looking outward to influence anyone else. Part two of that is that it's a lot easier to control yourself than anyone else. Not to say that that's easy!

    Finally: every time you catch yourself critically judging someone, turn the judgment upside down, & practice thinking positively of others. It gets easier.

  14. NEVER talk to the police without a lawyer present.
    For the love of Pete, wear sunscreen. (R.I.P. Mom)
    Whatever it is, say it. You may never get another chance.
    Tell your parents you realize they did the best they could, and you love them for it. Smartest thing I ever did was tell my mother the above, and that I like myself so she must have done something right. She died 1 week later.

  15. Let sleeping babies lie.

    Your children are people too. Don't treat them with less respect than the bank teller or the waitress.

    You can try to plan your birth and all the little details of how you'll feed, clothe, and care for your child. Just don't forget that they have their own ideas and that sometimes life simply won't work out like you want. Neither are your fault nor do they make you a bad parent.

    If you only keep one thing organized, let it be your important documents (i.e. copies of leases, tax statements, birth certificates, etc.)

    It's just stuff. Don't worry more about it than people.

    Afford everyone you meet a basic level of respect. They have to earn the rest.

    And the one that took me the longest to learn:
    It's okay not to like someone.

  16. If the 20-odd years of video tapes I'm currently going through while working on a family project are any indication, we've got this saving memories thing down.

    There's also the reel-to-reels my mom is digitizing and the other huge box of tapes we haven't touched yet and the...

  17. Well everybody's already said all the good stuff. Here's the only thing I have left:

    When you start getting old, have somebody review your makeup (or don't wear any). Especially your eyebrows. Way too many elderly women are walking around with crazy drawn-on eyebrows. (I think this is because they can't see very well.)

  18. I know I wasn't wise beyond my years so I guess I must be lucky. I started dating a girl when I was 16, she was the first and only girl I ever dated.

    We dated through high school and college and got married when I graduated college at 22. We've been happily married for 9 years now.

    I know that I'm the exception to the rule, but I like to tell the story anytime anyone suggests playing the field. Mostly because I enjoy being a contrarian $%*#!

  19. Crabby, the needlepoint is on the Bag Lady's to-do list - right after she finishes the 4 bags on order, and fencing, and dealing with that massive amount of pumpkin (chutney, anyone?), and re-roofing the cattle shed, and washing the kitchen floor. Maybe this evening, 'kay?
    (vjeftkg - ancient Ukrainian for that last pickle stuck sideways in the bottom of the jar...)

  20. Don't put off that vacation with the assumption you will "do it once we have retired". You may not make it that long, or be in any shape to do the things you would do if you went now. Besides, old people don't even want to tour with old people.

    If you are middle aged and lucky enough to still have your parents, thank them, tell them you love them, forgive them if necessary, enjoy them while they are still around.

    Try to balance financial security with enjoying the right now. In other words: "We're spending our kids inheritance!" (Bumper sticker on our folks fancy motor home)

  21. Realize it is definitely is okay to take a break and do something fun once in awhile, it doesn't mean you're "wasting" time. And is the only way you'll let go of some of those ssilly stressful things weighing you down. (Wow, i need this one...)

    More importantly:

    Be brave. If you wish you had more friends, don't just wait for someone to come to you, go for it. If you have a gift or talent you want to share but are too shy or think no one cares, just go for it. If there's at all that you really want to do but anxiety is holding you back JUST DO IT. It's in living that way, that you are really living. Every time I follow this the most amazing things come out of it.

    If you do believe in God:
    Seriously put your trust in God, don't just say you are. If you trust in God, then you've got nothing to be afraid of (read above) and you can do so much. And you'll probably like yourself more as you continue to strecth your limits and do so many wonderful things you never thought you could do.

    I know these work. Especially the last two. The first one, way way easier said then done... Now off to go actually read a book.....

  22. [I wrote a whole thing here, and then blogger lost it. But I will take everyone's advice and be sane and zen and calm. :) It's inspiring to see how wise all of you are.]

    As a young'un, I'm in a better place to take this advice than to give, but here's what I always try to remember:

    Be generous with your kindness. This applies to everyone: children, waitresses, telemarketers, everyone. A stranger's kindness or patience can make your day so much better. Do that for someone else. It makes the world a better place.

    I'd also recommend eating lots of vegetables. (I've recently discovered that dismantling a big head of cauliflower is one of the most zen things to do in the world.) It's amazing how often what's good for the planet is good for your body is good for your soul.

    (Engage with science in general. Understanding how the world works, how your *body* works, is powerful.)

    Thank you all for sharing your wisdom here. It's amazing.

  23. Keep a journal or a scrapbook. Record your favorite memories. Even if it seems like you'll always remember it, you might not. And label the names of the people in the pictures. Your children and grandchildren will thank you. (well you might be long gone but they'll want to thank you). I started this, recording memories of growing up (my dad used to farm but now he doesn't so my kids will never know about cleaning about bins and driving a tractor and probably won't believe that I ever did)
    Also, realize that you're a grown-up and you don't have to do anything you don't want to do anymore. Basically that means you don't have to do something to make other people happy. BUT if it makes somebody you love happy and it isn't that terrible for you to do, maybe do it for them. Remember they're not making you though, you're chosing to make them happy.

    Crabby - best idea EVER!

  24. Tell those you love, "I love you" more often.

    Go for walks in the country.

    Be silly.

    Pet a dog.

    Hold a baby.

    Wash your hands!

    And yes, wear sunscreen! :)

    Great idea, Crabby, and lots of fun! :)

  25. Can I just say I'm blown away by not only the humor and wit, but the generosity and wisdom of what you all are contributing? I'm hoping people don't mind if I talk about some of these comments some more in a future post--probably next week some time.

    And Amy, NCRunner, Lullaby, Lisa, Jim, Melissa, Vanilla, Bag Lady, Reb, Meg, Jaime, Randi, and Susan--you guys, like the previous commenters, really have some amazingly thoughtful advice--thanks so much!

  26. Always, ALWAYS save your witty and insightful comments before hitting "post" and having them disappear in the blogsphere. I'll try to recreate my words of wisdom later. UGGHH!

  27. Great advice!

    I always get the dreaded eye roll from my niece when I try to give her good advice, i.e., wear sunscreen - you will never tan, pasty white girl; don't be cruel to your mother - you will regret it; do something you love to do and not for the big paycheck - you'll get stuck in a profession you hate, etc. etc.

    I wish I took this advice when I was her age but I'm sure I just rolled my eyes.

    Today is the youngest you will be for the rest of your life - work hard but play harder, smile, laugh, ENJOY!!

  28. Here's more:

    1. It's not about you. Most of what happens in life and most of how other people treat you have nothing (or very nearly nothing) to do with you. A long line at the grocery store is not a conspiracy. A surly clerk is probably not mad at you in particular. Taking things personally is a good way to be miserable and who wants to give other people that much power over their happiness?

    2. Shortcuts usually aren't. This is both literal (trying to go around a long light or bottleneck) and figurative (like trying to advance in a career for which you don't have the standard credentials). Be very careful of shortcuts because they usually just waste time.

  29. Fantastic advice and great post!

    I wish I would have listened more when people told me that time goes by too quickly and kids grow up too fast. I would have enjoyed the little moments more.

  30. MB--I hate when comments disappear! Blogger's been funky today too, I had to repost several comments. But glad you persevered to offer more advice--and that eyeroll thing, I know I did that too when I should have been paying attention!

    Bunnygirl--wow! The first comment was a whole great post in itself and now you've got more! Thanks so much.

    Amy--well, that's still great advice we can keep using every day going forward. It's so important to remember to cherish those important moments--they're so fleeting!

  31. I was going to just offer the only words of wisdom that I've learned:

    a) don't sweat the petty stuff and don't pet the sweaty stuff
    b) don't do your deep fat frying in the nude

    Then I read Reb's comment, and I have to say c) screw the above. Live now.
    My parents had their whole lives planned for after retirement, when the last child (moi) would be an adult and they could go off by themselves and Live.
    And yes, my father passed away the year before he was due to retire.
    Live NOW.

  32. All this talk of eye-rolling and surly teenagers made me think of another. From the surly/backtalking teenager's point of view...

    If your daughter, niece, granddaughter, or any other young woman or girl in your life is talkative, argumentative, and strong, please do not say, "You should be a lawyer when you grow up." Even if you mean it as a compliment. No one says that to strong boys. I found it infuriating when I was a kid, and I find it infuriating now.

  33. Crabby, so glad we found each other in the blogosphere! Long overdue!

    What a fantastic post, and what insightful readers you have.

    For once, I think I'm speechless.

    I think I'll just borrow a few words from India Arie:

    It doesn't cost a thing to smile
    You don't have to pay to laugh

    and another favorite, I think it has to be attributed to author (and failed talk show host) Iyanla Vanzant and that is:
    Fake it until you make it.

    If you're crabby (haha!) pretend to feel better and before you know it, you actually will! If you don't feel so great about yourself, act as though you do, and before you know it, you will. Etc.

  34. Okay, so I'm not the only one whose comment disappeared, then. Oh I do hope I won't have to post again!

    It seems everyone has covered all the bases, but I guess I'll this advice (which I have most definitely ignored blatantly): Don't take 20 years to write a novel!

  35. More awesomeness!
    Mary, much as a cracked up over the first two, the last one was really moving. Thanks for that.

    And Jaime--hmm, I always got the "lawyer" suggestion too because I always argued with everything. (But back then, suggesting any "real" profession for women was sort of a compliment, so it didn't bug me too much. But I never really thought of the fact that no one says that to boys!)

    Thick Chick,
    Those are great suggestions! (And I've never seen an attribution fo 'fake it til you make it,' and have always been curious. It was great to find you at Sister Skinny, where so many awesome bloggers seem to hang out.

    And Michael--dang, you too on the disappearing comments? Wonder what's up with that? Anyway, I second you on the novel and would add: if you do finally write it and the first one doesn't sell, don't wait 20 years to write the next one! (But I don't seem to be following that one too well so far).

  36. I haven't read all the comments but I have some from the "youngster" perspective:

    1) Things DO change after you get married even if you have lived together already

    2) Love your mother-in-law even when she tries to tell you how to decorate your new house because she really does love you

    3) Tell people how you really feel and don't try to hold back the negative feelings...but be nice

    4) Don't start blogging unless you want to get udderly addicted

    That's all I can scrap up for now : )

  37. This is so easy -- just go to my blog and see


  38. Here's mine...

    Appreciate the people in your life. We all get busy but life is too short so don't miss an opportunity to tell the people in your life how you feel about them and work a little harder to stay in touch with people who mean something to you.

  39. Emily, Onedia and Scale Mistress, thanks so much! These are great--I really will have to do a follow up post on this, there's too much wisdom lurking down here in the comments.

  40. Great post!! Loved the part about story telling! LOL


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