We all know a great piece of advice when we hear it. Sometimes these words of wisdom come from people we’re close with, like our family or our mentors. And sometimes, the best advice comes from the most unexpected sources. 

We asked our Thrive community to share with us a surprising source of advice they came across — and the lesson they learned. Which of these surprising people have you gotten advice from?

A high school teacher

“The most helpful yet surprising bit of advice I received came during a social studies class in high school. Our teacher was very eccentric, with a teaching style that was very different from others. He pulled me aside one day and stated quite simply, ‘Always remember one thing — the answer is “no” until you ask.’ Those words struck me to the core. I have lived those words every day since he spoke them. From that day forward, opportunities have flowed my way simply by asking for something. We often get scared away by rejection, opposition, or failure. That doesn’t have to be the case. You have nothing to lose by asking for something. This one teacher made such a mark in my life with one sentence.”

—Scott Miller, marketing director, Wilmington, DE

A stranger we met on a trip

“I used to travel every week Monday through Thursday, spending three nights a week in hotels. I’d most often have a late dinner at the hotel restaurant, eating at the bar while working on the laptop. One night at about 10:00 p.m., a man in his 70s walked up and asked if I was still working. I smiled and told him I had about another hour’s worth of work to complete. He calmly replied, ‘Don’t let your work take over your life, young lady.’ I don’t know who this man was, but I hear his words more often than he’ll ever know.”

—Donna Peters, executive coach and MBA Faculty, Atlanta, GA

Our teenage kids

“The most surprising advice has been from my teenage children. They were so incredibly supportive of my parents in their last years. My mother had Alzheimer’s and my father had vascular dementia. I worked full-time and had two teens, and even though my husband was also supportive, it was heart-wrenching. My children showed up with compassion and patience. When I started to get snippy or impatient, they would tell me, ‘Mom. Slow down. Be kind.’”

—Christy Yates, coach, California

A real estate broker

“Some of the best and most unconventional advice I received was from renowned real estate broker, John Farrell, when he told me, ‘Stop trying.’ He didn’t mean to give up, but he meant to accept and embrace what’s in front of us in the present moment. To receive our daily bread and to stop constantly trying to make things happen. Stop trying and breathe, listen, ask for help, and enjoy what you have.”

—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, S.C. 

An Internet commenter 

“When I wrote a heartfelt article about losing my dad online, a stranger commented, ‘People online are like springs, always tense and ready to pop.’ Despite knowing that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and for every one like there will be dislikes, I was totally knocked off my high horse from the one person who had nothing but anger towards my article. It felt like a direct hit to me, I was writing about losing my beloved father and this complete stranger was attacking me. I quickly learned that the level of black-and-white thinking applied to a simple post can be intense at times and can escalate quickly if you choose to engage. People are eager to jump to conclusions, and some jump to the worst conclusions.”

—Lisa Ingrassia-Neuman, corporate event planner, Freehold, N.J.

A local doctor

“In 2008, I was given six months to live. It was a terrifying experience. A local doctor who knew me and my family gave me the bad news. I had idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. After two weeks of monitoring and tests, my heart was in such bad condition the specialist said I should get my affairs in order. The doctor sat me down and said: ‘Many years ago, I had a patient who was also diagnosed with a serious disease and told she would die. She looked at me and said ‘Then I will just have to heal myself!’ And she did.’ Today, 13 years later, I still go onto cardiomyopathy group sites on the web to give hope to others. I will never forget the most magical words ever spoken to me: ‘You know you can heal yourself.’ And I did.”

—Lynda Filler, author

An admissions person

“When I decided to become a coach in 2014, I enrolled in a course to get my coaching certification. I was on the phone to pay for my enrollment and the admissions person I spoke with ended our call with the words, ‘Just start!’ I hung up the phone and literally said out loud ‘Start?!’ While I was out of my comfort zone in launching my own business before getting my certification, I nevertheless listened to this admission woman’s wise words. I started! I made a list of all the things that I could actually do in order to jumpstart my coaching practice now. Then, one by one, I did each of those things on my list. I was enabled by two words at the end of a life-changing call with a stranger!”

—Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, N.Y.C./N.J.

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.