I can still hear my dad’s voice reverberating across the dinner table.
“Nothing in life is free, Son,” he said, passing down some of his own hard-won wisdom to me. “But if you put your mind to something, work hard and do your due diligence, you will certainly succeed in tackling whatever challenges come your way.”
“I know, Dad,” I said, continuing with an earnest question. “But what happens then?”
“You appreciate how far you’ve come,” he said, before emphasizing. “And then you keep going.”
It was some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my entire life.
His words of wisdom echoed in my mind throughout the formative years of my 20s. They rang true when I moved to New York in the middle of the Great Recession and struggled to find gainful employment. I was reminded to just keep going even when it feels impossible. They proved useful as I eventually landed on my feet, built my career and climbed the corporate ladder. I was shown that the more I gave, the more trickled back my way as well. But they were also helpful in my personal relationships, reinforcing the idea that I needed to invest in the connections that mattered to me. The more I cared for what was close to my heart, the more supported and fulfilled I felt.
That’s what great advice does: It lifts you up and helps you unlock levels of your heart and your mind you never knew were there. It helps you show up more fully for yourself and others. It helps you claim your life as your own. But the best advice goes further. It is essential. It is universal. It is truth wrapped in carefully-chosen words. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you’ve been through, the best advice removes labels and boundaries, traverses space and time and cuts through skin and bone to reach the heart of hearts buried within all of us.
During these challenging and uncertain times, essential wisdom and excellent advice help us find perspective, shift focus and stay grounded. They show us what really matters. They restore us to right-minded thinking and wholehearted living—and break us out of our fog of fear. Right when we need it most.
That’s why I’ve assembled the list of advice below. May these truths be the light that call you through the mists of fear. May they see you safely back to shore. May they comfort you and remind you of what’s important. Every single time you forget.
The 11 Best Pieces of Advice I’ve Ever Received
1. Your life is your responsibility.
Please read this carefully, taking in each and every word: There is one person and one person alone over whom you have control in this life—and that is yourself. Since you are the only person you can control, you are the only person who can take responsibility for your life. That includes your energy, your happiness, your fulfillment, your career, your choices and more. You are responsible for you and you alone. You are not responsible for anyone else. How could you be? It is their responsibility to take care of themselves. Yes, you can and should support someone in making good choices, building a life that makes them happy, and taking care of themselves. In fact, taking responsibility for your own well-being is precisely how we are better able to be present for those around us. Just remember: Support and responsibility are two extremely different approaches. You take responsibility for yourself. You support other people. Do your best not to reverse or mix up the two.
Your responsibility for your life unfolds in the present moment. Not in some bygone era. Not in some future left untold. Not when you graduate. Not when you feel like it. Not when you reach a certain age or make a certain amount of money. Right. Now.
This is not something to take lightly. It’s also not something about which to fret. This is a blessing. You get to be accountable for yourself. What a tremendous gift it is to be able to shape, craft, build, mold, and create your life! It is a privilege to have this responsibility. But it’s only when we recognize it’s ours and ours alone that we can actually seize our power.
So, take responsibility for how you show up in the world. Honor the gift of life by exercising your right to consciously choose. Again and again and again. Dignify yourself by taking responsibility for your own well-being. It is yours to claim.
Do not burden yourself by taking on responsibilities that are not yours. Focus on being responsible for yourself first. As you own this sacred duty, you will discover parts within you that you may have forgotten were there. This is how we rediscover ourselves. This is how we’re better able to show up for others. Giving to yourself is how you learn to give to others. Listen to yourself so you can better lend an ear to others. Be present with your emotions so you can better be present for the emotions of others. Put on your own metaphorical oxygen mask so you can better assist others with theirs. When you take care of Numero Uno, you’re better equipped to take care of everything and everyone else, too.
The responsibility is yours.
2. The way someone treats you is a reflection of how they feel about themselves.
That cross look? Not about you. That snide comment? Not about you. That temper tantrum? Not about you. The way a person behaves indicates where they’re at physically, mentally, and spiritually. Try not to take things personally. They probably have nothing to do with you. Learn to see someone’s behavior through the lens of love. If they’re acting out, that probably means they’re in desperate need of a love tank fill-up.
Do not react when someone acts out. Ask her if she’s okay. Inquire about what’s going on in his life. Remain open and curious and compassionate. You know that’s exactly what you’ll want when your cup of love runs low, too. And you know it eventually will.
3. Life is all about managing expectations—most of all your own.
The world will expect many things from you. And you will expect many things in return. The key is to manage its expectations of you—and yours of it. Going through life trying to live up to someone else’s expectations of you is how you end up disappointing both of you in the process. Conversely, trying to force the world to meet your expectations is like trying to make Niagara Falls flow backwards. It just doesn’t work that way.
There is another way, and it’s through finding harmony between your expectations and reality. According to Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarin, authors of Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life, there is even a formula for happiness that takes into account this harmony. The formula is as follows: Happiness equals reality minus shifting expectations. Thus, you’ll be happy as long your shifting expectations are lower than reality.
When you feel your energy or happiness slipping, focus on softening your expectations a bit. You’ll be better off not just in the moment but in the long run, too.
4. When you know better, do better.
Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Frequently cited by Oprah as some of the best advice she’s ever received, this quote serves as a reminder of a simple truth: We’re all figuring out this thing called life as we grow through it. We’re all doing the best we can based on the information and resources we have at our disposal. But some things are simply better learned through experience.
Do your best. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will do better when you know how. And you often only find out when you get there.
5. Your word is your bond.
In the second film installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore imparts some wisdom to Harry, saying, “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
J.K. Rowling penned those words. And both she and Dumbledore are right: Our words can hurt or they can heal. Our words can lift someone up or break them down. Our words can bring us together or tear us apart. Remember this power before you speak. Be intentional with what you say. Then, back it up with action. Keep your word. Follow through. Be reliable. It’s how you earn respect. It’s how you build integrity. It’s how you form formidable bonds.
The words you speak show your heart, your mind, your soul. Make sure what comes out of your mouth is an accurate reflection of what’s truest about you in those areas. Always.
6. Work hard. Stay humble.
Success is a beautiful thing. But unbridled by humility, it can also be an ugly, selfish, all-consuming endeavor. Here are some important reminders to stay humble as you progress on your path:
Never forget your roots.
Never forget the sacrifices others made on your behalf.
Never forget how hard you worked to get where you are today.
Never forget to say thank you.
Never forget that everything comes at a price.
Never forget to stop and appreciate how far you’ve come.
Never forget that who you are is so much greater than what you do.
Never forget to pay it forward.
Never forget that it’s not always about you.
Remember these and you will be golden.
Want even more wisdom on how to live a better life? Check out my new eBook, 70 Life Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Sooner!
7. Just keep going. No matter what.
You might lack skill, you might lack hope, you might lack money—honestly, most people, at one point or another, have lacked these seemingly important endowments. But if you have grit, determination and persistence, you will always make it through to brighter days because you can outlast the days that make you want to give up. If you learn to become comfortable with the discomfort of rejection, uncertainty and obscurity, you will forever persevere to claim the moments of joy and accomplishment you seek. It won’t always look how you imagined because life is rarely predictable, but it will feel familiar, it will feel right, it will feel like home.
All you have to do is keep going. No matter what.
8. Release the idea that things could’ve been any other way.
There is no point in wondering what if. There is no point in pondering what could’ve been. There is no point in believing in what should’ve been. There is only the way things actually are. The rest is all made up in your mind. Truth is, it’s useless to try to make sense of the past. The past only exists as a memory—a recollection kept alive by your belief in its importance. Like using an abstract painting to interpret reality, your mind misconstrues what happened to fit your prior experience and to favor your future expectations. The future is similarly a figment of your imagination. It does not yet exist. Thus, the only thing that matters—the only moment of any significance—is this one right now.
Life could’ve played out in a million different ways. But it didn’t. And now you are here. It might be painful. It might be uncomfortable. It might be frustrating. But it is the way it is nonetheless. The sooner you come to terms with this fact, the sooner you can go about living a peaceful, surrendered life. Would you rather torture yourself with scenarios that never played out or would you rather be at peace? Either way, you get to decide.
9. Listen more than you speak.
You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Perhaps it’s because you were meant to spend more time listening than speaking.
As humans, one of our basic needs is to feel heard, seen and understood. When you honor someone else with your undivided attention, you help assuage their anxiety, wash away their worry and find clarity in the chaos. Because you’re showing them that, despite how bad things might seem, they’re not alone.
Listen intently. Don’t just hear the words and syllables—listen so you can understand and relate. Listen to learn. Open your mind up to comprehend what’s happening in the world around you and within you. Listen to empathize. Open your heart up to imagine what someone else is going through.
Sometimes, we just need someone to lend an ear. The more adept you are at doing so, the better. And the more likely you are to get the same in return.
10. Do what you’re afraid to do.
Life can seem downright scary. And for good reason. It’s full of unpleasant, uncomfortable, unimaginable things like death, disease and disruption in many forms. In these moments, it feels so much easier to back down, burrow in and build walls instead of facing reality head-on.
But I’m here to offer up another way of being. Whenever and wherever possible, we should do what scares us instead of backing away from it. It’s hard to have a difficult conversation. But avoiding it only makes the situation worse. It’s scary to be vulnerable and say how you really feel. But it’s how you build authentic relationships. It’s daunting to think about making our dreams a reality. But we’ll never know if we don’t try. Honestly, it’s so much easier to turn a blind eye, ignore our intuition and be afraid of feeling our fear. But that’s not the point of life.
We are here to learn and grow. We are here to be present in the now. We are here to love. And we do those things not by seeing our darkness and shying away, but by seeking out and owning our light and showing up anyway. Any other focus is simply missing the point.
So, the next time you want to cower, avoid, deny or look the other way, do the opposite instead.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Paradoxically, the more we face what we perceive to be scary, the less scary it becomes because we learn that the fear was only ever in our minds. All we had to do was just feel it.
This is how we live lives that are fulfilling. We choose to feel our fear instead of fearing it. And then we live to find out what’s on the other side.
11. Be kind. Always.
You never know what someone else is going through. Be gentle. Have compassion. Default to empathy. If you can’t find any love in a situation, it’s a signal to be the love the situation desperately needs. As humans, kindness is a nutrient for the heart. Love is the purest expression of this kindness. When all else fails, sprinkle a little love on it. You just might be surprised at how well it heals what appears broken. Especially when it’s turned inward.
What are some of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever read or received? Tell me in the comments below—or tweet me @crackliffe!