Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Best Personal Advice Ever

Life is not entirely straightforward.

For one thing, it's chock full of bewildering, unanswerable questions: Where does consciousness come from? Why are you YOU? What's up with this relentless, un-rewindable flow of time that leads to death? Is there any kind of meaning or design or fate or continuation of spirit beyond your several decades of eating sleeping breathing aging and if you're lucky reproducing? Etcetera.

For another thing, life tends to involve a lot of weary work and suffering, especially if you have lofty goals like pursuing an advanced degree or a competitive career, or if you're coping with unfortunate circumstances like you're a soldier in a particularly horrible war in the middle of winter and your boots have holes and lice are gnawing your testicles and your friends are getting blown to bits all around you and you don't know where your family is and your side is losing. Yikes!

In spite of those challenges, and excepting some extremely unlucky cases like that cold soldier, life can be pretty good. I feel like mine is good, at least. Besides luck, I reckon all it takes is a little effort and the right attitude. To that end, I want to share the bits of personal advice or insight that have made the biggest difference for me in really enjoying life.


#1- Try to have a positive attitude and be optimistic, even when things seem ridiculously bad. My mom gave me that piece of advice when I was in the 6th grade, I took it to heart, and almost immediately I noticed a huge improvement from dreadful anxiety to tolerable drudgery. The positive things I tried to focus on were pretty cheesy, like, "I'm going to have some delicious Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in the morning, then after school I'm going to look for salamanders in the woods and check out Ginger on Gilligan's Island." But that was a lot better than the negative things I had been dwelling on before, like, "I have to wake up in the pitch dark and walk to the bus stop in the cold rain past the mean dogs to be bounced around like a pinball and harassed by huge 8th graders in the crowded, putrid hallways of middle school." Yep, a positive attitude is totally key. Besides making you feel much better about your circumstances, I think it can actually improve the circumstances themselves, over time. :)

#2- Don't be shy, or afraid to take a chance. This is something my dad always told me when I was a kid, but it took a long time for me to get it.

#3- It's good to be introspective and to try to reason things out in your mind, but if you find yourself obsessing over an intractable problem or anxiety and you're not making progress or getting closure, just let it go and distract yourself with something else. You'll likely realize that the problem wasn't such a big deal after all, and you're gonna be fine. My dad told me that when I was in college and dealing with a stressful school, relationship, and personal crisis, and it really helped. I should also give some credit to my childhood best friend Erik Stoddard for giving me similar advice in a different form when we were about eight years old, "James, you worry too much." Ha ha. It's sort-of the same advice the Beatles give in their song, "Let it Be".

#4- You should work hardest on the things that you're best at and the things that you're worst at. I'm not sure who told me that, but I think it was one of my highschool teachers. Anyway, it was awesome advice. Working on the things that you're best at is cool because those are kind of what defines your character. Working on the things that you're worst at is also cool because it sort of breaks the chains that might hold you back in life. Erik Stoddard's childhood insight comes into this one again for me, because I will never forget how he said, "James, you have book smarts but not people smarts". Well, I worked on my book smarts and got a PhD, which is great, but what has really improved my life since highschool has been working on my people smarts. I'm still working.

#5 (Bonus)- Windsurfing.

Flat Nahant 10-30-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.


peggy g said...

Great post. My big question was: What makes me, me, and how did I end up in this body?

Henry Thomas said...

James, I take it from your last comment that you still see yourself more of a windsurfer than a kitesurfer. Is kitesurfing something you tried out for a while, or is it still part of the mix, or are your new digs less suited to it?

quidquid said...

great post!

It sounds like your life philosophies line up pretty well with mine. I live my life by a bunch of stuff my parents taught me too, along with a quote from 50 Cent: "You should love it way more than you hate it." No matter what's going on, just try to love it way more than you hate it.

James Douglass said...

Peggy- Thanks! Yeah that's a zinger of a question. Let me know if you figure it out.

Henry- Kitesurfing is still part of the mix. I had a great kite session a couple days ago, nearly overpowered and launching humongous, soaring jumps where I'd clear multiple lines of whitewater before coming down. But I generally prefer the feel of windsurfing, and when there are rideable waves and / or 15+ knot winds that's what I do.

Quidquid- Thanks. I'm definitely big on life philosophies and quoteable quotes. That's a way-deep one from 50 Cent.

Johnny Douglass said...

I take credit for that "work hardest on your strongest and weakest things" too. I was a cornucopia of good advice. It sure is uplifting to hear that you listened to some of it. I'm smiling.