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The Best Advice I Ever Got

Sometimes good advice really can change your life

Anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airliner has heard some version of the following: In the event the cabin pressure changes, oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling. Make sure to put yours on first before helping someone else put theirs on. The idea being that you can’t really take care of someone else if you can’t take care of yourself first.

It’s proof that good advice can come from anywhere — over loudspeakers or from a close relative, in a self-help book or from someone you meet in passing. There’s no shortage of good advice. The key is acting on it.

Orson Scott Card, 64, lives in Greensboro, N.C., and is a successful author best known for his classic science fiction novel Ender’s Game, which was made into a big-budget movie featuring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley in key roles.

When his younger brother told him to "do what makes you happy," it was a wakeup call.

“The best advice I ever took was from Latter Day Saints Church President David O. McKay, who said, ‘No other success can compensate for failure in the home,’” Card wrote in an email. In other words, make sure your relationship with your spouse and family is solid, that you are giving them what they need and they are giving you what you need.

“I have often told reporters,” Card says, “‘When it comes to career, I’m a husband and father first, a Mormon second, and a writer third.’”

Take It on Faith

Religion can definitely be a useful, or inspiring, source of advice.

Jacquie Black, 50, of Elk City, Okla., says the best advice she got came from her faith: “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you?” she says.

She relied on this after her husband, who worked in the oil industry, was laid off. “You’ll find your everyday human concerns will be met,” says Black.

Fred Green, 50, of Portland, Ore., is a school counselor and practitioner of Buddhism. Buddhist priests advised him to consider setbacks as “a bump in the road; don’t get caught up in the spectacle” of a situation.

He also mentioned advice he got regarding how to approach meditation. “When you sit in meditation, sit like a wall so nothing can throw you over.”

That reminded me of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Comedian Steve Harvey is noted for advising young people to figure out what they do well — as opposed to figuring out what they love doing — and to commit to doing that for a living. He points out that his true love is golf, but he’s not good enough to make a living doing it. So he has focused on what he does well: comedy.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Ken Surloff, 50, received advice that he took to heart, and wound up drastically changing his life for the better.

After a failed relationship, he’d gotten into a rut that cast a shadow on everything else in his life. When his younger brother told him to “do what makes you happy,” it was a wakeup call.

Surloff says he had begun “to believe my happiness was dependent upon one particular person I used to know,” he says. “I began to supplant my happiness with things, which gave me a fleeting high of happiness. Collecting stuff, going out to eat every night, going to see movies every week. Anything to distract me.”

“Get rid of your stuff,” his brother told him, “or at least put it in storage. Take a break. Move to a different place. There’s nothing really tying you down here. Why not go to Thailand for a few months? You’ve always loved it when we’ve gone there on vacations.”

Now, Surloff has been living in Bangkok for two years, and loves it more than ever. “Today, I feel 6 inches taller. I have optimism. I feel fresh again,” he says.

Does he still get lonely, or feel depressed on occasion? “Yes,” Surloff says, “but it’s no longer my default mindset.”

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