Sage Advice from the Trenches


The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong.
~ Joseph Campbell Quotes from A Joseph Campbell Companion

I’ve been blessed and lucky enough to stay around on this planet long enough to be able to pass on the little bit of wisdom I’ve culled over the years. I’m not pretending to be my recently deceased dear 85-year-old aunt who schooled me about the vagaries of life in her own homespun way. She was full of wisdom and old school homilies passed down from generation to generation, such as, “God may be slow, but he’s always on time.” Always armed with a tried and true lesson her words were comforting when I would whine to her about a bad relationship, job or hair day.

When I would ask her how she’s doing, she’d always simply say, “Can’t complain.” My cousin reminded me that she always followed that statement with, “Doesn’t do any good anyway.” She always spoke slowly and softly, interrupting her musings with a smoky laugh. She was a survivor, who made her way through the joys and pain of life with grace.

I wish I had sat down and asked her these questions suggested in an article, “10 Things to ask when seeking life’s lessons,” instead of my hapless “trial-and-error” method. It would have saved me tons of time and money reading useless self help books, watching too much Oprah who always leaves us dangling for more “answers”, and following a rocky spiritual path guided many times by self-seeking “gurus” whose only intent is to fatten their wallets.

What would I say if a young person asked, “What have you learned in your years in this world?” Honestly, I would probably laugh and say, “Not much!” Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try. I couldn’t even pretend to answer all ten questions, just the one I felt I could answer best. I will answer it more with my heart than my head. I am sharing what I believe to be true for what it’s worth. I am still learning and growing so much, but decided to pass on what I’ve learned so far.

1. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?

To be grateful for everything big or small. To find something good or enjoyable each and everyday. To focus on the present and not dwell too much on the past or the future. To love fully and laugh heartily. To know that you only have control over yourself in any given situation. To not take anything personally. To try to overcome fear and worry. To choose to be happy. Sounds so simple, and it is, but it takes daily practice.

In my ’20s, I read that “life is full of challenges and how you handle them makes you who you are.” Or something like that. That made no sense to me. Life a challenge? I thought life was supposed to be easy, and rockin’ and fun like all the people out in the streets and on tv were having. It was only the poor souls like me who had troubles. It was just my fate. Like the blues song said, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” I didn’t have the time, temperament or inclination to deal with life’s challenges. Plus, what good would it do? I was doomed, it was my fate to suffer.

WRONG! Life is challenging, everyday. The sooner you learn this the better. Sad events seem the most challenging, but even joyful events are challenging–marriage, babies, new jobs, new homes. Whether you think you’re dealing with life’s challenges or not, you are. Whether you think you’re making choices or not, you are. Running from challenges or facing them head-on are choices.

I chose to run, the flight not fight approach. I just felt like I was caught up in the whirlwind of life, that i had no control over what was happening. I was, in a sense, constantly dodging bullets coming my way gearing up for the next round.

I didn’t realize I had choices other than to fear everything and worry about everything. Not until recently did I find that fear and worry only exacerbate challenges, and in many cases escalate them. When faced with a challenge (and as I said earlier, they’re happening all the time) have patience be your guide. Focus on what you can do about them today. Find the solution, don’t get stuck in the problem. Prioritize, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” as they say. The small things usually just straighten themselves out.

Follow your gut. If you feel it’s a bad decision or solution, it probably is. Talk it out with someone you trust if you can. Just putting it out there can be a relief. Know you can only do so much in one day. Do one small step toward the solution, then do one thing that will take your mind off the problem. Focus on the now, not the past or the future. Get out of yourself, doing something nice for somebody else always feel good. Enjoy what’s good about your life right at that moment–breathing, great!

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