With all the graduations and weddings this time of year, the world is rife with “good” advice. It seems everyone has an aphorism or two to share. But are these common aphorisms comprehensive truths? Or are we so used to hearing them that we don’t really bother examining them? Here are some suggestions that many people take as some kind of universal wisdom that really should never be followed:
- In college, major in something that will lead to a good career. Students are so brainwashed into becoming marketable that they need very little encouragement to throw their dreams and passions in the wastebasket in order to please some corporate exec who will use them up and spit them out. Don’t do it. Follow your passion, and you will be automatically “marketable.”
- Go to college right after graduation. Kids feel the pressure from parents, teachers, and colleges as early as their freshmen year in high school to choose a career, check out schools, and apply for scholarships. Geez, not only do you have no idea who you are yet, you certainly have no idea who you will be in two years. Go out in the world and find out before wasting $50,000 unless you’ve known since you were two and it’s never changed.
- Get a good paying job. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with making bank if you are doing what you love, but do what you love first, and then decide what kind of lifestyle doing what you love can support. A good paying job is a prison that will enslave you into wasting the next 40 years if you are not careful.
- Establish credit. Sure, don’t ruin your credit, but don’t go around thinking you have to get a loan and pay it off to build up your credit. That just enslaves you to debt. The best credit is built by NOT having debt and paying bills on time, bills like your rent and the utilities.
- Put your kids first. This is a modern idea. In past generations, adults took care of their kids’ needs, and didn’t really lose sleep over their kids’ wants. You know what? It worked. Kids became self-sufficient, hard-working, considerate, unselfish people instead of entitled, self-loathing people who can’t figure out why everyone is not trying as hard as their parents to make them happy. They learned to make themselves happy.
- Buy a house instead of renting as soon as you can. Buying a house is a better deal than renting if you know you are ready to settle down. But buying a house too soon is another trap, designed to keep you from following your true desires. When you are young and unattached, don’t be in such a hurry to tie yourself down.
- Wait for marriage. This is an old fashioned idea that most people have given up. There is a lot of baggage tied up in sex, and incompatible sex partners make miserable life partners. Do you really want to take that chance? By all means, don’t jump in bed with someone on the third date, but if you are considering marriage, take a test drive around the block first.
- Marriage is hard work, so stick with it. Marriage is supposed to make life easier, not harder. I’m not talking about throwing in the towel as soon as the honeymoon is over, or giving up because one of you is going through a hard time, but if sharing your life with someone is really that much work, why bother? When you are happily partnered up, life is sweet. When you are miserable, and going home is worse than working a 12-hour shift, move on. Life is too short.
- Wait for the kids to get older to get divorced. There is a common misconception that it will be easier on the kids, the older they are. Not true. Young kids are way more resilient. They will adapt and forget what it was like living with both of you at the same time. Older kids and even young adults hang on to the past and resentments much longer, and as an added bonus, love to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. Also, when you are in an unhappy relationship, you probably aren’t doing your best parenting.
- Save for your kids’ college. What? You’re getting old, and you don’t have much time left to get that mortgage paid off and prepare for a few leisurely years before you die. Your kids have their whole lives to pay for their education, and they probably have more time left than you. An added bonus is that kids tend to get a lot more out of their education when they pay for it themselves.
- Stay out of the sun or use sunscreen. The sun is really good for you in moderation. A half hour a day provides you with much needed Vitamin D, lowers blood pressure, alleviates depression, and gives a general sense of well-being. Conversely, sunscreen causes more cancer than sun damage. Just don’t overdo your exposure. If you have to stay out in the sun for a long time, wear a hat and a light weight long-sleeved shirt.
- Shelter your kids. Protecting your kids from reality is not helping them. Keep them safe by letting them understand the real world and how to protect themselves without scaring them. Expose them to different ideas and diverse groups of people while keeping lines of communication open. Answer their questions honestly. By answering uncomfortable questions in a direct and forthright manner, you give yourself the opportunity of influencing your child while they are actually interested in what you have to say. You will also earn the reputation of being someone who tells the truth and that can be trusted.
- Take “You-Only-Live-Once” to mean “Die-As-Soon-As-Possible.” The trend of risk-taking for entertainment is nothing new among the young, but lately, it seems people aren’t outgrowing this behavior. Jumping out of an airplane on a motorcycle may make you feel alive, but you won’t actually be alive that long if you indulge in this type of hobby. Adrenaline junkies also tend to get cancer and heart disease sooner, that is, if they live long enough. We weren’t meant to live in the fight or flight mode full-time. So, if you only live once, shouldn’t you try to make it last a while?
- Save all your money for retirement. Saving for a rainy day is always a good idea, but spend some of it on the now. What if you live frugally, putting off all your traveling and fun for retirement, and you never get there? What if you die two weeks before retirement? You can’t take it with you, and to be honest, you can’t save enough to matter anyway. I mean a nice nursing home will suck that retirement account dry in a matter of months. The best retirement plan is to be out of debt, own your house, and have a modest income coming in, so you don’t have to work until you’re dead. If you have to go in to an assisted living situation, you may as well have spent your money while you could enjoy it, and let Medicaid take care of the years when you can’t.
- Don’t Go to Bed Angry. This has got to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever heard—like your relationship’s really going to be better off after staying awake fighting all night? The more tired you get, the more stupid things you will say to regret in the morning. Just go to bed mad, and when you wake up, you probably won’t even remember that you were angry the night before. If it was really that serious, you wouldn’t be able to solve it one night anyway, and at the very least, you will have had some time and space to calm down.
So next time you reach for that age-old (worn out) wisdom that you’ve heard so many times that you think it must be fact, look at it from a different perspective and just do what you want. And however hypocritical it may be, I’ll offer my favorite bit of advice from notable French author, François Duc de La Rochefoucauld: “It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves.” –Christina Knowles