One of Esquire magazine’s most popular column is titled “What I’ve Learned” where people celebrated in their fields — from politics, literature, movies, music, sports, etc. — sit down with a staff writer and share their pearls of wisdom mined from the sea of their life experience. Academy Award winning actor, director and writer Alan Arkin (born 1934) shares what he has learned in life:
What I’ve learned about teaching is to refer back to the root of the word, which is deuce, which means “to pull from.” Education does not mean jamming information into somebody’s head. Rather, it’s that ancient idea that all knowledge is within us; to teach us is to help somebody pull it out of themselves.
If you’re looking outside yourself for substantiation of your own happiness, you’re going to fail.
Marriage requires searing honesty at all costs. I learned that from my third wife.
Children learn from what you are rather than what you tell them. What you try to jam into their heads isn’t going to be worth beans if the way you’re living your life doesn’t look like that.
I read somewhere that some people believe that the entire universe is a matrix of living thought. And I saw, “Man, if that’s not a definition of God, I don’t know what is.
Truth is always unfolding. It’s not an absolute.
I recite the Robert Browning poem to myself all the time. You know the quote? “Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be, / The last of life, for which the first was made.” I’m praying it’s going to be true.
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The legendary Mark Twain once wrote one of the greatest testaments to the wisdom of parents: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” By 21, most people have completed their college education. Although they may have mastered their specific college curriculum, they are only kindergarteners in the grand classroom of life. If they have anything to learn from Twain it is this: now is the time to really listen to your parents — not as parents, but as teachers or mentors of life experience. This is a course that cannot be taught in any college, however prestigious or how many Nobel laureates teach there.
There have been over a hundred books published that collect the best college commencement speeches and advice to young adults, many of them titled “Things I wished someone told me at 20” or “Things I wished I learned when I was 20.” Karin Smithson, a psychotherapist and spirituality expert, recently wrote a very thoughtful and insightful article for the Huffington Post ruminating on exactly that topic: the things she wished someone told her at 20. Here is a summary of her life lessons that would certainly astonish the older — and wiser — Mark Twain:
1. Cherish your close friendships
2. Although you’re smart, you don’t have a lot of life experience — listen to your parents
3. Don’t lose the joy of being “in the moment”
4. Appreciate your youthful body — it won’t stay that way forever; take care of it
5. If someone puts you down, it says more about them than you — recall Elanor Roosevelt’s wise counsel: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
6. Learn to apologize sincerely
7. Education is extremely important
8. Don’t be pressured into sex — you have the power to say no
9. Whatever you post on the internet is permanent — think of the digital trail you leave
10. Follow your heart; pursue your passions
11. Spirituality/Religion will be what saves you when the world goes out
12. See the world
13. Don’t poison your body — avoid smoking, drugs, and junk food
14. There are always at least two sides of a story — consider the other side(s)
15. Learn to be comfortable with who you are and stop comparing yourself to others
16. Talk to your teachers, role models, and mentors; ask them for help; make yourself known
17. Love your parents and grandparents — they will stand behind when others don’t
18. Treat others the way you want to be treated
19. Pay attention to how those close to you treat their parents and their waiters — it is a window into how they will treat you in the future
20. Listen and trust your inner voice
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For further reading: 30 Lessons for Living by Karl Pillemer, Hudson Street Press (2011)