Thursday, January 03, 2008
50 things I've learned in 50 years, a partial list in no particular order
I’m turning 50 next week. So I thought I’d take the opportunity here to list 50 things I’ve learned in 50 years—truths gleaned from experience and the words of others that guide, inspire and sometimes haunt me:
1. It’s better to sing off key than not to sing at all.
2. Promptness shows respect.
3. You can’t avoid offending people from time to time. When you don’t mean it, apologize. When you do mean it, accept the consequences.
4. The first person to use the expression “Get a life!” in any dispute is the loser.
5. The medium is not the message. Those who issue blanket condemnations of any form of communication—be it TV, tabloids, text messages or blogs—simply aren’t paying attention.
6. The most valuable thing to have is a good reputation, and it’s neither hard nor expensive to acquire one: Be fair. Be honest. Be trustworthy. Be generous. Respect others.
7. Prejudice and bigotry is hard-wired into us. You can’t overcome it until you acknowledge it.
8. Don’t be bothered when people don’t share your tastes in music, sports, literature, food and fashion. Be glad. You’d never get tickets to anything otherwise.
9. Cough syrup doesn’t work.
10. Empathy is the greatest virtue. From it, all virtues flow. Without it, all virtues are an act.
11. The Golden Rule is the greatest moral truth. If you don’t believe in it, at least try to fake it.
12. Keeping perspective is the greatest key to happiness. From a distance, even a bumpy road looks smooth.
13. You can’t win arguing with police officers or referees, but every so often you can fight City Hall.
14. It’s not “political correctness” that dictates that we try not to insult others’ beliefs and identities. It’s common decency.
15. It may not feel like it, but it’s good luck when you have people at home and at work who aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re wrong.
16. It’s 10 times easier to fall in love than to stay in love. And no matter what the sad songs say about romance, broken hearts do mend.
17. Don’t waste your breath proclaiming what’s really important to you. How you spend your time says it all.
18. Keeping an open mind is as big a challenge as you get older as keeping a consistent waistline.
19. It’s never a shame when you admit you don’t know something, and often a shame when you assume that you do.
20. Wounds heal faster under bandages than they do in the open air.
21. Fear of failure is a ticket to mediocrity. If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not pushing yourself. And if you’re not pushing yourself, you’re coasting.
22. Anyone who judges you by the kind of car you drive or shoes you wear isn’t someone worth impressing.
23. Grudges are poison. The only antidote is to let them go.
24. If you’re in a conversation and you’re not asking questions, then it’s not a conversation, it’s a monologue.
25. In everyday life, most “talent” is simply hard work in disguise.
26. Great parents can have rotten kids and rotten parents can have great kids. But even though biology plays a huge role in destiny, that’s no excuse to give up or stop trying.
27. Four things that most people think are lame but really are a lot of fun: barn dancing, charades, volleyball and sing-alongs.
28. Two cheap, easy self-improvement projects: Develop a strong handshake and start smiling when you answer the phone.
29. When something that costs less than $200 breaks and it’s not under warranty and you can’t fix it yourself in half an hour, it’s almost certainly more cost-effective to throw it out.
30. Most folk remedies are nonsense, but zinc really does zap colds.
31. Physical attraction is nice, but shared values and a shared sense of humor are the real keys to lasting love.
32. To keep dental visits regular, schedule your next appointment on your way out from your last appointment.
33. The 10-minute jump start is the best way to get going on a big task you’ve been avoiding. Set a timer and begin, promising yourself that you’ll quit after 10 minutes and do something else. The momentum will carry you forward.
34. Laundry day is much easier when all your socks are the same and you don’t have to sort them.
35. Candor is overrated. It’s hard to unsay what you’ve said in anger and almost impossible to take back what you’ve written.
36. Goals that you keep to yourself are just castles on the beach. If you’re determined to achieve something, tell people about it and ask them to help you stick with it.
37. Mental illness is as real as diabetes, arthritis or any other disease, and no more disgraceful. It’s the stigma that’s disgraceful.
38. In crisis or conflict, always think and act strategically. Take time to figure out what the “winning” outcome is for you, then work toward it.
39. All the stuff you have lying around that you’ll never want, need, wear or look at again? It just makes it harder to find what you do want, need or intend to wear. File it, donate it or throw it out.
40. Exercise does not take time. Exercise creates time.
41. Almost no one stretches, flosses or gives compliments often enough.
42. It pays to keep handy a list that includes a trusted plumber, electrician, locksmith, appliance repair specialist and heating contractor. When you really need one is no time to start looking.
43. The store-brand jelly, cereal, paper goods, baking supplies and pharmacy products are good enough.
44. When you mess up, ’fess up. It’s the fastest way, if there is one, to forgiveness.
45. When you’re not the worst-dressed person at a social event, you have nothing to worry about.
46. Be truthful or be quiet. Lies are hard to keep track of.
47. Your education isn’t complete until you’ve learned to take a hint.
48. There’s a good reason to be secretive about your age. People tend to assume things when they know how old you are. “Oh, he’s turning 50,” they might say, for example, “probably full of cranky self-lacerating aphorisms that he thinks qualify as wisdom.” (See "Bored, Tubby, Mild," an animated editorial cartoon along these lines)
49. Whatever your passion, pursue it as though your days were numbered. Because they are.
50. Readers love lists. You got to the bottom of this one, didn’t you?
"Change of Subject" by Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist Eric Zorn contains observations, reports, tips, referrals and tirades, though not necessarily in that order. Links will tend to expire, so seize the day. For an archive of Zorn's latest Tribune columns click here. An explanation of the title of this blog is here. If you have other questions, suggestions or comments, send e-mail to ericzorn at gmail.com.