Monday, September 3, 2012

What's the Best Advice Ever?

Advice has a tendency to be site specific.  For example, the best advice I ever received was from a high school principal who told me this:

-- The more you teach, the less they learn.

I think of that every class I teach.

My brother, Len, tells a story about the best advice he ever heard.  He played double bass in the high school band.  A string broke during band class and there were no extra strings in the school.  The teacher, Mr. Roberts, said, "Len, go downtown to Ann Foster's Music Store and get a box of new strings and fix that bass before you go to your next class."

Len:  "Mr. Roberts, it'll take me an hour to go downtown and back.  I have a double French class coming up."
Mr. Roberts: "Always keep your instrument in good repair and ready to play.  Get those strings now."

This message stayed with my brother for years after.  He played guitar in rock and roll bands, always keeping his instrument ready to play.  He witnessed the downfall of many musicians who had not received that advice.

Ten years later, the high school had their 50th anniversary.  My brother saw Mr. Roberts, quite aged now and walking with a cane.  Len said, "Mr. Roberts, in high school you gave me the best advice ever about keeping my instrument ready to play.  Do you have any advice for me now?"

Mr. Roberts said, "Len, from where you're standing on your side of the street, you don't know which way the wind is blowing on the other side of the street."

My brother became a screenwriter and for the next ten years had to deal with Hollywood directors and producers and actors, each one making script changes.  He remembered that from where he was standing, from his position, he didn't know the constraints and issues of the others in the business.  That perspective helped him cope with the pressure.

Ten years later, the high school had a 20-year reunion for Len's class.  Mr. Roberts arrived, held up by his two grand-daughters and two canes.  My brother approached him again and reminded him of the advice he'd given Len in high school and at the earlier reunion.  Len asked Mr. Roberts if he had any further advice.

"Len," said Mr. Roberts, "you still don't know which way the wind is blowing on the other side of the street."
I keep that bit of advice in mind as well.

What's the best advice you've ever received (or given for that matter)?


  1. If someone acts unpleasantly in some way, it doesn't give you a reason to forget everything he/she did for you or with you. Even good people make mistakes. Always be grateful to those who have helped you in the past, no matter your relationship in the present - my mother

  2. Your last line got a laugh out of me. The best advice I have ever received is, "Don't follow your dreams. That poem by W.H. Auden or Robert Frost or whoever the hell it was, is full of baloney".

  3. from Roy Eaton:
    One of the best pieces of advice I received was "Never let them see you sweat". Came from my Vice Principal when we were facing a difficult situation. BUT, it stands in good stead in many instances, For example, as a captain of a boat (I do some work as a charter captain). In a charter where we rode through some particularly rough sea cruise, that evening the wife, who was rather timid, said in reply to her husband's question "Were you afraid this afternoon." She replied very matter of factly "No ... Roy wasn't concerned, why should I be."