The Most Life-Changing Advice Doesn’t Come From ‘Experts’

Photo: D E Plume/Getty Images

I’m a big believer that the fastest way to change your life is by carrying a notebook everywhere you go.

Taking note of the interesting things you come across serves as a solid reminder that your primary job isn’t to do more—it’s to learn more. It can help you to be a better listener and life observer. Plus, collecting thoughts has a funny way of generating new sparks.

Since becoming an avid note-taker, however, a glaring pattern’s emerged that’s hard to ignore.

The thoughts and quotes that mean the most to me didn’t come from Tony Robbins. Nor did they come from some ancient Stoic whose words have risen from the dead to find online virality in 2021. The words that have impacted me the most have come from people in my life. The people I know — who know me. In conversation, they said something that hit me equally hard in both my head and heart and motivated me to do better, or in some cases, do nothing at all.

My list gains a few entries every week. But for the state of the world, at this moment in time, the nine quotes below are the ones I keep coming back to.

“I’d never seen a giraffe without a neck and I wanted to see one.”

I found my son Liam drawing in our family room. “Is that a horse?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “I’d never seen a giraffe without a neck and I wanted to see one.”

He was four years old at the time. Two years later, I’m yet to come across a greater motivator to keep making stuff each and every day. His words and actions serve as a solid reminder to never lose your childlike wonder for the world and to always treat your curiosity as your primary responsibility.

Plus, no matter what kind of mood you’re in, or how much life is beating you down, I’d be willing to bet you’ve never felt worse after leaning into your art and making something that didn’t exist a few minutes ago.

“I’m authentically uncertain and I believe that makes me really smart.”

I’ve never been the type of person who’s brimming with confidence. In fact, the more my career progresses, the more uncertain I’ve become. Like a lot of people, I used to think this was a massive character flaw. But that changed when my friend Maia said the words, “I’m authentically uncertain and I believe that makes me really smart.”

Maia giggles when she’s nervous. She also giggles when she’s not nervous. Some “leaders” have told her she’d be more effective if she didn’t do that. She also says things like “I’m sorry to bother you,” and “I’m not sure,” because she is sorry to bother people and she’s not always sure. Despite this, she’s carved out a massively successful career on Capitol Hill and the main reason for this is because she doesn’t play the “mask” game and the right people respect that.

I like to ask for feedback when I’m writing something. I like to ask for advice when I’m considering something. Is this really something to be ashamed of? Do I really need to act like an expert to get respect? Like Maia, looking back, the key to any success I’ve achieved came when I had the courage to be myself. Thanks to her, I now think that being authentically uncertain makes me really smart too.

“The best people carry extra blankets.”

In order to try to find a better life, my friend George Blue Kelly crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea along with 130 other men, women, and children. When talking to him about his journey, he said something that made the hair on my left arm stand up — “The people I admire most are those who were thoughtful enough to pack extra blankets as they knew some people would be cold at night.”

I read a shocking stat the other day that one out of five kids wants to be social media influencers when they grow up. My kids are young and still have their eyes set on being Yoda. But when they do get older, I hope they not only carry extra blankets but they also steal a line from George and see thoughtful people as the real heroes.

Asking yourself how you can best support the people around you will always be the ultimate life hack.

“The words we say become the world we see.”

We live in a world where negativity drives clicks and in some cases, affords people to live a pretty comfortable lifestyle. But is attacking people, creating a divide, or talking incessantly about everything that’s wrong with the world really helping? Or is it simply a new kind of marketing?

Fred Dust is a cool guy. He’s also one of the most creative people I know. A big reason for this is because he chooses to use his brainpower to find positive solutions instead of taking the bait, and joining in on all the finger-pointing and yelling.

“Talking negative is easy, so don’t do the easy thing,” he told me. “If you say toxic, you see toxic! The words we say become the world we see.”

“Sometimes the best way to see if something is working is by walking away.”

A friend expressed concern about taking a break out of fear she’d fall behind. Considering the discussion consisted of a bunch of self-help writers, advice came out of the woodwork. “We all need breaks!” people said. “Mental-health first!”

Sensing the person was quite familiar with these thoughts, Niklas Göke decided to come at it from a different angle. In the end, his carefully crafted words of “Sometimes the best way to see if something is working is by walking away,” gave our friend the permission she was looking for.

I’m a big believer in the idea that the best way to see how you feel about someone is to say goodbye. Today, thanks to Nik’s thoughts, I also think that breaks aren’t only good to recharge, but it also gives your work the space it needs to see if it has the legs to move on its own.

“There isn’t a lack of beauty in the world, just a lack of people looking for it.”

On the way to our first lunch together shortly after we met, my wife stopped into a fleeting ray of sunshine on a rainy Barcelona day, tilted up her head, closed her eyes, and smiled.

I don’t know about you, but I want people like that in my life. People who aren’t in a rush. People who stop when they want and absorb what they like. People who appreciate what’s in front of them instead of complaining about what’s around them.

“Beautiful things are all around us,” she told me after I told her how much I liked how she smiles at the sun. “The choice is yours as to whether you choose to see them or not.”

“This is the most scared I’ve ever been!”

I was waiting with my dad for him to catch a train to begin a month-long walk across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. He was 73 years old at the time. As someone who’d survived Vietnam (and not as a digital nomad), and worked across countless countries during some of the world’s most trying times, I was shocked when he told me this was the most scared he’d ever been. A second later, without a moment's hesitation, he gave me a hug, grabbed his bag, and didn’t look back as he made his way onto the train.

People telling you to chase your dreams can give you fuel. Actually seeing people put their fears aside to go after what they want can put a real fire under your ass.

“Eat a banana.”

In the 11 years I’ve known my wife, I can count the number of times we’ve argued on three fingers. A big reason for this is because of my mom. “Anytime you feel like yelling, grab a banana, sit down, and eat it,” she told me. “When you’re done, if you still want to fight, have at it. But nine times outta 10, the banana will chill you out.”

My mom’s pretty. She’s also really smart. She knew if she told me to take a deep breath or any other typical advice, it would have gone in one ear and straight out the other. But she spoke my language. As a result, I argue less while eating more potassium. Not arguing about stupid things saves so much time and energy.

“It’s a great day to be alive!”

It was a Monday. I was chatting with my friend Kevin Swan. My weekend had been rough. But compared to Kevin’s, I might as well have been sitting on a beach in Tahiti. Kevin’s got ALS and he’s completely paralyzed. A few days prior, his respirator started acting up throwing his breathing outta whack which induced non-stop panic attacks. Around the same time, he woke up one night to find a cockroach on his face. But since he couldn’t move or talk, he had to endure the torture until his wife “could remove the beast.”

“It’s a great day to be alive!” he wrote over Slack using technology that allows him to write with his eyes. “Let’s go!”

I don’t know about you, but I think this is pretty damn motivating. And much more motivating than some speaker jumping around on stage telling you to screw mediocrity and be extraordinary.

We’ve got one life. People like Kevin and everyone else on this list serve as a strong reminder that we might as well make the best of it.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store