Unsolicited Advice for My Three Sons, in No Particular Order — Volume 2

Boy test flight this summer starring Grey “acting up” Griscom (8) as projectile.

Boy test flight this summer starring Grey “acting up” Griscom (8) as projectile. Author photo

Dear boys,

A few months ago I shared with you 23 pieces of advice which to date you have not read. I asked Declan (now 11) why he was not interested in reading it, and he said the 7 minute read was “too long.” This from the boy who flies through a hundred pages of Minecraft books for breakfast.

Others did read the post, however, and I was humbled to find that it resonated for some non-offspring.

Despite the purging last spring, a surplus of advice in which you have no interest continues to build in me…I have more lactating to do, apparently. So with no further ado, my second installment of partially-baked, unsolicited advice follows:

24. Take photos not to document happiness but to share beauty. Doing so will cause you to see the world with greater appreciation.

25. Write. Not so much for the writing but because it will cause you to live more attentively.

26. Get grunt jobs. Work construction. Work as a bar back, a dish boy. Restock shelves in a retail store. It will motivate you, and build appreciation for the contributions everyone makes. And for the rest of your life, you will tip better.

27. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” Your father has a lot of room for improvement in this department, but I appreciate this quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which requires appreciating both the beauty of silence, and the beauty of a sentence that falls together like Incan masonry.

28. Tell stories that make you look like a nincompoop. Like the time you were in a last-minute frenzy while moving and put a stick of butter wrapped in a paper towel in your briefcase, only to find it six months later (yes I did this). Embarrass yourself early and often. This lightens the mood, and frees everyone around you — and you — to be more candid and take more risks.

29. Enjoy the screaming of other people’s children. It could be worse, it could be your kid. Some day it may be.

30. Don’t confuse acting unimpressed by the world with sophistication.Don’t be the blasé, jaded kid who thinks he’s cool; be the breathless, excited curious kid. Boredom is a failure to appreciate your “one wild and precious life,” as the poet Mary Oliver put it.

31. Don’t compete, create. Competing means by definition that you are playing by someone else rules. You are operating within narrow confines. This can be useful for learning and training. There is a place for competition of course — it’s fun to win. But winning is inherently a narrow experience, whereas creating is expansive. And in an increasingly non-zero-sum world, the winners are increasingly the creators.

32. Start a company, and if it fails, start another. There has never been a time with more upside and less downside for entrepreneurs. And there are few experiences that are more exhilarating and rewarding. Don’t get me wrong — it’s hard. And it crowds out other deeply rewarding experiences. You don’t need to do it right away. It does not need to be in lieu of writing books or joining the circus or training as an astronaut — there is time enough to do all these things. But the joy of building something with a team of people that moves the world forward is a distinct pleasure that I hope you experience.

Here’s how to do it — develop expertise (let other people pay you to learn); read ravenously; develop your idea with peers you admire; exult about the earth-shaking potential of the opportunity in the presence of rich people until they give you money; and then go for it.

33. Combine things that others don’t combine. Bloody Mary mix is surprisingly good in an egg scramble in the morning. So is leftover Thai food. I know it sounds unlikely; try it. Experiment. Much has been written about how creativity is fundamentally about surprising combinations, and this applies not only to egg scrambles, but also to business models, guests at a dinner party and sequences of words. This will sometimes results in cacophony, and other times will spark creativity, joy and EBITDA.

34. Don’t chose a city based on the weather. Two things matter: how a place filters for people, and how it filters for opportunity. Move to the city that has the greatest concentration of the people you aspire to be, and the opportunities that most interest you. The city is your incubator.

35. When you rent (or buy) an apartment, live as close as possible to your favorite corner. Live in a shoebox if you have to. The real estate market undervalues micro locations, and it meaningfully impacts your daily experience. And optimal square footage is smaller than people think.

36. Carry your own luggage. And when you are done, tip yourself.

37. Imagine that you could no longer walk. Think how beautiful walking would seem to you then, all the subtleties of the movement, the weight transition from heel to arc to ball of your foot. Do you extend your leg fully in a light march? Do you bounce a little before the other heel lands? Think of all the ways you can express joy when you walk. And walk that way.

38. When you are playing a game with a friend and there is uncertainty about a call, give him or her the point. Your objective should be to improve your game and build a friendship; a slight scorekeeping handicap advances both objectives.

39. Expect nothing from your friends, and everything from friendship.Ask little of your friends, except in a rare pinch. This way you will be constantly surprised by their generosity and kindness. This is what makes friendship such a central pillar of a life well-lived — it’s a relationship with small obligations and enormous potential for growth and joy.

40. Avoid shampoo cycles of thought. If you follow the instruction on a bottle of shampoo — lather, rinse, repeat — you could be in the shower for days. Similarly, if you allow yourself to repeat the same cycles of thought — “my ears are too big and consequently no one likes me … if only I had smaller ears,” you will waste precious time. The cost of insecurity is not so much self-doubt, which is healthy in moderation, but wasted time. Accept yourself as you are, with all your beautiful imperfections, and focus your brain cycles where they count.

41. Befriend the cashier at the corner store. And the guy at the dry cleaner. Learn their names. Ask about their families. The more you do this, the more smiles you will see when you open doors.

42. Chase balls and Frisbees. Hike up mountains, and through cities. If you can exercise joyfully, it’s a double win. But whatever it takes, exercise daily, most critically for the positive impact it has on the performance of your brain. There is no better wonder drug (believe me, I have sampled them).

43. When you are running, count to 8 over and over again. I don’t know why this makes it easier, but for some reason it does. It may have something to do with narrowing your focus on small, achievable steps in a process.

44. Run to your meetings. Making your standard work shoes running shoes, or comfortable shoes of some kind, so you are ready for action. Yes, you will sometimes arrive a little sweaty, but you will also arrive sooner, with more energy and a better functioning brain.

45. When you have an extra five minutes, call someone you like, whom you haven’t seen in a while, just to ask how they are doing. I am talking about all the people who make you smile when you think of them. Put all these people on your “favorites” list on your phone even if they live somewhere else. It’s easy to lose touch with friends. But it’s also not that hard to continue to build on friendships. Five to ten minutes every few months will do it, if you make the time.

46. Think neither too little nor too much about how you present yourself to the world. Don’t obsess on it, that just comes across as insecure, but do recognize that your presentation is one way that people make inferences about your character. Are you friendly? Vain? Disciplined? Obsessed with the Giants? Do you have a sense of humor? Be intentional about what you communicate to the world, verbally and non-verbally.

47. When choosing your personal style, don’t be a multiple choice answer — a frat boy, or punk rocker, an Emo-Punk. Defy pigeonholing. Have a point of view.

48. If you find yourself excruciatingly bored at a dinner party, fumbling for an excuse to use the rest room a second time, pretend you’ve been entrusted with a critical mission to discover what’s interesting about the person seated next to you. The world’s fate hangs in the balance. There is always something. When you find people boring, reframe it as a failure of your curiosity and interlocution.

49. Think less of yourself. By which I mean both think less frequently about yourself, and less highly of yourself. Keep your ego trimmed like a suburban lawn. Ego is a barrier between you and others, and connecting with others is the whole kit and kaboodle.

50. Remember that confidence is that which feels no need to assert itself. When you hear people (classmates, presidential candidates) saying how great they are, that is bombast. Bluster. Borne of a conflict between a cockiness and fear. What you are hearing is the fear. Develop the quiet kind of confidence, which is the only kind.

51. People tend to measure the world using the yardstick that measures them most flatteringly. Athletic people value athleticism; skeptical people value skepticism; beautiful people value beauty; funny people value humor, and so on. Don’t be one of these people. Challenge yourself to value strengths you don’t have. You will open yourself up to appreciating a much broader range of people and phenomena.

52. Treat other people as if they are operating with positive intentions, without a blinding yourself to the possible alternatives. If you are right, you have avoided starting an escalating pattern of distrust. If you are wrong, treating them in a generous fashion will result in the best possible outcome nine times out of ten even, even if their motivations are nefarious.

53. When your hair turns gray, don’t dye it. Visual indications of aging are the sounds of the clock ticking. Listen to the ticking. And don’t fight wrinkles, they are souvenirs from years of smiling.

54. When you feel like sticking a fork in your palm because you are so ashamed and humiliated and furious at yourself for letting the world down, and letting yourself down, smile. This is a sign that you have high standards. This is a sign that you expect more from yourself. This is good. Bottle every ounce of that feeling and take a shot of it when you are feeling unmotivated.

55. If you feel yourself starting to cry, whether because the beauty of the world has suddenly sharpened to a point that is piercing, or because of the weight of a loss, whether your own or someone else’s, is squeezing you like an orange, inhabit that feeling and experience it fully. Even though you are just a boy, or maybe a man who feels, at times, like a boy. This may happen more often than you would like, if you have inherited my over-active lachrymal glands, but it’s a sign that you are fully sentient.

56. When your parents give you advice, nod and smile. If it doesn’t connect, think about how to improve on your Minecraft world, but indulge them. Simply allowing others to be heard, even when your mind is elsewhere, is an act of generosity. And who knows, they may eventually say something useful.

Read Unsolicited Advice for My Sons In No Particular Order Volume 1.

Rufus is the father of three boys, as well as Heleo.com, Babble.com, and Nerve.com. This piece originally appeared on Medium.

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