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April 6, 2010

My Take on The Good Life

Although many people may find The Good Life helpful and inspiring, I do not find self help books effective in my life. Although a solid effort is made to reach out to younger people who still have a lot of life to experience, I don't believe you can expect people to follow advice even if it is from the older and wiser. Many people need to figure things out the hard way and learn from their own mistakes and experiences. I am one of those people who can only learn things by taking risks and from my own experiences.

Many times in my life I have been told to be careful or to do this or that, and time and time again I have not listened and ended up learning something the difficult way. My parents have seen this time and time again, and although it frustrates them, when I screw up they know I have learned. For my entire first semester at college, I had a serious money management problem. At the end of each month, I would have to call my parents and argue and whine at them to give me a little more money because my bank account would be down to zero. Sometimes I would over draw the account by accident, and become even more in debt. My dad told me every time that I needed to keep track of how much I spent, and stop spending so much in the first place. He told me that when he was in college he never went out clubbing and spending money on clothes and taxis and going out to eat.

"Dad, you don't understand!" I would cry. Realizing I was completely out of money, he would transfer more into that month and then take out what he gave me from the amount I got the next month. Although this would make the following month more difficult, it would help at the moment. My parents and I would end up getting in a fight every month over this problem. Now, at the end of my second semester, I have mastered the art of money management. My dad simply telling me how to control my spending and giving me banking advice was not what helped me figure this out because of the fact that I just kept messing it up. I had to learn from my own experience how to handle my bank account.

The first time I got drunk was another similar type of situation. I told my parents I was going to a party, and they trusted me enough to behave myself. They told me right before I left to not drink, but if I did drink to be safe and not over do it. By the time I got there, the advice had gone in one ear and out the other. I proceeded to down shots of whiskey and play a number of beer pong games. By midnight I was puking all over the bathroom floor of my best friend's house and feeling horrible. I ended up calling my parents to come get me because I thought I was going to die. When I woke up I was still puking and ended up missing work and feeling nauseous all day. I could hardly remember last night. I learned so much from that experience. I learned my limit and the importance of self control. I am also careful because I know how terrible it feels to be hung over and have alcohol poisoning. This is no longer a problem for me, and I am often complimented and looked up to by friends for my self control at parties.

When I was dating my first boyfriend, everyone told me he was a bad guy and that I needed to get rid of him. I knew it would be ridiculous to listen to these outsiders when I was not having any problem with the relationship. Soon enough, I saw his true colors and realized we were not meant to be. I dumped him a month later. You'd think I would have learned my lesson this time, however, he tried to win me back and I fell for it. We got back together, and this time kept it a secret. About a week later, I realized he really was crazy and not for me, and I dumped him for good. This goes to show how much I listen to myself in most cases. Eventually I will figure things out for myself.

Although I may sound narcissistic in saying I do not listen to people's advice, what I really mean is that throughout my life I have learned so much from making mistakes and messing up. I learn things the hard way, but I do not believe this makes me a fool. I believe that the wise are wise because they have experienced so much throughout their lives, and therefore, they really do know themselves well and have figured out many problems thus achieved success. This particular self help book is full of wisdom, and the author means well in writing it. However, I believe that these books are made to forewarn people about what lies ahead. Some people may enjoy knowing life's problems before they happen, but I enjoy continuously striving into the unknown and figuring life out for myself.

April 15, 2010

Dear Alexis,

Your message is clear, as were your examples. We constantly get inundated with information, including unsolicited advice from advertisers, parents if we are of a certain age, and others like me. Consciously or unconsciously we take some of it seriously and reject the rest. We're all in that situation, and personal experimentation is where we go from there. What impressed me about your examples is your ability to learn quickly from those life experiments that did not go well. Unfortunately, as you know, many people don't learn so quickly — people who keep picking the same kind of bad partners, those who at parties may admire your self control, but find themselves, yet again, barfing into the porcelain bowl, those who never learn to manage their money well.

I have no problem at all with your statement, "I believe that the wise are wise because they have experienced so much throughout their lives, and therefore, they really do know themselves well and have figured out many problems thus achieved success." As I see it, personal experience is where we verify or modify what we think we know. We go forward on the basis of certain assumptions about the way things are and how things work. Your initial assumptions about money. Your assumptions about how much you should drink. Your assumptions about this unknown factor, the boyfriend. Then we act on our assumptions. Things happen. There are consequences. One way of looking at my motivation for writing Getting a Life was the hope that it might tweek some assumptions for the wiser, before the need to put them to the test arose.

You are clearly crafting a satisfying and wisdom-filled life for yourself. Keep experimenting, and keep up the fast learning!

All the best,