You get a lot of advice while growing up, and while you should take some of it to heart, most of these so-called “life lessons” can be thrown out the window. In this article, I’ll look at the ones that are particularly heinous in terms of leading you down the wrong path. Without further ado…
1. “Always be kind to others.”
Alright, so I’m not saying you should go out, flip over every table you see, and pop little kid’s balloons. What I am saying is that the word “always” is misused in this oft-repeated life lesson. Absolutes are usually inaccurate, so this comes as no surprise.
Being nice will only get you so far. Based on my life experience, I can tell you two things with certainty. One, nice guys finish last (the majority of the time); it’s a miracle I have a girlfriend with how placid I am. Also, being sweet and gentle doesn’t solve a multitude of tricky situations.
Take, for instance, dealing with something as infuriating as a university’s housing office (or your land lord, for a decent analogue). I recently had to deal with my Alma Mater’s housing office because they charged me with a ridiculous fee…but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me rewind a bit. The whole reason this turned into an issue in the first place was because I was too nice. After I graduated, I let housing know with a kind e-mail that there was a mistake on their end, and that because of it, I’d likely be unnecessarily charged. I also told them that they should take preemptive action to ensure that this didn’t happen (in that message I also cited the requisite evidence).
I assumed they took my measured words to heart, until months later I checked my account and saw I was charged with a fee.
So, I got in touch with the housing office again, but this time I destroyed them. Rage fuels your imaginative capacity, and I’d say my anger eruption was pretty magnificent. I told them why they were wrong, gave them the evidence, and told them it was ridiculous how they could do this to someone they never had any issues with previously (and who was in great standing with the university).
Of course, they responded using passive aggressive phrases like “well, sir, you should have read the find print” or “we expect students to check their e-mail in order to avoid fees like these.” I, in turn, blasted them again, letting them know I had checked my e-mail religiously (I’m very OCD), and provided them with multiple forms of evidence that debunked their whole “fine print” theory.
Needless to say, I made a real effort to put them in their place. They refuse to retract the fee they erroneously charged me (universities love nothing more than to find ways to take your money), but my anger did attract their attention, and, at the very least, by dismantling their argument I’ve saved future college students a lot of trouble, since hopefully now they’ll change how their laughable system works.
What’s the moral of this story? Anger won’t always get you where you need to be, but neither will kindness. It’s a healthy mix of the two that keeps the world spinning.
2. “You should care about what others think!”
No, you really shouldn’t. All of the success I’ve had in life has come as a result of not caring what some random person thinks of what I say or do. I would have never been able to tell off the housing office cited above if I cared what they thought about me. They probably hold me in disdain now, but so what? I proved them wrong.
Having no filter will cause you to acquire a handful of enemies, perhaps, but you’ll be a much happier person overall. At least this way, you won’t be second guessing yourself everyday asking questions like “aw, what if I had sent that message” or “I really wish I spoke out about that topic discussed in class today” or “too bad I never applied to that job because I was afraid of what the interviewer would think of me.”
3. “Don’t let others down.”
This is a noble life lesson, and one I follow far too religiously, so I’m going to try and save you some trouble. Trying to please everyone is not worth it. Mainly because, most of the time, they won’t reciprocate, EVER! I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. I would befriend someone and get way too crazy about serving their every whim, only to get absolutely nothing in return.
It’s ok to let people down. It happens. It’s better to tell somebody you can’t do something for them than to do it and feel unappreciated. There are exceptions of course; if it’s your best friend or family member, it behooves you (in most cases) to help them out since they’ll truly appreciate it. Other people though? Chances are they’ll forget what you did for them, and you’ll hate them for that. The solution? Don’t get involved in the first place. You can thank me later for reducing your stress level.
4. “Always prepare for the worst.”
And hope for the best, right? Wrong. Always preparing for the worst will lead to bouts of anxiety and, in severe cases, paralyze you from getting anything meaningful done. There’s something to be said of having your life in order, but there’s no reason to prepare for the worst possible outcome of every situation you’re in if you’re living a typical American lifestyle.
While bad things might happen, assuming that they will only makes you fear the future and prevents you from taking risks of any kind, even when a rational mind would see that there are many benefits to be reaped from such leaps of faith. I’ve fallen victim to this mindset a lot, and all it does is lead to acne breakouts, forehead wrinkles, and heart palpitations. With almost every job I’ve had, I’ve dreaded it up until the day it started, after which I’ve loved it. Imagine if you could get rid of that unnecessary “everything is going to go wrong” fear, and live in a state of constant peace of mind. Sound nice, huh?
5. “Try to be happy, even when you’re sad.”
Sorry folks, but this isn’t A Brave New World. There’s no soma-esque panacea out there to shield you from reality. We can’t stay happy all of the time, indeed, doing so only leads to disappointment when you lapse into normal phases of depression or sadness. You need to let your body do what it wants to do; go with the flow, in other words. If you’re sad and you can’t shake it, accept it for what it is. Allowing yourself to be in that state makes it much easier to recover from than when you’re beating yourself up for not being happy enough. When I’ve been sad in the past, often I would think about why I was sad, rather than accepting it, which only made it worse since it felt like I was part of the problem. Once you realize that this is something natural that afflicts all humans, you’ll get over it quicker and be better prepared for when it happens again.
There you have it. Some life lessons should be taken to heart, but others will only lead you astray. It’s up to you to separate the good from the bad!