Each year, Americans spend close to $1 billion on over 30,000 different self-help books, seeking guidance to life’s challenges or simply finding inspiration. But who are the wisest people, the real experts on life? As Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) and Karl Pillemer (30 Lessons for Living) have discovered, the best persons to ask about persevering through hard times, living a life with fulfillment and without regret, and learning to love authentically are the people who have already done it themselves. Invariably, those who have lived longer have learned longer — with age comes experience and the wisdom gained from reflecting on that experience.
A wonderful example of this is Marc Chernoff’s touching article about the wisdom that his grandmother, Zelda, shared with him from her “Inspiration Journal” before she passed away at the age of 90. Zelda’s journal is what is known as a commonplace book, introduced in Italy in the 15th century. It is a collection of thoughts, ideas, quotations, poems, songs, and writings that are meaningful to a particular individual. By generously sharing Zelda’s journal (summarized below), Chernoff reminds us of the profound love and wisdom of a grandmother — the quintessential self-help guru.
1. Breathe in the future, breathe out the past.
2. Life can be simple again.
3. Let others take you as you are, or not at all.
4. You are not who you used to be, and that’s OK.
5. Everything that happens helps you grow, even if it’s hard to see right now.
6. Do not educate yourself to be rich, educate yourself to be happy.
7. Be determined to be positive.
8. Pay close attention to those you care about.
9. Sometimes you have to let a person go so they can grow.
10. Sometimes getting the results you crave means stripping yourself of people that don’t serve your best interests.
11. It’s better to look back on life and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” than to look back and say, “I wish I did that.”
12. If you’re looking for a happy ending and can’t seem to find one, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new beginning.
Questions you will ask at the end of your life
1. Am I proud of how I lived?
2. What did I discover?
3. How well did I play the hand I was dealt?
4. Did I take enough responsibility?
5. What struggles did I conquer?
6. How sincerely did I live through love?
7. How much of my story did I actually write?
As one reflects upon Zelda’s life lessons, it naturally invites the question: what will you write in your commonplace book?
For further reading: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Doubleday (1997)
30 Lessons for Living by Karl Pillemer, Hudson Street Press (2011)