Best advice from an old fogy
April 15, 2017 10:21 PM   Subscribe

What's the best advice you ever received from someone who you thought was really being a "stick in the mud" or an "old fogy" when they gave the advice, but later you realized - they were totally right!

My dad once advised me that no matter how much money you made ($10,000 or $100,000), if you weren't careful, you usually would find a way to spend it - rather than saving it. I thought he was pretty much being ridiculous when he said this - and probably for some people this is true - but I've found as I've gotten older, his words keep coming back to me and it makes me very thoughtful about saving money.

What advice have you gotten from someone older who at the time you thought was ridiculous, out of touch, or someone being a "stick in the mud", that later your realized - oh, yeah, totally true!
posted by Toddles to Grab Bag (54 answers total) 114 users marked this as a favorite
My grandfather who, with my grandmother, homesteaded and raised their first 3 children in a house they built (roofed with sod and under 600 sq ft) used to ask "So what did you build today?"

He never seemed to care what it was, or if 'it' was something you could touch, but he always expected an answer (as if he'd asked if I'd remembered to breath today) and never seemed bored with any answer provided.

I very much failed to grasp how important this question, and how he presented it, would be. I miss him terribly. I wish he could see how much of what I am most proud is at least partly an expression of his belief that each and every day I would win some small battle against entropy.
posted by mce at 10:38 PM on April 15, 2017 [112 favorites]

"Be a builder, not a destroyer."
posted by janey47 at 10:55 PM on April 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Don't wait until you are wrong to apologize. Apologize when you are not right.
posted by AugustWest at 11:57 PM on April 15, 2017 [15 favorites]

I work in long term care so I spend a lot of time with people at the end of their lives. A man once told me an Italian saying which I can't remember but he told me it meant that your life is your truth. It was in the context of him hating the food that was being served to him (admittedly awful) and at the time I thought "a touch dramatic." However I've gotten to know him more and he is a man of great conviction, a former restauranter who prized good foods. He was also speaking to my own obligation to feel I have done my due diligence in providing for my patients.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:14 AM on April 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

"Do it the right way, not the short-cut way". This became a mandatory rule of mine when out sailing. For example, any attempt to "whip" a rope away from an obstacle or something it's going to hook round is not always going to work. Walk over to the problem, pick up the rope and bring it back. This will always work and is almost always quicker. At sea, it can be what avoids a life-threatening situation.
posted by tillsbury at 12:24 AM on April 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

Also, from a crumbly sales director:

"So, you ran out of money. That means you spent more than you earned. There are two ways out of this: spend less, or earn more. Which kind of person are you?"
posted by tillsbury at 12:25 AM on April 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

"Pay your bills first, because a friend will always make you a sandwich."

This advice was given to me at a time when I was getting divorced, and had to buy out my ex-husband's share of our home. I had a lot of financial insecurity, and it helped me to face the fear of doubling the mortgage with half the income we'd had as a couple. As it turns out, the fears I had were unfounded, but I realised that, whilst I'd be too embarrassed and ashamed to ask a friend to lend me £10 to buy groceries, it's no problem at all for them to stretch out a meal to feed an extra person at the table.
posted by essexjan at 1:27 AM on April 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

Before she died, my Aunt warned me that my now ex-husband was far too good looking to have any staying power. "Women have been spoiling that man his whole life!"

As it happens, she was right.
posted by frumiousb at 2:34 AM on April 16, 2017 [30 favorites]

From my dear old dad "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good".
Incredibly frustrating phrase to hear if you're a perfectionist, but turns out he was right.
Another good one is if you're stuck, just start. Doing something is better than nothing.
Example: stuck looking at a black page with writers block? Just start writing anything, it could be complete gibberish, just write something. Always helps me out.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 3:38 AM on April 16, 2017 [20 favorites]

All doctoral dissertations are written in six months. It's up to you to pick which six months.
posted by spitbull at 3:40 AM on April 16, 2017 [65 favorites]

From a boss, many years ago, what I now know to be Parkinson's Law: Work expands to fill the time available.

She was citing it from the standpoint of running an office, specifically her reluctance to add staff, but I found it a good caution for personal productivity. It helped me learn the difference between mere activity and actions that produce actual results.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:53 AM on April 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

From my grandmother, who lived to be 93, "you can't buy your health".
posted by starfish at 5:29 AM on April 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't have a pithy quote, but I was younger I rejected any sort of advice or reassurance along the lines of "you're not alone" or "I know how you feel" or "this happens to lots of people." I thought my feelings were unique and not understandable from outside - especially not from anyone my parents' age.

I much later figured out that emotions, and many of the events that influence them, are common and predictable - even the feeling that you're the only person who's ever gone through this. They're individually felt, but there are patterns and other people have been there before.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:42 AM on April 16, 2017 [9 favorites]

I've been really lucky because I had a few old fogies as mentors whose advice at the time was annoying but over the years I know how right they were:

When I was at a now-defunct but at the time #1 rated Boston radio station as a comedy writer/talent for the morning program, the host would throw things and scream if our work wasn't perfect. He didn't coddle us or give constructive criticism with a chance for a redo. If we weren't bringing our A game every.single.time, we were out, and he reminded us there were literally thousands of people who wanted our jobs, so we could either be excellent or unemployed; it was up to us.

Years later I worked at WGBH TV and had another perfection-seeking mentor who taught me a lot about learning to respect the culture, and even if a person loved the work and excelled at it, they also needed to learn to live within the presiding culture, or they'd always be miserable. Back in those days, 5 people did the job of 2 and our department was wildly inefficient. I would go to my mentor with my ideas and ways to make things smarter and streamlined and better for everyone (I thought). I learned there that there are always REASONS organizations work as they do and it's really important to accept one's workplace culture because NOBODY wants to work with Don Quixote.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:46 AM on April 16, 2017 [12 favorites]

I often remember my father teaching me to "drive defensively," by which he meant to anticipate other drivers' aggressive and careless moves, never to be aggressive but never to be taken unaware. As I got older I found myself applying that driving lesson in various professional contexts, well off the road.
posted by flourpot at 6:02 AM on April 16, 2017 [16 favorites]

I sailed through high school and college with very little effort, and became very invested in grades as a measure of worth, and also as the ultimate goal to be obtained. At 21, I began a PhD on a four-year fellowship that would still be an amazing package in the humanities thirty years later.

My first semester, I was assigned to write a paper on a book that was very hot at the time. So hot that I'd been assigned it in something like six times in five semesters. Having already considered this work from just about every possible angle, I tossed off the paper in no time at all.

My professor asked me to meet with her about it. In that meeting, she told me that the paper was good enough that she couldn't, in good conscience, give me anything but an A. But she wanted to talk to me because she could tell I'd phoned it in, that it didn't reflect my best work, and she wanted me to push myself more. I was completely mystified by this advice. After sixteen years in a system where the grade was the reward for the work, I could not take in the idea that you would work harder than you had to to get the grade. Wasn't the grade the whole point?

It was years before I fully understood the value of her advice. I'd dropped out of the PhD program and was doing an MFA at a college that didn't use grades, but narrative evaluations in a combination of self-evaluations and evaluations from an advisor. In addition, you set your own goals and decided, along with your advisor, what you meant to accomplish each semester. Until I had that experience, I hadn't had any understanding of the idea of pushing yourself to do your best, and of doing your best work even if there was no grade to reward it.

Conversely, I had had no notion of doing only "good enough" work if the work itself wasn't important to me. At one point, my advisor and I were going over a scholarly paper I'd written as part of my thesis (the rest was creative work). She had a lot of feedback on it, but I asked her, "If I didn't make any changes on it, would you pass it?" She said yes, and I said, "Well, I'm not going to work on it any more." Because that wasn't the important part of the work to me. I wouldn't have felt able to do that in a setting where I was grubbing for an A on everything. Figuring out that sometimes "just good enough" is good enough, and that, sometimes, nothing less than your best will do, was a big deal to me.

I looked back on my prof, then, and finally understood what she'd been trying to tell me. But, at the time, I simply hadn't been prepared to hear it.
posted by Orlop at 6:12 AM on April 16, 2017 [17 favorites]

My father was a stay-at-home drunk in his retirement, sitting on the couch and making an awful lot of pronouncements about how other people, including me, should live their lives. Two pieces of advice he gave me were worth more to me later than they were at the time.

1. When I was detailing the minutiae of a failed relationship ["well and then he said THIS ... and then he did THAT..."] defending why it was okay that it was over (tho it was not my choice) he said "You know, you can sometimes get too wrapped around the axle about these things" which helped me pinpoint some anxiety issues and my tendency to have to defend my choices instead of just saying what they were.

2. Similarly when I was going over a number of large and small issues with a house I'd just bought and getting ... um ... wrapped around the axle about it, he said "Look, a lot of these are problems money can solve" which I thought at the time was a facile and privileged way to look at things (and it is) but found that it helped, as I got older, to really look at whether I had an issue that I was turning into a complex emotional issue but was really flat out a money issue. I'm now an adult who has enough money for the things I need (and want) but have emotional attachments to money in a way that is maladaptive. Watching myself do things like not go to the doctor or not buy a pair of shoes I arguably need returns me to that advice and often encourages me to have a more rational approach to minor expenses.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 AM on April 16, 2017 [48 favorites]

My first advisor in grad school was getting ready to retire after a long career. When I went to him for advice on writing my thesis, he told me to "write shit and edit later." Just get it all out onto the page and not worry about whether the wording worked or not. This advice effectively cured any and all instances of writer's block I've had since then. I don't think it was any coincidence that I was the only one of my class who graduated on time and without months of angst when it came to writing a dissertation.
posted by Fuego at 6:39 AM on April 16, 2017 [20 favorites]

An older editor told me not to pre-deprecate my own work; wait for my editor to do it for me. I would give him things and say, "I think the fourth paragraph is weak." He was firm that I should turn in my work and let HIM identify the weaknesses, both because that was his job and because you shouldn't tell an editor your work sucks in advance. (I was so used to turning stuff in as a final solo product for a grade; it took a while to get used to more collaborative adult work where you can go back and forth and improve it as a team.)

Same editor was always on about how if you made a mistake in an article, it'd be gone in 24 hours (48 at worst if we had to print a correction). "Don't dwell on it, do it better next time. There's a new edition tomorrow, nobody will remember." Good advice for almost all personally embarrassing situations -- shame doesn't last forever -- and for most mistakes in life: correct it, move on, and do better next time. Don't dwell on it and beat yourself up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 AM on April 16, 2017 [29 favorites]

My mother once told me that no matter how old you are, from 40, to 60, to 80, to 100, inside you feel like you are the same as you were when you were about 25, in terms of your core personality. (Sure, subsequent life events can have a huge effect ... no discounting that, but basically you think about your "self" as that person, barring certain major traumatic events like war). She said that people (especially the young) tend to look at the exterior of an older person and judge them based on their perceptions and stereotypes about their age, their "generation", appearance, (and infirmities), etc., but really inside that person is just like you, and you should deal with them that way, and not as a stereotypical "old person".

This I have found to be true, and I have tried to use it as a guide when dealing with everyone from work colleagues to random encounters on the street.
posted by gudrun at 7:19 AM on April 16, 2017 [70 favorites]

When I was nineteen, my parents told me I was too young to get married. Boy were they right about that.
posted by FencingGal at 7:49 AM on April 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

My first boss out of graduate school was a raging misogynist who firmly asserted, when he hired me at his consulting firm, that "no woman could be a good consultant". For this, and other reasons, I discounted much of what he said. But a few of his pronouncements ring true all these years later:
- "You're never late until you get there", implying that you should apologize when you arrive but skip all the anticipatory angst and self-recrimination
- "You're never more right than you are right at that moment", which has proven to be the best inoculation against procrastination (especially that which is rooted in perfectionism) I've ever found
posted by DrGail at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

I posted this comment four years ago:
My Belgian mother makes amazing french fries, although she rarely makes them anymore. When she said she was going to make them for Thanksgivakah I finally decided to document the steps. Part of our conversation went like this:

Mom: Now normally I would cook these twice--
Me: Wait. Normally? Normally?!
Mom: Yes, normally. Tonight I'm just going to do it once.
Me: But... But... That's the whole point!
Mom: It's going to be fine. They're just french fries.
Especially with everything going on now, when I find myself getting wound up over small things I remind myself that it's going to be fine, they're just French fries.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:29 AM on April 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

Wear Sunscreen
posted by Marinara at 9:01 AM on April 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

My dad used to say "Well, they won't walk the aisle with it" whenever he felt there was undo attention put on a child's idiosyncrasies or habits, meaning thumb sucking would be long forgotten at the wedding . He used to think small children were 'tormented' by well meaning adults.
posted by readery at 9:47 AM on April 16, 2017 [23 favorites]

My first LPO in the Navy told me, there are certain things you just can't tell someone. They have to figure it out for themselves. Telling them just makes that process take longer. Ironically, that advice turned out to be recursively one of those things. I spent a lot of effort when I was in his place and beyond trying to hand-hold junior sailors into things they just needed to figure out on their own.

Also, I've told this one before, but a Chief told me once, it's better to take charge in an emergency, even if you don't have any idea what you're doing. That sounds absolutely bad and wrong at first. I actually laughed out loud. I made fun of him for a long time for that. Since then, I've had the opportunity to be in some situations where there was no person in charge, and it was a total shit show every time. I've also been the clueless person "in charge" and it doesn't actually go too bad. Step 1: find a subject matter expert and get them by your side. Steps 2 through N: same as every other emergency, with details provided by the SME. And if you're unsure of a plan, say it loudly. Someone will correct you. Son of a bitch if that Chief wasn't right.
posted by ctmf at 10:07 AM on April 16, 2017 [59 favorites]

When I was in high school and college, I was very very grade-focused to the point (in high school) where I wouldn't take classes that were not honors-weighted because even an A+ would lower my GPA . One day my dad said to me that I needed to also make sure I received a good education and studied a lot of different subjects because "maybe one day you'll be a bag lady, but you'll still have your education". At the time, I mostly dismissed it because a lot of the grade pressure I found myself under was actually coming directly from him, but, as I've gotten older,I think back to it a lot.

It's probably one of my biggest regrets now that I didn't try to squeeze more out of my high school and college experiences. I learned a lot in college and did very well, but there were definitely times when I passed on taking a course because the professor was known to be a really tough grader or I didn't go to a speaker or event because I had to study. I try to make up for it now with lots of reading and just general curiosity about the world, but it's really not the same because I have a day job that takes up most of my time and mental energy. However, I also sincerely worry about becoming a bag lady every time I have a rough patch at work, so I think his advice wasn't entirely positive for me, either.
posted by eeek at 10:13 AM on April 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

My grandfather told me:

Plant chives and mint in your backyard. You will never run out of chives and mint.
posted by Splunge at 10:23 AM on April 16, 2017 [26 favorites]

When applying ointment to a wound, anything that is not in direct contact with the skin is a waste.

-- grandfather, surgeon


More ≠ better.
posted by raider at 11:14 AM on April 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Stop apologizing for things that aren't your fault! If you're always willing to take the blame, you're sure as heck going to get it," said by a curmudgeonly high school teacher who noticed my dysfunctional tendency to try to de-fuse any tension between those around me by somehow taking responsibility for the problem.

Also, "nothing real is ever ideal, and vice versa," from a university professor who knew that as soon as you do or make something, there's going to be room for criticism, so don't let that stop you from taking action. Similarly, when you hear someone pontificating about how perfect their idea or approach is, check to see if they've actually implemented it in real life. (Spoiler alert: probably not.)
posted by rpfields at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2017 [29 favorites]

A painting professor of mine, during a crit, when he noticed that I was hampered by some administrative procrastination of mine, said, baffled, "well, the longer you don't do it the longer it don't get done"

It seemed overly glib at the time but it really is that simple. The longer you don't do it the longer it don't get done
posted by dirtdirt at 11:48 AM on April 16, 2017 [25 favorites]

Along the lines of CTMF, above, this was written by an old fogy in a book about playing "neighborhood" poker and I've found places to apply it in life as well as in card games. When playing a game with wild cards or other goofy rules, if you aren't sure what your best hand is, lay them all down with something like, "read 'em and weep." Then folks who think they know better will jump in and figure out your best winning hand, sometimes arguing with each other to get you the best combination. Say thanks and take the pot. I've done something similar in business meetings as a project manager and it feels like the best trick to get a good outcome, people on your side and less work for you.
posted by amanda at 11:58 AM on April 16, 2017 [19 favorites]

My dad told me "Don't worry, you may be really really good at something, but you'll never be the BEST at any one thing. The sooner you get used to the fact that there will always be someone out there better at it than you, the better." It took an enormous self-applied pressure off of me and really kept my competitive tendencies in check.
posted by egeanin at 12:57 PM on April 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

Don't rent, buy.

Also, get married and have kids ASAP; but especially the whole mortgage-equity thing.
posted by Rash at 1:23 PM on April 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

One Christmas in my 20s, my dad picked me up at the airport and rocked my world - though it took 15 plus years to do so. I was waddling through the airport with my luggage, bags of Christmas gifts, a winter coat and more. He tried to take some of my bags and I firmly said - "No, I've got it."

As we exited the building and the cold air hit us he calmly said "You'll always be alone if you won't let someone help carry your bags."
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 1:50 PM on April 16, 2017 [23 favorites]

I kept taking on Big Important Things at work, because they were Stuff We Should Be Doing.

People let me take them on, as I kept winning... but they wore me down, badly.

A senior manager gave me the advice I still stick by; no matter how important it may seem to do, you can only jump in front of one train, at most.
posted by talldean at 2:16 PM on April 16, 2017 [23 favorites]

This is very appropriate to my SO's new job. I will be passing it on.
posted by Splunge at 2:38 PM on April 16, 2017

When I was a teen having trouble with my weight I remember talking to my grandfather about it (this was in India) and he said "Well, when I was young and people wanted to lose weight, they avoided rice, potatoes and bananas." At the time I was deep into the "fat is bad, a calorie is a calorie when losing weight" 80s/90s mindset and scoffed. A few years later I discovered low carb and had to eat my words as I found myself avoiding rice, potatoes and bananas (and sugar, but that was likely not as common in Indian diets in my grandfather's time) and losing weight.
posted by peacheater at 2:48 PM on April 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

My dad is in his 80s, and often said when I was growing up "It takes all kinds" as a gentle way to remind me (and sometimes himself, I think) that there are a lot of weird and inconsiderate people we encounter every day, and you can either dwell on it or shrug and move on.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:13 PM on April 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

My grandfather told me:

Plant chives and mint in your backyard. You will never run out of chives and mint.

I normally don't quote myself but I feel that this is important to add.

While you will not run out of them, you may run out of backyard.
posted by Splunge at 3:39 PM on April 16, 2017 [17 favorites]

My dad once told me, "Don't borrow worry. If something bad happens, you can't worry then. Otherwise, it's wasted." Took a long time before I could heed his words and stop future-tripping.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:01 PM on April 16, 2017 [14 favorites]

Always go to the loo when there's one there, even if you think you don't need to
posted by runincircles at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

"Don't just tinker. Learn to learn rigorously. Otherwise you'll spend your life tinkering and not making."

Said to me at age 14 by an uncle was also a bit of a young geek's role model. While it didn't affect me significantly at the time, it did stick with me for years. At his funeral a few years ago and decades after the event, I told my aunt and cousins about this, and of course they asked if I took the advice. I realized it had been a low-level standard to which I'd been comparing my study, hobby and career choices since high school. I had to tell them the truth: Yes, but not well enough. Now I'm middle-aged, still mostly a tinkerer, but have the good sense to be somewhat embarrassed about it.
posted by vanar sena at 9:16 PM on April 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

From my father: "Pay the man the two bucks!" meaning it's more important to get the problem solved than to save a pittance.

From my grandfather: "Saving makes no sense except as deferred spending."
posted by SemiSalt at 6:48 AM on April 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I was a wayward teenager and going to clubs in NYC my fairly uninvolved mother gave me a 3 am curfew, saying, "Nothing good happens after 3 am." She was right.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:55 AM on April 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

My dad was full of them. Among the important things that he told me that I still use:
- "Cooperate and graduate." It helped me realize that bureaucracy is just that and it's not personal.
- "If his daddy's an asshole and his uncle's an asshole and his brothers are assholes, it's a good bet he's not a nice boy."
- "Every gun is loaded."
- "If you say it, make sure you plan on meaning it."

And my incredibly Southern belle grandmother once said, "Don't ever let them make you the bitch. Smile, say thank you, and kill them with kindness while you watch everyone turn on them." Which, is kind of epically fucked up but also cool.
posted by teleri025 at 7:02 AM on April 17, 2017 [21 favorites]

My grandparents took me to New York when I was 12 or 13. I still remember walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and grandfather telling me to "look up" and not go through life staring at my feet. I think about that all the time when I catch myself looking at the ground.

My grandmother also told me once that there's no such thing as bad taste, just different tastes. I don't always manage to believe that but I do know that if you want to be as kind and generous as my grandmother, that's how you have to approach the world.
posted by carolr at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

From my thesis supervisor: "If something's not worth doing, it's not worth doing well."
posted by Rumple at 12:32 PM on April 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Sorry, I missed the edit window. My comment above should have been: My dad once told me, "Don't borrow worry. If something bad happens, you can worry then. Otherwise, it's wasted." Took a long time before I could heed his words and stop future-tripping.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:28 PM on April 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I casually insulted a boy I liked at my school once, and hurt him a lot more deeply than I'd intended.

I told my aunt what I'd done and she said "You know what darling, the longer you put off saying sorry, the harder it gets." True for this situation, and many others since.
posted by gerls at 7:17 PM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Save your back."

"Wear a hat."

"Pay yourself first."

Those are good general rules. A more specific one:

"When you've got a pile of dirt that you need to move, dig from the outside bottom. Carve away at it. That way you can visualise your progress, which keeps your morale up and it no longer seems so daunting."
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:30 PM on April 20, 2017

Find an older person you want to be when you grow up.

Work for them.
posted by Freen at 4:16 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Advice my dad gave me in third grade (he was already an old fogey): if you want to draw a straight line, don't look at the pencil, look at where you want the line to end and try to make one smooth, continuous line instead of going very slowly.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:27 AM on April 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I got the same advice, but for highway driving. Keep your eye on the road on the horizon and steer directly towards it, and you won't have to keep micro-steering to keep the car in its lane. I learned this one a few months before the rest of my friends got their driving licences and it was a very popular tip.
posted by vanar sena at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2017

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