Seven Pieces of Advice

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self? Or, for that matter, an actual 18-year-old?

Alexa, very good old friend of mine, sent out an email recently that brought out some surprising things among those of us who received it and responded: a request for advice. Apparently, her brother’s teacher wrote to parents asking for pieces of advice they’d give their children, all seniors in high school. The teacher cited the scene in Hamlet (act 1, scene 3) where Polonius gives advice to Laertes, about to depart on a journey. It goes like this:

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

Trolling around on the internet, I see that there’s a lot of dispute about whether this advice is any good. There’s particular concern, predictable in our sinful age of debt, about not borrowing or lending. But what would you say?

When my friend wrote about this, she included seven pieces of her own, and asked us—all old friends—to share ours. Seven seems like a good number. Here were mine, for instance (which incidentally I’m not altogether impressed by):

  1. Cultivate a really good memory; in doing, try not to lose perfect pitch, and learn languages.
  2. Learn how to make rules for yourself and how to break them appropriately.
  3. Try to understand the ideas of those you disagree with as well as you do your own.
  4. When you want to do something, find the people who are doing it the best, ask to meet with them, and when you meet with them ask how they got to where they are.
  5. When you’re frustrated with yourself, or otherwise in a bad mood, do something for someone else.
  6. Don’t abandon friendships. If one isn’t working, modulate.
  7. Be prepared: your most important relationships may take different forms than you expect them to.

Old or young, tell us in the comments: what seven pieces of advice would you give someone setting off into the world? Financial? Intellectual? Spiritual? Relational? Sexual?

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.