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The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives

The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives by Katie Couric

My favourite excerpts…

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I now realize that everyone struggles, and that my mom was right: Very few of us get through this life unscathed. Scratch beneath a stranger’s surface and you’re likely to uncover professional setbacks, broken hearts, unspeakable loss, unfulfilled dreams, or worse. Everyone seems to keep going but, God knows, navigating through it all isn’t easy.

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Last year, when I was giving the commencement address at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, I decided to try something new. What else could I tell these young, bright students who were about to take flight into the world, eager to make their mark? Because I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing so many remarkable people through the years, I decided to ask a few of them to share their personal insights. What have you learned? What lessons from your own lives might be useful and instructive? I reached out to about thirty people, and after a few weeks many of them reached back to me with their responses.

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Scholarship America’s programs have had a huge financial impact on the lives of students across the country, but as I’ve learned, it’s about more than just dollars and cents. It’s also about giving students confidence, inspiration, and some supportive words to carry with them: “I believe in you.”

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Scholarship America’s programs have had a huge financial impact on the lives of students across the country, but as I’ve learned, it’s about more than just dollars and cents. It’s also about giving students confidence, inspiration, and some supportive words to carry with them: “I believe in you.” That’s what a scholarship really says.

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The more fake and commercialized the world gets, the more people respond to things that have a real core of truth. I believe that every human being is hardwired to recognize that. Whatever you choose to do with your life—whether it’s running a company or cooking dinner—stand for something you know is true. If there’s a recipe for success, it’s staying real and true.

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Here is my favorite biblical direction: Be not afraid. It’s truly the secret of life. Fear is what stunts our growth, narrows our ambitions, kills our dreams. – Anna Quindlen

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Reverend Beckwith gave me the task of envisioning the bone healing faster than was humanly possible. Of playing over and over in my mind the doctor saying to me, “It’s a miracle!” And so I did. Every day I participated in the healing of that bone. I felt those negative thoughts coming through and told them to shove it! I kept my eye focused on the task at hand. I did not have the luxury of negative thought; of listening to the lies we so often tell ourselves; of being talked out of success by my fears. And within two weeks a doctor did say to me, “Wow, I have never seen a bone heal this quickly.” – Christina Applegate

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I used to love Michael Jordan’s “Failure” commercial for Nike. You might recall it: I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot … and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

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The latest piece of advice that I’m living by is this: When making a very important business decision, I ask myself, “Would you still do it if you’d never see a dime from it?” I know that may sound crazy—who in the business world doesn’t base part of their decisions on the prospective riches that some action might bring in the future (preferably the near future)? But I find that if the answer to the Question is yes, you will be following the path of your most authentic self. It’s one of the easiest ways to figure out if that small voice in your head persuading you is your true instinct or that “other thing,” which doesn’t necessarily have the best motives. – Alicia Keys

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You can’t figure out what you want to do from the sidelines. You need to jump into the pond and splash around to see what the water feels like. You might like that pond or it might lead to another pond, but you need to figure it out in the pond. – Ina Gartner

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Learn to trust the feeling of “not knowing.” For most of us, most of the time, that is the truth. – Hugh Jackman

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The English poet William Blake once observed, “He who would do good to another man must do it in Minute Particulars.” Minute particulars. Not grand gestures but everyday acts of kindness. They accumulate, and together provide the threads that make up our moral fiber.

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Marx was smart about a lot of things, but not about the end justifying the means. Actually, the means dictate the ends. We won’t have laughter and kindness and poetry and pleasure at the end of any revolution unless we have laughter and kindness and poetry and pleasure along the way. – Gloria Steinem

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Take at least twenty minutes every day to be still and quiet. Time to sit in complete silence. Think. Reflect. Dissect your thoughts and feelings. Relive any mistakes from the day before. Decide how to be smarter and tougher, how to be more committed and considerate of others and more sensitive and aware of your surroundings. Choose something you learned that will make you a better person. – Beyonce

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We doctors are taught early in our training that if we really listen to our patients, deep insights will shine through for us. – Dr. Oz

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Skepticism is about asking questions, being dubious, being wary, not being gullible but always being open to being convinced of a new fact or angle. Cynicism is about already having the answers—or thinking you do—answers about a person or an event. The skeptic says, “I don’t think that’s true; I’m going to check it out.” The cynic says, “I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be. I’m going to slam him.” – Thomas Friedman

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In life, you will inevitably encounter criticism. Never, ever read your own reviews. Good ones or bad ones. It is not a critic’s job to tell you how to feel about your own work. That is your responsibility alone. Never allow anyone to tell you how to feel about your work. Or limit your view of yourself or of who you are. The most interesting artists are those who aren’t too afraid to fail. As the late great Jack Lemmon once said, “Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.” You will never achieve a deeper understanding of your work, or learn the tough lessons, if you are liked or comfortable all of the time. – Laura Linney

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The book is titled Letters to a Young Poet, and was written by Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke wrote a series of letters to an aspiring young poet advising him on art and life.

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Sadness has been misunderstood. Sadness is the soul recognizing change. – M Night Shyamalan

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He said, “You see, the city is fundamentally a practical, utilitarian invention—and it always was. And then suddenly you see this steel poetry sticking there and it’s a shock. It puts everything to shame and makes you wonder what else we could have done that was so marvelous and so unpresumptuous. It carries its weights, it does what it’s supposed to do and yet … I mean they could have built another Manhattan Bridge and [Roebling] didn’t. He really aspired to do something gorgeous. So it makes you feel that maybe you, too, could add something that would last and be beautiful.” Quote by Arthur Miller

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“I can see why you’re tempted,” he said, “and this job will certainly make you more interesting to others. But that’s the wrong reason to accept a position. Instead, you should focus on being interested rather than interesting. Now, tell me how this job will truly give you a chance to serve others rather than a chance to serve your own career.” John Gardner to Jacqueline Novogratz

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No matter how good government policies are or how much economic growth we enjoy, there is always going to be a gap between what the private sector can produce and what the government can provide. In that space, citizens have to take action to bridge the broken places in our society and around the world. – Bill Clinton

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André would have none of it. He just stopped and said, “You know, Marissa, you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to make the right choice. You’re approaching this as if there’s one right answer. And I have to be honest, that’s just not what I’m seeing here.” He gestured toward the matrices and charts strewn across the floor. “I think you have a bunch of good options, and then there’s the one that you’ll pick and make great.” Via Marissa Mayer

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Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids. Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference. Yes lets you stand out in a crowd, be the optimist, see the glass full, be the one everyone comes to. Yes is what keeps us all young. – Eric Schmidt

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Instead of trying to get back at someone because she has hurt you, think of one nice thing about that person and put that out into the universe instead. If you don’t let it go, that person’s negativity will stay inside you, and that’s exactly where you don’t want that energy to be. So the next time you’re hurt by someone, wish that person well in your heart and tell your brain to move on and think about something else that really matters. You will be amazed at how it releases your negative energy. People can’t control you if you won’t let them. – Wendy Walker

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Instead of internalizing the negative emotions of these people, forgive them for being unhappy souls. That goes for a friend, a co-worker, a lover, or even the guy who stole the parking space you were waiting so patiently for. Any frustration you can guard your body from, do it. Forgive, let go, breathe, and respond to these negative energies with love. You will be amazed at how much lighter, happier, and healthier you feel. – Wendy Walker

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