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5 Pieces of Advice that Changed My Life

1.  You work on you.

When I married my husband, I was certain he was the most wonderful man in the world and I was also certain I could make him even better. I was sure, with my gentle prodding (a.k.a. self-righteous nagging) I could transform him into a non-smoking, cupboard-door-closing, napkin-on-his-lap kind of guy. And then, of course, my new husband kept right on buying packs of Camel Lights, leaving doors wide open, and making pizza sauce finger smears on the napkin next to his plate.

Then the part of me that thrives on control kind of flipped out. I yelled. I got mean. I cried. I lamented. I called my mother.

She said,

“Stop trying to change him, change you.”

Her insight helped me let go of trying to change someone else (impossible) and redirect my energy on the possible (self-control and self-improvement). She reminded me of all the ways I could be better. And finished with,

“Let God work on Mickey.”

It was a humbling change of focus – the kind of change of perspective that can save a marriage.

2.  Fill in the boxes.

The night I met Mickey, we were introduced because he was finishing medical school and I was trying to get in. He wasted very little time in pointing out that I was a pretty pathetic applicant.

Research experience? None.

Volunteer experience? None.

Hospital experience? None.

Major? English.

Pre-med courses completed? Most, but not all.

I had wanted to be a doctor for as long as I could remember, but on paper, I was just another floundering 22-year-old college grad who didn’t know what to do with her life.

Mickey explained the med school admissions process with check boxes. He said,

“It doesn’t matter how deserving you are, if you’ve got empty boxes. There are thousands of applications with all the boxes filled – so fill the boxes.”

He made it seem so simple. Any check-mark was better than none. I didn’t need to discover the pathophysiology of autism, I just needed a check mark.

So I got a little research experience. I volunteered at my tiny home-town hospital and I took more classes. On paper I started to look like someone who knew what she wanted. And then, God sprinkled some magic fairy dust on my application (that’s a story for another time) and I got in.

Mickey made something formidable seem as simple as check marks. This website is me filling in the boxes to get a novel published.

Want something that seems big and daunting? Fill in the boxes.

3.  If you want people to like you, like them.

As a resident, there was a particular instructor who was almost malicious in her enjoyment of my misery. While crying on the phone to my mother, I asked,

“Why doesn’t she like me?”

My mom asked,

“Do you like her?”

That was not a hard question.

I have hated less than a handful of people in my life and she was one of them.

Do you know how hard it is to like someone that doesn’t like you?

It’s also really hard to hate someone that adores you.

If someone doesn’t like you, think really hard if you’ve given him/her a reason to think the feeling is mutual.

If you look for reasons to like people, you will find them. And the more people you like, the more people you will find that like you.

4.  Rejoice in your sufferings.

Over twenty years ago, I heard a sermon on Romans 5:3-5:

“…But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

The speaker told a story about reading these verses and then accidentally backing his car through his garage door.

His initial reaction was what anyone’s would be (maybe without the expletives), but he thought about these verses and then raised his hands and said out loud,

“Whoo hoo!”

When I have 3 body fluid kinds of days (pee, poop, and vomit), I remember this and say,

“Whoo hoo!”

The next time bad stuff happens (a flat tire, a broken toilet, cancelled plans), put your arms up and say,

“Whoo hoo!”

The absurdity of it will make you smile and that alone will lift your spirits. It’s the glint of humor in misery. It’s a day changer.

5.  Do the hard things you won’t regret.

The wife of one of Mickey’s closest friends once said to me,

“You’ll never regret going for a run, going to church, or sleeping with your husband.”

I would add writing thank you notes and reading to your children to that list.

I don’t know why it can be so hard to do things that can be so rewarding and so easy to watch TV (which offers no sense of personal accomplishment whatsoever). When I’m mired in torpor, my inner motivational speaker says,

“Do it! This is one of those things you’ll never regret.”

If I follow through, I always say,

“I’m so glad I did that!”

Following this advice is about more than just living without regret, it’s about creating more opportunities for gladness and satisfaction and gratitude. 

When I look back on all of these pieces of advice together, they have been more than day changers, they have been life changers.

What advice has changed your life?


(P.S. – Mickey quit smoking all on his own after about six years of marriage. (Thank you, God!) He reads everything before I publish it and was totally okay with me outing him as a napkin-on-the-table guy; he’s awesome like that.)



  1. roxan roxan

    Dog cartoon is too funny! You are very good at writing humor–that is difficult and humor sells. Editors are ALWAYS on the look-out for it. Start making a name by sending humor shorts, side-bars and columns to decent magazines that run humor. NYT, WaPO, etc. love a good Op-Ed, and they pay. Getting paid is important for a writer in order to be considered professional. Then, sell a few articles. You will now have a resume. Learn how to write a good query letter.

    That’s how I got started with selling writing. It’s another form of checking the boxes. Good luck. Roxan

  2. The advice around checking boxes is nearly identical to the advice I got – an arts student with a wacky CV trying to get into medical school – after two rejections. Before my third kick at the can, my good friend, herself a third year student at the University of Toronto, told me that I didn’t have enough skin in the game and that I had to know better why I wanted to be a doctor. So I left a career in development in Afghanistan and moved to Ottawa to take organic chemistry and physiology with a bunch of 17 year olds. The application I submitted before leaving Afghanistan scored me an interview and then an acceptance. They didn’t even know about my A in Orgo. “Check the boxes” is the best advice ever.

  3. Wonderful advice- and well written too. 🙂

  4. Laugh out loud, yet serious article! How do you do it? With regard to trying to change your husband, “I yelled, I got mean…..I called my mother.” So perfect, and such wise advise.
    This is something so incredibly easy to read, so much common sense, yet, as for me, I need a little kick to keep moving forward. Thank you for this. “Do the hard things you won’t regret” speaks to me perfectly. I plan on reading this each morning til I can power myself forward instead of spinning my wheels. Thank you!!!

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