There's an episode of 30 Rock where aging new father Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), fearing he will be "senile or dead for the better part of [his] child's life," decides to record a video for his unborn child. "I must find a way to speak to — and guide — my son, even from the grave," he declares. He then goes through the process of recording his thoughts, ending the tape with these words: "In the unlikely event that you find something that is not covered here, find a woman named Liz Lemon, get her advice, and then do the opposite."
It's funny. But it's also sweet and sad and serious. And since seeing this episode, I've quietly been accumulating advice for my own sons. I've long hesitated to put it down in writing, since doing so would be a tacit admission of my own mortality. But there is no escaping our finitude.
So for my two sons — and maybe for your own sons and daughter, too — here is some life advice.
- Get plenty of sleep. Some people think it's a waste of time. I'd like to think of it more as a "competitive advantage."
- Wear moisturizer and sunscreen. You get only one set of skin.
- Stretch. Stay flexible. Walk a lot. When you get old and stiff, you'll be glad you did.
- Two words: Low carbs.
- Keep expenses low. It will maximize your freedom, especially when you're young. Opportunities sometimes arise out of nowhere, but you can't follow your dreams to New York or Paris or Hollywood if you have a huge mortgage and credit card debt.
- Be a little underpaid. People who are overpaid are resented and often fired. When budgets need to be cut, it's easier to lop off one huge salary than two or three little ones. And it doesn't mean you have to be a pauper; some millionaires are underpaid.
- To paraphrase Mike Myers, don't worry about being "discovered"; worry about discovering what you want to do.
- Don't worry too much about being cool. There is often an inverse relationship between being a cool teen and a successful adult. Weird kids make cool adults, and cool kids sometimes make bad adults.
- Think ahead. It is incredibly important that your big decisions today are geared toward the next 80 years of your life, and not just the next two or three.
- Never quit learning. There will always be so much you don't know.
- The best way to be attractive to someone is to work on yourself. People like confidence, passion, and competence. Focus on being a really interesting and successful person, and you will automatically become more appealing to others, too.
- Take your choice of a spouse seriously. It's the most important decision of your life. Most people wouldn't go into business with someone unless he or she were fully vetted and trusted, yet they would marry someone they met a few weeks ago at a bar. This is insane. Marriage should be a loving, lifelong partnership. Choose carefully.
- Believe you have a purpose in life, and work to discover it. This one thing is the cure for almost every problem. To quote the Bible: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
- Love people. Don't fake it. You should really love people. If you do, you'll never objectify or mistreat them.
- Be gracious. Be nice. I live by something I call the "Patrick Swayze Rule." It's based on his so-bad-it's-good movie Road House. In the 1989 film, Swayze attempts to clean up a seedy bar. In a speech to the bar's bouncers, he offers this advice: "Be nice. If somebody gets in your face... I want you to be nice... I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice."
- Go to bed early. Almost nothing good happens after 10 p.m. Seriously, a lot of problems can be avoided by not putting yourself in a position to be around those problems.
- Develop habits. Eventually, you are what you do every day.
- Be a regular. Pick a really good restaurant and go there often. It pays to be part of a community.
- Tip well.
- If you start reading a book and it doesn't hook you, don't feel compelled to power through. People waste a lot of time feeling obligated to finish what they started.
- Don't hire anyone who comes to you. If a lawyer calls you, don't hire her. If a plumber knocks on your door and is advertising a special offer, don't hire him. If you're a political candidate, don't hire the consultant who contacts you and tells you how great you are. Instead, you seek out the best people.
- Sometimes your parents are wrong. So take this list with a grain of salt.
(Note: This list is not meant to be exhaustive. If you want more, I offered a whole bunch of life advice in my 2013 "commencement address" to new graduates.)