Collages by Rachel Orr using iStock images. Collages are available for download here.
Let’s face it: Most advice sounds trite. Follow your dreams. Confront your fears. Listen to your heart. Or, as one poster that adorned my middle-school classroom, and likely a thousand others, read, You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. (Extremely corny, but not untrue.)
That’s the thing about advice — it’s often general, but when applied specifically, it fits the contours of our lives and offers a way forward. At the close of this staggeringly difficult year, we asked you to share the nuggets of wisdom that carried you through. Find 10 responses below.
On a personal note, in recent months I’ve found myself questioning how deep of a commitment I’m prepared to make to my own creative writing. The best advice I received was along the lines of, “I know you’re afraid, but at some point, you’ve just got to take a leap.” And just like that, I saw a path.
The words were wholly unoriginal, and yet exactly what I needed to hear.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“I heard this from a woman interviewed on NPR a while ago who works with prisoners. I think it means that, despite all evidence to the contrary, we must actively seek out reasons to hope. As a daily practice, whenever I catch myself becoming gloomy and despairing, I look for reasons to be hopeful. Things are always changing; when they are good, it always ends eventually. So, it stands to reason that when things are bad, that must change, too. I still believe, like Anne Frank, that most people are good. I believe in democracy. I believe in the resilience of the human spirit.”
— Carol Spizman, 55, Albuquerque
“This year was challenging for me because of social isolation and touch starvation. I was doing so much better than so many people, though, so I wouldn’t let myself be sad or scared because I didn’t feel I had a right. But it was still hard, still stressful, and while I’m grateful for all the good fortune I have (job, health insurance, a home, Internet), getting permission to mourn, feel lonely and freak out was really important.”
— Karina Montgomery, 50, San Diego
“It came from a man panhandling at an ultra-busy intersection. I typically hand panhandlers protein bars; I was out of them that day but had purchased a box of fruit-filled cookies, so I grabbed them swiftly from my back seat and handed him the entire box. His eyes lit up and he said, ‘This will make my kids’ day. It’s been a long time since they’ve had a treat. We all need a treat.’ Yes, yes we do! It is literally that simple.”
— Barbara Wagner, 57, Lexington, Ky.
“A friend gave me this quotation from Ann Patchett. This one helps me in so many ways, mostly just living in the moment. Especially during the isolation of the pandemic, I am always looking forward to eventually being in the presence of my friends. But the quote tells me that rather than focusing on the future, I should take a look at what is around me. I am able to connect with people through technology. In my art projects, I used to struggle so much for a particular outcome and was frustrated when it didn’t happen. This quote reminds me that I can stop, look at what I’ve done, see that I have made a happy mistake and move from there.”
— Bobbie Hayes, 73, Eureka, Calif.
“The advice sounds so simple, but I maintain it’s what’s helped me keep my sanity during all of this. Back in March when I was about to start working from home for an unknown amount of time, I asked my friend Laura, who’s worked from home for years, if she had any tips. She said to work from a dedicated space and not the couch, start your morning like you were in the office, have lunch midday, and to keep the TV off while working and listen to instrumental music instead. I didn’t want to become someone who answered work emails at all hours or kept working just because the laptop was in front of me. So I followed her advice, and when 6 p.m. rolls around, I log off for the evening. It’s the structure I need to feel in as much control as possible in an uncertain time.”
— Marybeth Ihle, 38, Forest Hills, N.Y.
“My husband always reminds me to release everything at midnight. When I practice that advice, I am able to deal with the challenges and find ways to enjoy my day. Another piece of advice that has truly helped me is one that I gave myself: Press pause. Each person can decide what things in their life they need to pause, but press pause — whether it’s for a few minutes, several days or even longer.”
— Claretta McDaniel, 64, Washington, D.C.
“I found an Instagram account that belongs to a psychologist named Dr. Becky, and her strategies and scripts changed my parenting relationship with my daughter. I could list so many of Dr. Becky’s nuggets of wisdom, but I think one of the best is her advice to put your hand over your heart and to reassure yourself that you’re doing a good job. That little acknowledgment gives me time to breathe and approach any parenting struggle with grace instead of guilt or shame.”
— Amy Nastase, 38, Oceanside, Calif.
“I received this advice from my daughter on a very blue day.”
— Patricia Rowan, 81, South Bend, Ind.
“Starting March 12, I was unable to keep up the stamina to do my best work. Then I received this advice from a mentor. I have discovered that the world could handle me not at my best. I don’t beat myself up so much anymore. I wish it had not taken a pandemic for me to learn this.”
— Renae Edge, 61, Bridgeport, Conn.
“This phrase has come up a lot for me this year, from my therapist and during a Zoom tarot card reading over the summer. It ultimately helped me quit smoking, form better habits and cope with solitude. When I wanted to have a cigarette, I found myself asking, ‘What if I did something else instead?’ Or when I found myself alone one weekend in my one-bedroom apartment, feeling sad, I asked myself, ‘What if I ate mac and cheese in the bath? I can do anything I want because I live alone!’ Replacing a negative thing with a positive has really helped reframe how I’m trying to live my life. I repeat this advice to myself multiple times per day.”
— Lily design editor Rachel Orr, 31, Washington, D.C.