Mar 18, 2024

Here’s Some Good Advice: Get Some Good Advice

Why “Be yourself” might not be a solid idea

By Ed Goldman

Most of us are familiar with the adage that it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. It’s been attributed to everyone from Confucius to Eleanor Roosevelt. What I think is most likely is that it came from a candlemaker’s sales rep. 

Sourcing concerns aside—I mean, this is an adage, not salmon—I thought about the wisdom of the saying recently when the circuit board for my heat pump went all kamikaze on me.

Edgy Cartoon

Herb your enthusiasm

A technician came out and shut down the entire system lest my condo become a pyre (a serious violation of my community’s CC&Rs). With the temperature both outdoors and indoors beginning a gradual plummet, I toughed it out as long as I could until I remembered a lesson I’d learned during one of my two summer stints as a moving man’s “helper”—i.e., the young kid who does all the same lifting, carrying and loading of furniture and appliances but never gets to drive the truck. 

It was an unusual July day for Southern California, with an early-morning low of 45 degrees. I was working in the truck yard of Bekins Moving & Storage in Long Beach with a much older guy who never became a driver or even a “helper” and whom everyone called Shorty for obvious reasons: He was about 5’1″ and didn’t seem to mind his nickname. He also didn’t mind being the lowest paid worker at the place, a “yard assistant” who was simply an alfresco janitor, washing off the trucks before they went out in the morning then tidying up the yard or something the rest of the morning. It looked a lot like “busy work,” as though someone had taken a liking to him and hired him as sort of a mascot.

Shorty saw I was slightly shivering since I was dressed in only a T-shirt under my lightweight Bekins coveralls. “You know, there’s something I always do when I get cold,” he told me as he raced around doing whatever it was he did. I guess I expected that remark to be followed by either folk wisdom or a profane suggestion about how to keep warm—it was that kind of work culture—but I bit anyway. 

“And what’s that?” I asked.

“Put on more clothes,” he replied. “Works every time.”

So that’s what I did then and, again, the other morning when my place was heat-free, a little more than 55 years after Shorty suggested it. With me, some advice takes time to sink in. Maybe I’ll decide on my college major soon.

The best advice we receive is often as simple and that astute as “Put on more clothes” during the sometimes-circuitous journey of our lives. (Why “circuitous?” you ask. Because many of us start and end up in diapers, making no damn sense at either point.)

“Never give up” and “Always try to do your best” are two of my faves. The first is how my Dad taught me to ride a bicycle (though he said, “Keep pedaling!”) and I ended applying that to almost everything in my life. The only downside of this guidance is that there are times when it’s better, for not only you but those around you, to actually give up. I’m not thinking about something as horrible as a fatal illness; no, I’m focused on someone believing he’s still going to be asked to play first base for the New York Yankees even though he’s 73, arthritic, a lousy baseball player and, spoiler alert, me.

The other, “Always do your best,” is one I internalized a long time ago when I found myself “churning out” advertising copy for a client. The fact that it came easily was at first what made the task appealing. Then one day, for whatever reason, I decided that whenever I could, I wouldn’t say something was just “good enough” and let it leave my desk. It would apply to memos, texts, magazine articles, even short messages to friends. Oh, I still made (and make) typos in my texts but it’s not from a lack of trying my best. It’s from having occasionally spastic thumbs, sometimes not being able to find my glasses and usually being too cold and not putting on more clothes.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).