What’s The Best Advice Your Elders Ever Gave You?

This snippet came in a newsletter from Harvey Mackay and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Pencils by Krisin Nador ~ via WANA Commons

Pencils by Krisin Nador ~ via WANA Commons

Make like a pencil  and get the lead out…

by Harvey Mackay   

A young boy asked his mother what he should do in order to be a success when he grew up. The mother thought for a moment, and then told her son to bring her a pencil. Puzzled, the boy found a pencil and gave it to her.

“If you want to do good,” she said, “you have to be just like this pencil.”

“What does that mean?” her son asked.

“First,” she said, “you’ll be able to do a lot of things, but not on your own. You have to allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.

“Second, you’ll have to go through a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil.

“Third, you’ll be able to correct any mistakes you might make.

“Fourth, no matter what you look like on the outside, the most important part will always be what’s inside.

“And fifth,” the mother finished, “you have to press hard in order to make a mark.”


OK, I don’t know about y’all, but that little story just blows me away! I should only dream of being such a wise mommy. I don’t even know which point makes me the happiest, they’re all so good.

As I read this, I could hear my mother in my head saying: “Always do your best. Your best will always be good enough for me.”

We’re having Thoughty Thursday a day late this week because I’m in San Francisco, working like a dog on a training project with a bunch o’ really nice lawyers. (I know, I know…don’t even say it.) I’m doing my very best to bring in some extra cash to spruce up the Hansen House a bit.

What’s the best advice you ever received from your parents, elders or “wise ones?” Throw it out there…it’s Friday, the perfect day for some extra wisdom! Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!


ATTENTION: If you’re a writer, particularly one going to a conference soon, I highly recommend this series on “fearless pitching” from Laura Drake. Three words: Awesome with glitter!

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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40 Responses to What’s The Best Advice Your Elders Ever Gave You?

  1. Some of the wisest words I’ve heard came from my Father-in-Law…he had brain cancer and for 7 years he suffered – having a lobotomy, having crisis point after crisis point and watching his family struggle to care for him. We tried to bring little things that would cheer him up. At one point, my husband gifted him with the little freaky clown action figure from the movie Spawn.

    Toward the end, when he was stuck in bed, his voice barely able to be heard, he stuck the head of the clown figure on his finger like a finger puppet, popped it up from beneath the sheet and said, “Hey. Remember the funny.”

    Some of the best advice I have ever heard. That, coupled with my Mom’s “This too, shall pass” have kept me sane.


  2. Laura Drake says:

    I can’t remember any specific phrase from my mom, but her whole life was an inspiration to me, and a lesson.

    When you think you can’t do/take any more, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
    It’s the only way to the other side.


  3. Wow! From my mom:

    1. the woman denied an opportunity to become a nurse because women of her upbringing were educated through high school, expected to marry, and birth babies (hopefully some boys who could help work the farm);
    2. the woman who, by the age of 23, delivered her fourth daughter when her others were 3, 2, and 1 (a fifth came along 4 years later):

    “I’ll know I’ve done my job as a mom if you girls learn to be independent, don’t let anything stand in the way of your dreams, and never have to depend on a man to make a living. Now, go clean your room.”

    From her mom (my Nana):

    A job worth doing is worth doing right. (I blame my over-active inner editor on Nana).

    Nothing nearly as profound as the story you shared, Jenny Jo.


    • K.B. Owen says:

      Gloria, your mom rocks!

      Except for the multiple babies (I’m an only child, and my mom was 22 when she had me), your mom and mine were a lot alike. My mom is smart as a whip, but hated being the square peg in the round hole of Catholic school education. She once wrote a funny, creative essay to fulfill a school assignment and got an “F” on it because the teacher refused to believe that she’d written it – she was convinced my mom had copied it from somewhere. My mom was also mercilessly bullied in school because of a chronic eczema condition. Not fun to go through one’s teen years being called “Scabby Aggie.”

      She left high school at 16 – never got a diploma – and wheedled her way into a lab tech job at the local hospital, and from there spent the rest of her working life in the medical field, eventually running the office of a busy pediatric allergy practice for the last 30 years before she retired. Early in her career, one doctor she worked for was so impressed with her that he urged her to go back to school, and to college, and then med school, and offered to pay for it all. He thought she’d make a terrific doctor. This was the early 60s, and she was still living at home. Her father refused to allow it. Too proud for “charity” and not enough faith in his daughter. Can you imagine?

      When I was growing up, my mother encouraged me to read, read, read. She said her goal for me was to get as much education as I could, be independent, and not depend on a man to make my way in the world. Her life was an example of the value of that advice.

      Great topic, Jenny, and thanks for sharing the pencil story with us!


      • Jenny Hansen says:

        OMG, how tragic to miss out on an education over her father’s pride! Your mom sounds AMAZING (although I expected nothing less after watching you these last few years). 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Gloria, my mom said something almost identical! “My goal in life is to teach you to live without me.” It really is a parent’s greatest gift.


  4. TWOFER!

    From my aunt (Dad’s sister), during last year’s hiatus in farm country, Pennsylvania — The Tap Root of My Wonky Tree:

    Remember where you came from, where you are now, and where you want to be.


  5. Sherry Isaac says:

    Love that pencil analogy, Jenny.

    All that comes to mind right now is my grandma always said, ‘There’s a lid for every pot.’

    I’m also thinking of a line from The Band Perry’s song, Done. ‘Momma always told me that I should play nice, but she didn’t know you when she gave me that advice.’

    Love that line!


  6. Jane Sadek says:

    I’m laughing, because our house was not quite as unconditional as yours. My Dad’s mantra was, “No matter what you do or how well you do it, you can always improve on it.” The other thing I heard a lot was. “THINK, that’s all I ever ask of you.” The admonition to THINK always came after an episode of exuberance turned over a display in a grocery store or broke a glass in the kitchen. When I got all dressed up and asked how I looked, Mom would say, “Beauty is only skin deep.” I’ve seen pictures from that era and I was no beauty, but couldn’t she have found some other way to shore me up against my insecurity.

    My parents are fine people who devoted their lives to raising me. I never lacked for anything, except a little unconditional love, perhaps. Kid’s need guidance, for sure, but they also need a place where they’re the bomb. Otherwise, they’re going to need a whole lot of expensive counseling. You should see the bills I racked up!


    • [NOTE TO JENNY: I so didn’t intend to jack your comments today, but…]

      I hear you, Jane. Ours was not a demonstrative family, either.

      To this day, I hear my mom’s response every time I’d goof and say “I didn’t think [insert unfortunate outcome] would happen.”

      Her response? “That’s your problem, you never think.”


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I can completely understand expensive counseling bills after responses like the ones you mention above. Parents do their best, but they can only pass on what they learn along the way.

      Incidentally, having seen you at last year’s DFW Conference, you’re a BABE!!!


      • Jane Sadek says:

        Thanks Jenny. I turned out alright, but I did go through some very awkward years. I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t so funny when I was twelve.

        When I was even younger and dared to misbehave, I was never spanked, but mother would say, “That’s it, I’m calling the New Girl. Yoohoo New Girl.” That was punishment enough. I would beg her not to call the New Girl. I would even run away and hide for a while, then come back and try to convince her I was the New Girl.

        One day a counselor asked, “What do you think will happen if you fail?”
        I laughed and said, “The New Girl will replace me,” and told them about Mom’s creative discipline. The counselor didn’t think it was funny, at all. He cried. Talk about embarrassing moments! Aren’t they supposed to be trained out of doing that sort of thing?


        • Jenny Hansen says:

          I’ve told therapists things in the past that I thought were no big deal and had them be horrified. It’s a little sobering how we think some things are “OK and normal” just because they were always that way in our lives.


  7. Jennifer says:

    I can’t think of anything in particular my mother *said* but her attitude towards us and our growing up has stayed with me many years, and is a common theme in my stories:
    You can do anything you set your mind to.


  8. LOVE the pencil analogy!! I’ve got to share that one with my kids. The one piece of advice that always comes to mind is a simple one, yet one that has helped me tremendously through my struggles. “One Day At A Time”. I used to hate it when my mom said it. Then, I finally got it. When feeling overwhelmed by life or having a bad case of the “what-ifs”, repeating this sentence out loud – would make everything manageable. Let’s get through today because we can’t control tomorrow and anything could change. Instead of looking at the big bad picture. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I know…I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to understand this analogy. 🙂

      And deciding to focus on today is such a very valuable lesson. Your mama was wise!


  9. auntiem says:

    My mothers best advice when there was something wrong. “have you done everything you could to fix or change the situation?” if the answer is yes then there is nothing more you can do…My fathers “Do not co-sign for anything unless you fully intend to pay for it”


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I am laughing so hard at your dad’s bit of advice. It sounds like your parents each came at things with a practical, calm and wise perspective. Those are wonderful.

      p.s. Y’all are giving me the funnest Friday with all these stellar bits of wisdom!!


  10. Cory Imhof says:

    My boss recently told me that in practice it is important to follow a few simple rules.
    1. Take no credit and take no blame. The body is the one doing the healing not the doctor. And we are all responsible for our own health. If a problem has been there for months or treats it is not my fault if it doesn’t go away instantly.
    2. Be gentle as often as possible
    3. Give, give and give some more. The blessings will be returned to you 4 fold.
    4. Help keep people inspired toward health and vitality, set a good example.


  11. tomwisk says:

    Best advice: Go to the bathroom before you go out anywhere, it eliminates the chance of “mistakes:’ The other was: Write what you’re hearing the storytreller voice in your head is telling you. It’s usually closest to what real people sound like. And your brain knows where the story is going, it sometimes takes its time telling you.


  12. I don’t actually remember getting any great advice when I was a kid….except this from my mom. “When you get married, find a filthy rich, really old guy…with one foot on a banana peel and the other in a grave.” Sometimes I think I should have listened to that advice. 😉

    Hey, Jenny? What do you call a bus full of attorneys going over a cliff with two empty seats? A good start. (I’m sorry…just just could NOT resist) 😀


  13. Jenny, I am SO far behind on my blog reading but your posts with Laura’s pitching advice are timely since that’s what I will be doing next week at RWA. Thanks! Are you able to go home on weekends or are you in SF for the entire five weeks?
    What do you call an honest lawyer? An oxymoron!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL…I knew we couldn’t get through this whole post without some lawyer jokes. 🙂

      I’m going home on the weekends, which is a huge relief to me!


  14. filbio says:

    When I started bartending back in my 20’s I had a few that told me to never discuss politics or religion in a bar. Boy, where they right! Saw so many fights start over those discussions.

    The other? My uncle told me to “never take a crap in your own backyard” . Little did I know what he meant until I saw co-workers lives get messed up for fooling around with each other on the job!


  15. That is an amazing story. It uses the kiss method. And most of the time, that’s the best way to attack things. And it just makes sense! Being a mother isn’t an easy job. I shared something on FB a couple of days ago. Wow, it left me speechless. It was about why mother’s cry. It was spot on. Hope you’re having a fantastic time in S.F. Jenny! Call me when you get back and we’ll make plans. 🙂


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