Sometimes I think all the good advice about living — and living in the last third of life — has been around for most of recorded history. The Stoics dispensed it in ancient Greece and we’re still quoting them. The Bible and Quran are loaded with advice. Advertising is thick with it (“Just Do It”) because copywriters are well-paid poets. In the gargantuan rinse-repeat machine that is the internet, any advice you want is being repackaged and restated by several million bloggers, including me.
That’s okay. We need reminders. They are reassuring.
The trick, for anyone rinsing and repeating, is to repackage memorably, to create new touchstones from well-worn material, to curate by pointing to what might be helpful and say, in effect, “This touches me. It might also be good for you. Here’s my spin.”
(Something I do with purpose is pick my curators. I recommend it. Find the people you trust to provide a reliably enriching selection of opinion and advice. They are, in effect, our agents. They do much of the upfront work. They pull the gems from the mine. If there’s a “job” I want in retirement, that’s it. Winnower of Wisdom. Gem Miner.)
For me, the internet galaxy of self-help is not a swamp of repetition but a river of unimaginable richness. When I was a youth, inspiration appeared irregularly. We had to look for it in books on shelves (and record albums). Now it flows all around us. To be uplifted, you only have to ask. The flow comes to you.
The graphic above came to me this morning. Known as the Holstee Manifesto, I’d seen it before several times over the past decade. Three young men started a t-shirt company in 2009. They created this love letter two years later. It went hugely viral and is today, as a letterpress poster, their best-selling product. Holstee is like an advice company that also sells apparel.
The Holstee Manifesto is glowingly good advice for anyone at any stage of life who has an urge to create and connect. (Beware: scoffers may choke.) It urges us to seize the reins, take some chances, and don’t delay. That makes it particularly good advice for my stage of life. And yours.
Here’s a 2011 Washington Post article — “How the Holstee Manifesto became the new ‘Just Do It’” — on the origin and subsequent virality of the manifesto. And here’s the poster, if you like it well enough to hang it.
Postscript: I can’t shake the vision of a retired guy I know in his early seventies who once angrily referred to a list of self-help tips that I thought were useful as “specious claptrap,” or something equally contemptuous. I’m seeing him now in my mind’s eye looking at the Holstee Manifesto and wanting to tear it apart with his teeth. To resist that vision, I only have to think of my father. An adept cynic for most of his adult life, he adopted a corny slogan in the last 15 years or so that gave him comfort: “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” It was his talisman. Those words don’t do it for me, but they did for him. If the Holstee Manifesto rings true for you but seems a little too nicey-nice, hide it like you would a box of chocolates.
One more thought on this. How fine is the line between corn and poetry? Poets would shudder at that question. It could be like asking the difference between a food label and Dostoyevsky. Then I saw this snippet of poetic life advice by American poet Mary Oliver who died on January 17 after a lifetime of inspiring the world. “Joy is not made to be a crumb.” It made me think of my grandchildren. And walking in the woods. And time. I think of time a lot.
Not quite done. As I was assembling this post, a reader sent me a Mary Oliver poem. She said the poem is all over social media because of Oliver’s death, but that it seems to get at what she feels I’m trying to say about this stage of our lives. She’s right. And despite exposure, the power of this poem is undiluted, which is, I think, what I’m trying to say about the Holstee Manifesto. Mary’s poem is an even better manifesto.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Great question. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?