Prompted

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

My adviser was a senior member of the history department in 1964 when I had my first advising meeting with him. We chatted a bit about course selection and then he asked, “What do you intend to do with a history major? Become an airline stewardess?”

Even now, after 50 years, I remember being very surprised. And I did not go to work for an airline after graduation.

“Don’t apply to Grinnell. You’ll never get in.” From my high school guidance counselor.

“Just put your dreams on the back burner and strive to make HIM (ex-husband) happy.” Said by a marriage counselor.

"Do what you love, not what makes you money.” Although true in the long run, it’s often very hard to do what you love without making money first. Also, lack of money can inhibit other non-career goals, like having kids. If you try to pursue what you love right off the bat, there’s a good chance that in order to survive you end up doing something you hate AND being poor."

I was a “secretaries’ assistant” back before secretaries were administrative professionals in Steiner, and Helyn Wohlwend was my boss, before she was a Writing Lab instructor. One day she asked me to call in an order of supplies or something, and I had never done that before and wasn’t sure how to go about it. Helyn told me, “Sara, everybody is faking it. No one knows exactly what they are doing. No one got a manual that you didn’t.” That has always stuck with me. Everyone is just making life up as they go along. It makes me feel better when I get overwhelmed and think I should have all the answers.

My grandfather when I was 5: “You won’t like everyone, and everyone won’t like you. And that’s OK.” 

“Not all of the advice you’ll receive should be listened to.”

 

I was moaning about studying for my Russian final and my high school principal, Dr. Bill Youngblood, a wise and good man, told me simply, “Hate it later.” 

It was crystallizing, and since then I’ve gone back to those three words more times than I can count. Someday I’m going to needlepoint them onto a pillow.

[My] first boss post-Grinnell said she only brings to work what she can put in a box and carry out on her last day. She meant never get too comfortable where you work because you never know what may happen with you or the position.

In his youth my grandfather was a boxer. He taught me how to follow through on a punch by advising “always aim for the back of the skull.” It’s served me well and I think it could be a good metaphor for going all in. 

He also taught me to know my limits, though, through his example of declining an offer to box a kangaroo. He said the guy who did was never quite right afterward. The ’40s were a different time, indeed.