Tips for the Long Journey

Here is some general advice to help smooth the bumpy road of your life.

As months go, June carries more than its share of tradition. The start of summer, weddings and graduation (with the exception of a few places like Tucson) are all associated with June. The month is heavy with the promise of beginnings.

With a large measure of faith and no shortage of foolhardiness, graduates and newlyweds are bravely leaping into futures impossible to predict and subject to almost infinite surprises. A little help is called for. Consequently, this column is dedicated to providing practical advice for those of you on the cusp of, gasp, getting older.

In no particular order, what follows is a random collection of things learned over several decades that are better learned sooner rather than later. So pay attention: This column may save you years of getting it wrong.

SILENCE WILL ALWAYS SERVE you well. Learn early to shut up and do it often.

Speak up in the face of injustice, racism and political pettifoggery.

Learn to cook from scratch.

Make a budget and stick to it.

Dance as often as possible.

If you've got a dream, follow it. If you don't have one, ask yourself why not, then get one. (It's probably lurking in there somewhere, but no one encouraged you to find it.)

Eat organic food. It's good for you, helps small farmers stay in business and respects Earth.

Floss daily.

Find reasons to laugh, no matter how awful the situation. Laughter helps you keep things in perspective and prevents you from taking yourself too seriously.

Learn to differentiate between want and need. What you need, you'll discover, bears no resemblance to what you want.

Always remember less is more. Less "stuff" means more time free of stuff-related chores.

Nourish your spiritual side. If you scoff at the idea, just sit quietly for a few minutes, breathe deeply and try to let go of any thoughts. See how you feel.

Keep in mind that "new" is often a clever way for advertisers to separate you from your money, and new is not synonymous with better. (Remember the difference between want and need when you're tempted to buy something on the flimsy basis of "new" and "cool.")

Slow down.

Don't expect life in any way to resemble Hollywood movies.

From the bleakest circumstances draw positive lessons. Adversity can cultivate strength, patience, resilience and courage. Avoid the "Woe is me; why am I a victim?" syndrome.

Laugh in the face of fear. Fear is a great immobilizer; far better to proceed with caution than let fear determine your fate.

Blissful moments are to be treasured, but don't expect them 24/7. If all of your actions are informed by care and mindfulness, you'll discover pleasure in the most mundane tasks.

Relationships require effort, compromise and honesty. Learn to distinguish between those times when you can't yield without giving up that part of you that defines who you are. and the much more common occasions when you are hanging on to your position for a lesser reason. Being "right" is far less important than being happy.

Don't take things personally. Insults, slights and thoughtless words tell you something about the person leveling them; the way you react tells you something about yourself.

Grow something. Even if it's a potted plant in your living room, caring for something green is good for the spirit.

Don't have kids unless you are prepared to have your life change forever. If you do have them, remember raising children is the single most important thing you will ever do in your life--so do it well, damn it. Doing it well involves a huge commitment in time, a staggering amount of patience, consistence, unconditional love and the ability to set limits without resorting to arbitrary authoritarianism. NEVER ridicule a child. And, of course, give hugs, many hugs.

You'll be spending a large part of your life at work, so do everything you can to find a job you enjoy. (I know, in this economy, simply finding a job is just short of a miracle, but if your situation isn't what you'd like it to be, do what it takes to make it as good as possible. Attitude does go a long way.)

Stay out of the sun. If you must spend time in the sun--a given in Tucson unless you work nights and never venture out before sunset--wear sunblock. Your skin will thank you for it as you age. (And you will age, dear one.)

Avoid the words, "I've never done that and I never will." This doesn't apply to self-destructive acts but does apply to things that move you out of your comfort zone. Explore places you've never been, eat exotic foods, talk with people you disagree with, read books on new topics. You get the idea.

Sing in the shower.

Support the arts. Make art; it's fun, fanciful and freeing (especially if you don't care about the results).

Eschew gossip.

Be more concerned with who you are and what you do than what you wear. Always being "stylish" reflects an inability to develop your own style free of fashion's dictates. Avoid this self-inflicted form of expensive slavishness.

Whatever life brings you, don't worry. Worry never rids tomorrow of its problems; it only saps energy from today.