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Pieces of advice

by Eric Ginsburg

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Life is about connections

The most important piece of advice I’ve heard came from an art teacher at my high school a year before I graduated from Guilford College. He argued that the meaning of life is connection, and regardless of whether or not it’s true I’ve always remembered it. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

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Wear sunscreen

It may have been popularized by Vitamin C’s song “Graduation,” but I was being told to wear sunscreen before it was cool. My mom was crazy about sunscreen. Right before I went to overnight camp for the first time, she started crying because she didn’t think I could take good enough care of myself to remember sunscreen. It was annoying then, but I burn easily and still need to be reminded.

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Know your rights

This can’t be overstated. Knowing your rights doesn’t mean they will always be honored, but it certainly helps. I’ve driven some police officers crazy asking for their name and badge number or if I’m being detained and if I’m free to go, but it’s worth it. Greensboro residents would benefit from know-your-rights legal training like I’ve seen elsewhere.

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Don’t drive angry

Don’t drink and drive is a no brainer. but right before he died my grandfather advised me not to drive when I was angry. I was approaching driving age at the time and was filled with teenage angst. I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to speed if I’m DWA, so I try to heed his suggestion.

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Understand your privilege

One of the most important things I was given in college was a better understanding of social systems. Most people benefit from some form of privilege, whether white, male, straight, able-bodied, wealth, fluent in English, Christian, etc. It is important to be aware of how it affects ourselves and others, and to see how we fit into larger systems. If we ignore it, there’s a lot less hope for creating the world we need.

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Love what you do

Steve Jobs spoke at Stanford College’s graduation and said that he knows it’s time to make a change in his life if he wakes up too many mornings in a row dreading what he has to do. That’s certainly easy for him to say, but it stuck with me nonetheless. Even if we can’t change all the negative things in our lives it seems like the best approach is to use what agency we have to struggle to make it better rather than accepting our conditions.

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Bee stings not atom bombs

One of my favorite high school teachers wrote this in my yearbook and I’ve spent years trying to figure out what it means. We’re still close and I mentioned it to him recently and he had completely forgotten it. I know it was referring to my student activism and not overdoing it, but maybe someone else can find something deeper in it. The other thing I take from it is the significance of small things adding up (like The Tipping Point).

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You only get out what you put in

My editor said this offhandedly at the beginning of my internship here, and it rings true for many things. Of course this doesn’t mean just because you try really hard that you’ll always succeed, but if I don’t exercise I definitely won’t lose weight, and I can only find things in my refrigerator that I put in there. This internship would be pretty terrible if I didn’t put any effort into it. So would most of my relationships with people.

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Do it or don’t do it

If I had a motto towards the end of college, this was it. As I would sit at my computer with all of the distractions of the internet and attempt to write papers, I often told myself, “Do it or don’t do it.” A variation on Nike’s catchphrase, the idea is simple. I either needed to buckle down and finish my work or go do something else. I still find myself offering it as advice to people who are waffling on decisions, in part because of my impatience and in part because I think it works.

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Don’t forget where you came from

If you’ve moved away from the place you grow up it is unlikely you will forget your childhood entirely, but this piece of advice sometimes reminds me to stop and remember it when I’m caught up in my life now. It also applies to knowing your family history and heritage when possible. My parents tried to teach me this early by taking us to Ellis Island and talking about family history, but I appreciate it more now.

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