Readers Share the Best Advice They Ever Got—and These Wise Words Are Gold

Readers share the life-changing lessons they were taught by others

Has someone ever taught you an unforgettable life lesson? What about sharing life-changing quotes or giving you advice that you’ve followed ever since? Readers wrote in with the best advice they’ve ever received and how it has shaped their lives. For more advice, check out these inspirational quotes or learn the secrets to how to be happier.

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Clear a path to the door

My grandmother told me to “clear a path to the door every night before bed.” It makes for a smooth escape if there’s ever a fire in the night. But “clearing a path to the door” came, in time, to mean so much more. I learned I’ll be much happier tomorrow if I tidy all the clutter tonight. And it’s a good habit when getting involved with new people or activities. Trying mountain climbing or whitewater rafting becomes possible when I know I have a safe exit plan if it becomes too risky. That “clear path” is always a wise plan. —Glynda Hamilton, Vancouver, WA

Bring the ball

My family moved to a small Virginia football town when I was in fourth grade. I loved football, but I had three strikes against me. I was the “new kid,” from “up north” and—gasp—“a girl.” When I came home from school dejected that nobody would let me play, my mother said, “If you want to play football, you bring the ball.” By next season, if you wanted me on your team, you had to take my little brothers too. I never forgot the lesson. I’ve been “bringing the ball” ever since. —Jacqueline Travers, Woodbine, MD

Know when to go

I was on a four-day float trip down the Colorado River with a large, fun group. At the end, when I said I didn’t want to get off the river, another woman said to me, “It’s always best to leave while you’re still having fun.” It changed my outlook that day, and I’ve applied it to many other circumstances since. —Maren Hirschi, Cedar City, UT

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Silence your inner critic

While learning to paint landscapes with my boyfriend, I complained that I couldn’t turn off the critic in my head. He told me, “When that happens to me, I say ‘Be quiet, I’m painting here. I’ll talk to you later.’ ” It worked for me that day, and later in graduate school while I was writing papers. His advice made me a more confident person. —Kate Johnson, Conway, SC

Curb your appetite

“Don’t have a champagne appetite on a beer pocketbook.” That was my dad’s mantra. He had been well-to-do early in life but hadn’t changed his spending when he wasn’t any longer. Fortunately, I have a beer appetite. —Mike Fleischmann, Fort Collins, CO

Don’t impress, express

My choir was stressed before a big competition. Right before our turn to sing, our choir director said, “We are not here to impress; we are here to express.” It made all the difference. —Shawn Mecham, Sandy, UT

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Create a home you love

“Fill your home with things you love, not things you think other people will love.” That was something my mom always said. My home is full of flowers, rabbits, birds, nature, lovely fabrics and elegant glassware. Others tell me it’s beautiful, comfortable and welcoming. But everything in it brings me joy, and that’s what matters. —Becca Brasfield, Burns, TN

Give a gift to a giver

A co-worker gave me a Christmas gift, and I felt bad because I hadn’t gotten one for her. She said, “Every time you receive a gift, you allow someone to be a giver.” She made me feel so good, and I never forgot that. —Cathy Beck, Mesa, AZ

Let it be the squirrel

I was 16 with a new driver’s license. I asked my dad if I could take the car for the afternoon. As he handed me the keys, he said, “Angela, if it’s you or the squirrel, let it be the squirrel.” I realized my dad knew how softhearted I was. I thought I’d hidden it well. —Angela Conti, Turners Falls, MA

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See the work

My mom was a woman of few words, but one phrase of hers that stuck was “see the work,” which meant see what needs to be done without being told. If toys are left out, put them away. If dishes are being washed, grab a towel and dry. If litter is strewn along the road, pick it up as you walk. I’ve shared “see the work” with countless students, and our halls are always clean and the chairs stacked by the end of the day. Simple advice from a quiet woman. —Wendy Baures, Fountain City, WI

Don’t be too quick to judge

My Mississippian mother used to tell me, “You can’t tell the depth of the well by the length of the handle on the pump.” I think this must be the Mississippi version of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” —Sarah Jane Garner, Tuscaloosa, AL

Keep it sweet

My dad used to say, “Make your words soft and sweet. Some day you might have to eat them.” Thirty years later, I still hear his voice encouraging me to be patient. —Pattie Weiner, West Springfield, MA

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Keep moving forward

Several years ago, I heard actress Doris Roberts give a speech in which she said, “Look back, but don’t stare.” She had many words of wisdom that night, but that stuck with me and never left. —Liz Hormel, Fremont, CA

Make time to do it right

“If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, how are you going to find time to do it over?” Advice from my 91-year-old dad that I’ve shared with my daughter and granddaughter. —Sharon Price, Mobile, AL

Habits are like cobwebs

Succinct advice from my grandfather: “Habits are like cobwebs that turn into cables. They can hold you up or hold you down.” —Kirk Goebel, Albuquerque, NM

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Get your spouse a drink

On planes, they always tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. That advice doesn’t always apply to marriage. Years ago, I heard a wedding officiant say, “When you’re thirsty, get your spouse a drink.” I took it to heart and make every effort to acknowledge my husband’s needs. After 20 years of marriage, he’s gotten even better at it than I have. Marriage isn’t 50-50. When both partners give 100 percent and put one another’s needs before their own, the outcome is far greater than happily ever after.
—S.H., American Fork, UT

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest