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7 Rules for Getting a Head Start in Life

learn hard way.gifIt’s that time of year again, when we either strap on the backpack or we help our kids do it. I know several parents who sit down their young ones every September to go over the basic school essentials: Listen to the teacher. Be nice to everyone. Try new things.

In his book “You Don’t Have to Learn the Hard Way: Making It In the Real World,” author J.R. Parrish compiles a guide for high-school and college seniors. But I found the lessons to be a refresher course of Life 101 because, come on, we never stop learning. Here are just seven of Parrish’s rules for success.

1. Learn how to deal with people.

I know this seems obvious, but Parrish is absolutely right. It’s amazing how many people don’t have any people skills. And it’s equally shocking to see how far a little effort in this area can take you. My dad, a very savvy businessman, ingrained this lesson into my childhood brain. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Because, as I writer, I know that there are plenty of us out there, most of which are very skilled and talented. But editors and websites want to work with writers that are easy enough to get along with … you know, low maintenance. So here’s some important advise: if you haven’t majored in business or communication, you need to learn how to deal with people and how to sell yourself.

2. Choose a mentor.

I’m lucky in this regard. I didn’t set out for a mentor. He found me. Why? Probably because he could see that I was trying really hard and would benefit by a little guidance. Parrish writes: “A good mentor acts like a filter to help you avoid costly mistakes and guides you through the perilous waters of life.” Mike Leach, my mentor, has done just that.

3. Listen to a mentor.

Getting a mentor doesn’t necessarily mean listening to a mentor. So Parrish makes that clear. He writes, “Whatever your mentor suggests, do it and do it immediately if you want him or her to continue to help you.” My theory is that mentors are helpful because they 1) cut down on your learning curve, sparing you some costly mistakes, and 2) make you accountable. Someone has to make you accountable in your life if you want consistent good behavior. So, if you don’t have a mentor, assign someone else the task: your spouse, your boss, (just make sure your spouse isn’t your boss), your golden retriever, your mailman. I don’t care who it is, but someone’s got to take up real-estate in your conscience and weigh in on all matters big and small.

4. Get support.

Like Parrish’s first point–learning to deal with people–support seems like a no-brainer. Until you don’t have any and realize just how important it is. The biggest challenge, I think, for creating a support network is finding the time. It means devoting an hour here or there to PEOPLE, not animals, even as you’d rather read a novel or watch “American Idol.” Yep, you have to listen to these people–good friends, members of a support group, relatives that you don’t hate–because by listening to them, and trying to be an empathetic person, you are weaving, one thread or conversation at a time, a vital support system.

5. Help other people.

Parrish has a pragmatic and accurate philosophy when he writes, “The fastest way to achieve your own goals is to help others achieve theirs. By helping others, you build a network of people who will help you in turn.” But I like to think of it from a spiritual perspective. The greatest commandments are what? To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. And to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It’s been my experience that if you help another person with no other intention than to simply practice kindness, that the kindness will come back to you one hundred fold. I don’t know how it happens that way, but it does. Karma maybe? (Oops, mixing religions there.) For example, I like to help out as many people as I can when it comes to publishing. I see it as a way of paying back all the kindness and generosity others have shown me. And that, without fail, leads to more good stuff for me!

6. Know thyself.

I know those two words sound like I’ve been smoking pot all afternoon. But Parrish has a valid point: You have to be comfortable with yourself before you can focus on others. And since much of success depends on how well you deal with others, we first better take a crash course on understanding ourselves. In a recent article found in the journal “Perspectives on Psychological Science,” psychologist Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia explains different theories behind self-knowledge. He remarks, “Self-knowledge is less a matter of careful introspection than of becoming an excellent observer of oneself.” I love that: becoming an observer of oneself. I think I can do that.

7. Smile.

Am I getting paid by Colgate? No. But Parrish’s words make perfect sense: “A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.” And “A smile happens quickly, but its effects can be lasting. It enriches each person who receives it while costing the giver nothing. Smiling makes everyone feel more relaxes and gives the one smiling an advantage by charming whoever he or she encounters.” I find it especially important to smile when you don’t have a clue as to what is going on. For some reason, when your jaw is locked in a grin, you feel much less anxious. Try it.

7 Rules for Getting a Head Start in Life

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Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2018). 7 Rules for Getting a Head Start in Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Aug 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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