22 Successful People Confess the Best Advice They’ve Always Relied On

The nation's most interesting and accomplished people share words of wisdom that changed their lives.

These 22 folks—including bestselling authors, cutting-edge entrepreneurs, humanitarians, educators, entertainers, and 
doctors—answered the question “What’s the best advice you ever received?” Here, insights that will change the way you work, love, and play.

cheryl strayed
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

On Confrontation
When I was maybe six, I saw 
a photograph in a magazine of a young woman holding a bouquet of flowers up to a police officer who was pointing a gun at her—it was a 1970s 
image from an antiwar protest. Terribly intrigued by the contradiction 
depicted in that photo, I asked my mother about it. She explained that the woman was trying to win over 
the officer with kindness. Her exact words: “Zap them back with super love.” I’ve thought of that phrase many times over the years in trying moments. I’ve never regretted zapping anyone back with super love.

Cheryl Strayed, 
author of Wild, Tiny Beautiful 
Things, and Torch, in Library Journal

 

On Winning
“You don’t want to win the argument. You want to get your way.” It was from the late Rae Wolf McKenna, 
my first mother-in-law. I have found it popping into my head in many tense situations over the years, to great effect.

Paul Steiger, former managing editor of 
The Wall Street Journal

 

On Caring
Twenty-four years ago, when I quit drinking, an old-timer in recovery asked, “How are you treating the world today, Paulie?” I responded, “Don’t you mean ‘How’s the world treating me?’ ” He answered quickly. “No, I mean exactly what I said. No matter how the world is treating you, if you are caring, loving, and kind in the way you treat the world, your journey will be easier.”

Paul Williams, award–winning composer, coauthor of 
Gratitude & Trust

 

words of wisdom balloons
Yasu+Junko for Reader’s DIgest

On Uncertainty
My parents and I were living in a 
refugee settlement in Vienna after we left the former Soviet Union. Everything was uncertain, scary, and pretty terrible. This didn’t stop my dad from announcing one day that we were 
going to visit the opera house in 
Vienna. I thought playing tourists 
was ridiculous—we had no money, no citizenship, and no home. “We don’t know if we’ll ever be back here again,” my dad said. “Life is short. It’s stupid to sit here and wallow in our troubles.” Now I realize… he’s right.

Nataly Kogan, 
cofounder and CEO of Happier, Inc.

 

On Assumptions
I grew up in the northern Himalayan region of Kashmir. My grandfather would take all his grandkids for walks in his apple orchards, where he would pick apples that had been tasted by a bird and carve off the 
opposite side to give to us. I once asked, “Why would you not offer the ripe-looking apple untouched by the bird?” I felt he was such a miser that he wanted to sell the “good” apples instead of feed them to his grandkids. He rolled his hand over my head 
affectionately. “The bird would only eat one that is sweet, so I pick the best for you,” he said. “Never assume; always ask.” This is my mantra in my personal and professional life.

Khurshid A. Guru, MD, 
director of robotic surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York

 

steven speilberg
Ida Mae Astute/Getty Images

On Listening
From a very young age, my parents taught me the most important 
lesson of my whole life: Listen to 
everybody before you make up your own mind. When you listen, you learn. You absorb like a sponge. Your life becomes so much better than when you are just trying to be listened to all the time.

Steven Spielberg, 
film director and producer, 
in Good Housekeeping

 

On Burnout
“You can always do more. But if you do too much, they won’t get your best.” My college roommate’s father, 
a third-grade teacher, told me this during my first year of teaching. I was staying late every night and getting burned out. He helped me accept that I couldn’t chase down every lesson idea or write sentences of explanation for each error. It gave me the freedom to focus on interaction with kids. That’s made all the difference.

Sean McComb, 
2014 National Teacher of the Year

 

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