Eight Pieces of Advice from My Sister, the Sage.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 8 pieces of advice from my sister, the sage.

My sister Elizabeth Craft is a sage. Every time I talk to her, I keep a pen and paper handy so I can write down her words of wisdom. I quote her constantly. She’s a TV-writer in Los Angeles (now writing for The Vampire Diaries), so that gives a certain flavor to her advice, but many of her observations are more universal than they appear at first glance. Here’s an assortment of some of my recent favorite lines:

1. When I was fretting because I hadn’t heard back about a proposal, she told me, “’Yes’ comes right away; ‘no’ never comes.” This observation turns out to be true in a very wide variety of situations.

2. “Everyone who moves from New York to L.A. gains ten pounds, because they’re doing so much less walking.”

3. “Your lack of planning is not my emergency.” Okay, she didn’t make that up, but she quoted it to me, and it’s a great line.

4. “No one has an opinion until someone else has an opinion.” This is so, so, so true.

5. “Every cliché you’ve heard about L.A. is more true than you could possibly imagine.”

6. When I was considering doing a project in collaboration with someone else, and was fretting because I hadn’t received a commitment right away, she advised: “Move on to another potential partner. You need volunteers, not recruits.”

7. “If you move to L.A. to get a job writing for TV, don’t expect to get a job for the first three years.”

8. When I was fussing about something related to my book publication, she said: “Remember, this is what you wanted.” This reminder comes in handy more often than you’d think.

Now, she ain’t the Buddha, but she has really helped me think more clearly and productively in a lot of situations.

I recently bullied encouraged her to start using Twitter, so follow her @elizabethcraft.

It’s very handy to have a sister who is a sage. What words of advice have you received from your sister or brother — or anyone else?

* My friend Chris Guillebeau‘s new book just hit the shelves: The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World. The subtitle says it all! And Chris really practices what he preaches.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 49,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

  • LivewithFlair

    My sister says “indecision IS decision” which has helped me on so many occasions. Indecision is basically “no” in her mind. I love that. And of course, my husband’s advice that “just because there’s space doesn’t mean you have to fill it.” http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

    • gretchenrubin

      I love both of these.

  • Sara Rider

    There are three things that my mom always said when I was growing up that pop into my head almost every day:

    1-You don’t have to tell me everything you know

    2-You can only do your best and no one can expect any more than that

    3–That’s what washing machines are for

    • gretchenrubin


  • “Remember, this is what you wanted.” My husband reminded me of that last night as I was stressing about my new job. It’s true. I think of this while I’m slaving away editing my novel too. This is what I want, this is what I want…

  • Carolineely999

    “Your lack of planning is not my emergency.”

    A cocky yet inept person in my office wrote this on her door and it gave great offense, as others had done plenty of planning and she just sat on her a**. Careful how you use this smug little expression.

    • JennyRose

      Lack of planning on your part is not an emergency on our part.

      That was posted at the librarians desk of my law library. I thought it was great and it helped with my own procrastination. I will definitely share this with my daughter. Your co-worker just didn’t understand the meaning. Still a good leaning tool even if misused and misunderstood by some.

  • Debra

    From my dad:
    When in doubt, brake.
    Remember the driver behind you isn’t paying your auto insurance.

    From a friend:
    If you have time to clean your bathroom every weekend, then you don’t have enough going on in your life.

    • “If you have time to clean your bathroom every weekend, then you don’t have enough going on in your life. ”

      Uh, really?? Maybe the opposite is more true: If you don’t have time to clean your bathroom every weekend, then you have too much going on in your life. At least that’s the thought from a very fastidious person. 🙂

      • Carla_V

        Don’t let FlyLady see that, lol! It only takes a couple minutes in the morning to keep your bathroom clean.

  • These are great words of wisdom, but a few of them (#3 & #8 in particular) I imagine would make others bristle if said to their face. Ouch!

  • Hi Gretchen,
    I was updating The Daily Brainstorm and had to stop to finish reading this post. Your sister sounds both wise and witty! I bet you two laugh a lot. It is so nice to have a sister who is such a good friend, adviser, and sage. Thank you for sharing her advice. I particularly like #3 and plan to use it on my teenagers who frequently expect me to react immediately to their lack of planning!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I’m really lucky! In return for her wisdom, I nudge her to clear
      clutter whenever I visit her house.

  • Mdavis1

    Words to live by…

  • Jamguthrie

    You can think whatever you want, but you don’t have to say it.

    • gretchenrubin

      So true, and so helpful — but so hard to remember to keep!

  • Elizabethcraft

    Hey Gretch– Thanks for the shout out! Made my day. I have to give credit to Sam Baum (creator of Lie To Me) for the “volunteers not recruits” line. And it’s entirely possible that I stole others as well. But I will take credit for passing them on to you at the right time. 🙂

  • My dad said to me recently that I was the only one in the family who had actually followed his most sage advice “Happiness is the most important thing in life.”

    I’m trying to spread those wise words, with my own twist. Love (any kind of love) is happiness, and it’s the most important thing in life.

    I also coincidental happened to link to your blog on mine today, spreading the world of mouth.


  • Sarielantro

    I live so happy here in L.A. which I believe their people are the most “kick back” folks in the country. but I was wondering about those cliches your sister mentioned….

  • SarahHP

    My dad told me once “never eat anything that is bigger than your head.” Not very profound but it sticks in my mind.

  • clearlycomposed

    I am rather fond of “leap and the net will appear.” 🙂

  • Mjbodeau

    My sister is indeed a sage to me……two keepers “people are finite” and “we are all an experiment of one”. One I got from a TV show and have passed along (while working to keep myself out of the club) “there will always be those of us who go to the hardware store for grapefruit’ – about expecting or wanting things from people that they can’t give, or in a way they can’t give. I’ve learned that accepting what someone CAN give me, in the way they can give it, makes a huge difference in being able to appreciate the gift and the intent.

  • Love these! You’re lucky to have a smart person there to give you a little reality check 🙂
    #1 reminds me a little bit of a quote from Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” – I might be misquoting slightly, but it’s something like “It sends one kind of message to say no. It sends another kind of message to say nothing at all.”

  • Since my mantra seems to be (sometimes) ‘YOU are in charge of your own attitude’, I find this blog delightful. My own at http://www.bonniebmatheson.com is also very positive and upbeat, because I KNOW that it is just as easy to think happy thoughts as it is to complain about things. I have a sister and I wish she was a sage. In many ways she is, of course. Sisters can often be wonderful sources of knowledge for us because we share not only the same DNA but a common background and experience. Cherish your family. You only have one.

  • “Move on to another potential partner. You need volunteers, not recruits.”

    I love this. I feel that this applies to friendships too!

    I think I’m usually the one who gives my sister advice and help. However, she gives me so much inspiration and motivation in return!

  • Number 4 and number 6 really resonate with me. You’re very fortunate to have a Yoda in your life. My coworker has pearls too my favorite of hers is “retell it don’t relive it” when you get a little too worked up describing how someone has wronged you.

    • moorlandlane

      You might get a kick out of another way of looking at this — when using a story for any reason, but especially if it’s part of a presentation, “relive it (it’s exciting all over again!), don’t retell it (yawn…all emotion gone).

  • DJB

    My father sent me a list of things his mother had said while he was growing up. Two of my favorites:

    1. Make yourself useful as well as ornamental.
    2. The graveyard is full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them

    To see the full list, visit http://djbweblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/23/my-mama-done-told-me/

  • Pixiebee

    This is NOT a dress rehearsal . .from me (the youngest) to all of my sisters at one point or another in our lives

  • My sister is my principal spiritual teacher. She has taught me a few things recently:

    1) Object to nothing. We often pass by opportunities with limited thinking.

    2) Listen without waiting to talk. That has been a huge learning opportunity for me.

    My sister is my main support in my own happiness project. I even wrote an article about how I’d like to find a romantic partner like her because who doesn’t want to walk the path to happiness with someone they love?

  • BerniceWood

    I have never watched Vampire Diaries, but they film a good bit in my town in GA! My daughter, along with every other person under the age of 25 turned out when they were recruiting extras. My daughter is only 17, so they can use her, but her BF has been an extra in multiple filmings.

    To the sayings!
    I love #3! I actually used it quite a bit with my teens. ‘Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part’. As in, ‘No, I will not go get posterboard for you. It is 11:00 at night. Did you just now find out you needed posterboard for tomorrow? I didn’t THINK so.’


  • Amy H.

    My brother was incredibly helpful when I was stuck in trying to draft a long appellate decision (while working as a law clerk). He said, “Explain on paper (on screen) why it’s difficult to write this.”

    That got me through it!

  • Thanks for this – there was some stuff in here I needed to hear today.

  • These are wise words – especially 1, 6, and 8. My dad is my sage. He was a man of few words, really, but when I was growing up, he’d say: “There are two types of people in the world: givers and takers. Your job is to be a giver, and find a giver to marry and then go raise giver kids.” Working on it…

    • Avantgardener419

      I’m pretty sure your value in life isn’t dependent upon whether or not you marry and have children.

  • Carmensue

    I love #8 and will use this with my sisters (and ask them to remind me of it as well). Also, we encourage each other, when discussing future plans or situations, to consider “what is the worst that could happen?” Often, the worst thing that could happen isn’t really that bad at all, which makes taking action easier. Also, my favorite sister-from-another-mister loves to encourage me to “ask for what you need”, especially in difficult but loving relationships. It seems obvious but is so difficult!

  • Sarah

    When I complain to my brother about gaining weight: “It’s pretty simple, sister. Eat less and move more.”

  • Ros

    Hi Gretchen,

    You’re here for a good time not a long time!

    Giving the eulogy at my 77 year old uncles funeral on Thursday who lived his life by this mantra has reinforced this one with me again.

  • Catseye

    Wow, Gretchen, your sister sounds really cool! Makes me wish I had a sister.
    I can’t think of any particular bit of advice anyone’s given me that’s really stuck with me. For some reason, I really resent advice that I haven’t asked for. But when I do ask for advice, it means I really respect the other person’s judgement.

  • Kdufty

    “Remember, this is what you wanted.” – could be said about parenting….

    • gretchenrubin


  • Steph

    My mother is a very practical woman who has navigated many hardships, so we had a cross-stitch on the wall growing up that she had made with this saying on it: “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.”

    Sounds rather depressing, but actually as I get older and consciously move away from consumerism, I realize how useful this statement is and how much it aligns with what makes me happy (living for experience (there’s so much great, free stuff to do – e.g. a walk in the park, watching the sunset)), and valuing and using what I do have (before running to buy something new which will, ultimately, not increase my happiness by one iota!). “Make it do” and my mother’s teaching of skills such as sewing, knitting, baking, etc., have given me a wonderful resource of creativity that I turn to when I need to relax. For example, I tear out old sweaters and reknit them, or refashion old clothing into new things. Again, it sounds like a ridiculous thing for a professional woman with a good income to do with her time, but it gives me a real sense of connection to myself to rely on my own skills and hands in my daily living.

    • gretchenrubin

      My college roommate used to say this! I’d forgotten it, such a great

    • Dkrpick

      The “use it up” I do with my pantry and freezer. It is amazing to me how manyh meals I can create when I think I have nothing to eat. But by combining a few simple ingredients, I come up with a meal. It’s easy for me tho because I’m not eating much meat and just serving one.

      I’m learning how to crochet so that info about tearing out old sweaters or maybe finding something at the resale shop to redo sounds very intriguing to me.

  • Mel

    When I moved to New York for graduate school I was completely broke (still am, actually!) and my older sister, who had lived in NYC for years, told me I needed to enjoy the experience of living on such a right budget. She compared it to a “game” (i.e. the search for deals and finding cheap or free activities to do) and that simple shift in my outlook has made a big difference in my experience.

  • Joless

    After my mother died, my cousin told me ‘You’ll never get over this, but you will get used to it’. I found this very inspiring as it meant I wasn’t expected to get back to ‘normal’ but that there would be a new and different ‘normal’ which would be ok.

  • terri

    From my Dad: When your job becomes work, it’s time to get a new job.

    I think that’s a great attitude, and ties nicely into “this is what you wanted.” When it stops being what you want, then it’s time to think about moving on.
    Also, it helps me focus on the concept that my job (which I love) and my life (which I also love) are two different things.

  • BetsyP

    When I was debating whether or not to leave my job and London and return home, my amazing brother just told me that sometimes you have to take risks. He was right. I’ve handed my notice in and have never felt happier!

  • I think your sister Elizabeth needs to write a book, too! She seems to have a lot to offer the world. Hmm… perhaps a sisterly collaboration is in your future!

  • Leah

    Here’s one of my favorites (from my mom, many years ago):

    “You have people’s pity or their respect — but not both.”

    So true! I think of my sister’s long battle with cancer, and I remember her with respect and admiration, not pity. This helps keep me from falling into the “oh-poor-little-me” routine.

  • Leah

    And another one from my grandfather. I must have been about ten when he told me this (and I won’t say how many decades ago THAT was!)… He was not a Holocaust survivor, as his family had already arrived in the US around the turn of the century, but he was clearly thinking of that when he told me:

    “Your brain is your most precious possession — and the easiest thing to pack when you have to flee the country in the middle of the night.”

  • Prettyprincessuk

    My brother is a fashion designer and has said:

    “just because you can get INTO something doesn’t mean it fits”.

    • gretchenrubin


  • When I revealed to my sister, after fretting about it for a year, that I was able to “read” intuitive information for other people, I thought she would be surprised/amazed/upset, or some kind of extreme emotion.

    When she wasn’t I asked her why she wasn’t at least surprised that I could seemingly now do this new psychic skill out of nowhere. She simply said “Kara, sometimes it is just good to celebrate that someone CAN do something, without questioning why it is suddenly there.”

    I was shocked by the calmness of her acceptance of my disclosure. I have also tried to take this to heart for other situations in my life.

    My sister is quite often a sage too…I use her advice and sayings all the time! She has also taught me alot about compassion for others, by modelling this for me.


  • The first one about yes coming right away, no coming never is very true in a lot of circumstances, especially job hunting. Don’t wait around for someone else, keep moving…

    The other one I like is about opinions. Opinions tend to go hand in hand. No one really has an opinion without and opposing opinion to match… If a tree drops in the woods…


  • Katieo

    My great grandmother Kate used to say 2 wise things (probably more than that, but these are what I remember):

    1. Never run after men or streetcars. There will be another one along shortly.
    2. Always please yourself. That way, you can be sure at least one person in the world is happy.

  • Maryl

    When your stress is over the top, pretend you’re in a TV sitcom.

    Ridiculous, yes, but so helpful in bringing humor and a bit of arm’s-length perspective . I learned this from my youngest brother, who cared for our cranky disabled dad after our mother’s death — while attending law school, no less. When I marveled at his equanimity, he shared his sit-com strategy. It’s really useful, and the mere idea makes me smile.

  • cocoa

    My sister said (25 years ago when we were teenagers, and it’s still SO true!): The longer you look at yourself [in the mirror], the worse you look.

    • cocoa

      Oh, and another one from my mom, when I was fretting about what to wear: “It’s not a fashion show.”

  • Deauvilled

    My father once said to me, “You know, you don’t have to say EVERYTHING that is on your mind.” And to that I say…..see I’m learning!

  • My brother reminds me:
    1) Control what you CAN control.
    2) Do what it takes to bring you happiness. (This one pops up when I’m complaining about my husband ticking me off, and me not wanting to be the one to end the ‘silence’. It reminds me to just stop being silly and bring us back together again).

  • liz young

    When you get in the bathtub, wash your face first!

  • Harriet

    When I was a child,my mother would say, “be brave.” I don’t think anyone thinks that any more.
    She also said, “don’t tell people that you have a cold, they’ll think you’re sickly.” When she was quite old and I’d ask her how she felt, she said, “You don’t want to know, it’s boring.” When I have dinner with friends I’m the only one who doesn’t talk about my aches and pains.

  • Harriet

    Mu grandmother used to say when her children brought in gossip,”I don’t want to hear it.” She said, “if they don’t bring it in, they won’t take it out.”

  • Pam

    Words of wisdom from my sister:
    When I was facing some trouble at work, my sagacious sister told me: “Breathe in ‘Oh well’, breathe out, ‘So what’.” This simple phrase helped me focus on the spaciousness in my heart that could never be affected by the anxiety-driven mind games I was prone to engage in.

  • Zencatx

    The big failure in life isn’t in missing the mark, it’s in half-assing the effort.

    – A bit of deeply useful wisdom from my late husband, which is surprisingly applicable to just about everything.

  • astanished

    A wise old woman from Oklahoma said, “You can get happy in the same clothes you got mad in.” Works for me

  • Arthur

    I am English-born but have been visiting the US for over 30 years (my wife lives here permanently and likes me to keep her comapny). When frustrated by traffic, banks that don’t clear cheques promptly, clients who pay late, family members who pretend not to understand, and other tawdry nuisances of daily life, I simply remind myself: “I am a tourist, just visiting. Isn’t it fascinating to see how the natives live? What would Margaret Mead have said about people who make long loud horn sounds at cars that are not moving?”

  • Dleenelson

    My ädopted daughter” told me to

    “Avoid multitasking. It’s counterproductive. ”

    As a professor, this is hard advice to follow because, whatever I am doing, there is always something that comes up that demands immediate attention.

  • Chris

    Some months ago, I was trying to help an ex who really hurt me but still wanted my help with some of his problems. I didn’t want to help him but was feeling guilty about that. Then my sister told me: “Well, is he suffering anything serious if you don’t help him, like going bankrupt or loosing his job? No. So stop feeling guilty just because you don’t want to help him.” This such a great advice for all people who can’t say no and I used it ever since in various situations.

  • GuestPerson

    I’ve actually lost a considerable amount of weight since moving to LA. So have many people I know.

  • GuestPerson

    Also since moving to LA, I find the every cliche I’ve ever heard about LA people is more untrue than I can imagine. Such an annoying little quote. Maybe your sister isn’t meeting enough people.

    • gretchenrubin

      You are a good defender of your new hometown!

  • One gem from my Dad is: “Don’t lend money that you care if you don’t get back.”

  • guest

    “Every man has a fatal flaw.   You just have to decide if it’s something you’re willing to live with.”  My sister told me this when I was trying to decide if my boyfriend’s wandering eye was something I could live with/change/ignore.  I was so infatuated that I couldn’t think clearly.  That simple phrase really clarified things for me.

  • I guess it is nice to have a sister, who will definitely share some advice on various stuffs. I like what she said that lack of planning is not her emergency. I certainly agree that it is important to plan some things tto avoid encountering problems later on.

  • Mira

    A few years ago when I was trying to take a stain out of my brother’s shirt, I was rubbing it so hard that I almost tore it up – all in an effort to do it *perfectly*. I was afraid my brother would be angry with me but he just looked at me and said:

    ‘Sis’ — you’re trying TOO hard.’

    I’ve never forgotten those words.

    Now whenever I think I’m not doing something good enough – I stop and ask myself – I’m I trying too hard? That simple thought saved me countless times since from ruining something by trying to do it – perfectly. 🙂

  • sj

    When I lost my baby, my (18 year old) brother asked me if I was okay, and I said “not really”. He said, “That’s all right, you don’t have to be okay right now”
    So simple, but I really needed that permission at that moment.

  • Kerri Ryan

    My mother recently added a twist to a well known sentiment: “When one door closes another door opens, but sometimes there’s hell in the hallway!”

  • Timothy Cataldo

    Whenever I was practicing throwing a baseball my dad would always say “Put some mustard on it.” Good life advice.