Hacks for Facing Life’s Challenges: Proverbs of the Professions

blue and silver scissors beside blue and silver scissors

Something that makes us happier? Having clarity on how to move ahead—how to make a decision, how to size up a problem, how to deal with other people.

Elizabeth and I love a hack, and in episode 480 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we highlighted these are a special kind of hack: “Proverbs of the Professions.”

Many of these proverbs are literally true, and also metaphorically true, or just as true in another context as in the originating context.

Note: we’re not saying we agree with all these proverbs.

From the Workplace:

Share the praise, accept the blame.

You can manage for just in time or just in case.

Credit doesn’t get smaller when you share it.

Your email inbox isn’t your to-do list.

Don’t let the urgent drive out the important.

The difference between “try” and “triumph” is a little “umph.”

You pay for your vacation the week before vacation.

From Parents:

Says yes when you can, and no when you must.

Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.

You’re only as happy as your least happy child.

Nap when the baby naps.

You wake the baby, you take the baby.

You can have quiet or clean; you can’t have both.

Let them go to watch them grow.

Nothing good happens after 1:00 a.m.

The more they sleep, the more they sleep.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Don’t try to make a happy baby happier.

From Job Seekers:

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Leap, and the net will appear.

Never look for a job without having a job.

From the Military:

Flexibility is the key to air power.

If you aren’t five minutes early, you’re five minutes late.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

You can volunteer for an assignment, or you can be voluntold.

If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.

Generals tend to fight the last war.

It’s almost always costlier to attack a position than to defend a position.

From Actors:

You can’t make a living in the theater, but you can make a killing.

The only person more unhappy than an out-of-work actor is a working actor.

Acting is reacting.

From Photographers:

The best camera is the one you have with you.

Zoom with your feet.

You can take a photo or make a photo.

From Musicians:

Practice makes permanent.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

It’s never the fault of the audience.

Hard work beats talent if talent won’t work.

From Chefs:

Make it nice or do it twice.

Use your head or use your feet.

If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.

From Poker Players:

You can’t win the hands you don’t play.

If you can’t spot the patsy at the table, you’re the patsy.

Play the hand you’re dealt.

You can win with the worst hand, and you can lose with the best hand.

The house always wins.

Play the opponent, not the cards.

Big raises make big pots.

From Hikers:

Don’t sit for too long.

The last person to reach the top of the hill needs time to rest, too.

There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.

No one ever promised you warm and dry.

Don’t step on anything you can step over; don’t step over anything you can walk around.

From Veterinarians:

First, all bleeding must stop.

When you’ve got nothing left, try steroids.

Every pet comes with a person.

Never name a dog Lucky.

There’s no such thing as a free horse.

From Ski Instructors:

The first turn is the hardest.

If you don’t go, you don’t know.

Move your feet, not your skis.

See the line, not the trees.

The best skier is the one having the most fun.

A bad day on the slopes beats a good day at work.

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a lift ticket.

If you’re not falling, you’re not learning.

No friends on a powder day.

Ski good or eat wood.

If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you’ll have less joy in your life but just as much snow.

From Dog Trainers:

It’s never the dog’s fault.

If you don’t wipe muddy paws at the door, you’ll cleaning mud tracked over the whole house.

A tired dog is a happy dog.

The only thing two dog trainers can agree on is what the third trainer is doing wrong.

From Therapists:

It’s never about what it’s about.

Act different to feel different.

“No” is a complete sentence.

Under stress, we regress.

Clear is kind.

If you don’t reveal it, you can’t heal it.

What you resist persists.

People go to therapy because of the people in their lives who don’t go to therapy.

What we permit, we promote.

Acceptance precedes change.

Tell me what you’re afraid of, and I’ll tell you what’s happened to you.

There’s no settling down without settling for.

People who are unavailable attract people who are unavailable.

Hurt people hurt people.

You spot it, you got it.

Intimacy means, “In to me, see.”

Don’t just do something, sit there.

All behavior makes sense in context.

You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.

Name it to tame it.

If you’re tired of the battles, lay down your weapons.

Your vibe attracts your tribe.

Feeling is healing.

It’s not an excuse, but it’s a reason.

Don’t get furious, get curious.

From Physical Therapists and Fitness Trainers:

Motion is the lotion.

The issue isn’t always the tissue.

Use it or lose it.

Pair your scrolling with your strolling.

If you want to do it later, you’d better be doing it now.

Sometimes quit beats grit.

Exercise for sanity, not vanity.

Movement is medicine.

Only move the muscles you want to keep.

A little movement is better than no movement.

No pain, no gain is a lie.

Exercise adds 20 degrees to the weather.

It’s better to be patient than to be a patient.

From Doctors and Nurses:

When you hear hoof beats, don’t look for a zebra.

First, do no harm.

Start low and go slow.

If the gut works, use it. 

Sometimes the best medicine is the tincture of time.

There’s no such thing as a good tan.

If you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to take time for your illness.

Care for the caregiver

A dog can have ticks and fleas.

If it’s not documented, it’s not done.

Your actions today will change someone’s tomorrow.

If your patient isn’t pooping, your patient isn’t doing anything else either.

The shift will always end.

Write legibly, save a life.

Civility saves lives.

From Librarians:

A great library contains something to offend everyone.

Books are both mirrors and windows.

A book for every person, and a person for every book.

You don’t have to know all the answers, you just need to know where to find them.

From Martial Arts:

Your strength is in your stance.

Your greatest opportunity for influence comes from your willingness to yield.

Every block is a strike; every strike is a grab; every grab can be a throw.

One does not stay safe by controlling others, but by controlling oneself.

There’s nothing but basics.

If you do it correctly, it will feel true in your body.

You can also read proverbs of the professions from teachers.

These proverbs are endlessly thought-provoking, and they’re fun to collect.



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