Josh Freed: 'Never punch a sumo wrestler' and other tips for tackling life

Leaving the big lessons to the experts, here are some of my tiny life rules for graduating students.

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Life is a long university course that you never quite pass, but the longer you’re enrolled, the more you keep learning.

We all constantly hear the big life clichés like “Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.” Also: “Money can’t buy happiness” and the contradictory message “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

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But I’ll leave those big lessons to the experts. The rest of us gradually learn smaller life lessons about what to do right, after years of doing things wrong.

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If I had to give 12 small tips to students graduating into real life, here are some of Josh’s tiny life rules:

1: Always look back to see what you’ve forgotten on a taxi or restaurant seat, or on the cash register counter at the supermarket.

Also, on the seat of an express bus to the airport, where I once left and lost a computer in Italy.

Don’t be a loser like me.

Corollary: If you put anything away in a special place to make sure you’ll find it later, you will never see it again. Always hide things where you would expect to find them.

As Mordecai Richler once said, when asked for his one big life lesson: “Always keep your movie tickets in the same pocket.”

In fact, if you can’t find something after searching a long time, then you hid it someplace “special” — and you’ll never see it again.

2: When parking on the street, never hog more space than you need: leave some room for the next person. This is an overall metaphor for how to approach life — always leave a little extra space for others.

Be kind. It’s easy to be mean.

3: We all know people who promise to change their behaviour when they want to borrow something, or need help with work, or other favours.

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Give them a chance, but remember: The best predictor of people’s future behaviour is how they’ve behaved in the past.

4: Many famous people have offered one-sentence life lessons. Conrad Hilton, then-owner of the world’s biggest hotel chain, said he had only one piece of advice:

“Always make sure the shower curtain is inside the tub.” I guess he’d seen a lot of flooded bathroom floors.

Likewise, British King George V, Winston Churchill and George Bush Sr. all regularly passed on the same essential advice to those who might follow them:

“Always go to the bathroom when you have the opportunity … you never know when the next chance will be.”

5: The other supermarket queue is always faster. Studies show whichever queue you choose, you will always think the other line is moving faster.

But that’s only true until you change lanes, when the one you just left will inevitably speed up.

6: When tying your shoelaces, don’t use the “bunny ears” bowtie you learned in school (“right over left, then create the loop”).

Instead, tie the opening knot in one direction, then reverse it when you make the loop — and science shows it will stay tied far longer.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until I was over 50, so I lost many hours of life retying my laces.

7: Don’t try to solve problems or make big decisions in the darkness of night. Things always look more manageable in the morning light.

As well, for Canadians: Never make major life decisions in February or March, if you’re feeling blue — like deciding to join a Tibetan monastery in Bhutan.

In mid-winter you’ll be certain the problem isn’t the weather, it’s your entire life. But come May, life almost inevitably looks better.

Sometimes, it’s just the weather, stupid.

8: When close friends break up, never say anything bad about either of them to the other person, even if they slag each other terribly to you.

Two months later, they may be back together again like lovebirds. They will forget everything nasty they said about each other, but will never forget what you said about either of them.

9: Always try to say “yes” to unusual invites. Saying no generally leads nowhere. Go to that interesting dinner party or event, even if you don’t know a soul.

You may be bored silly, but it’s worth it that one time you have a fabulous experience, or make a future friend, or partner.

One memorable experience is worth many forgotten ones.

10: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Remember this the next time a stranger says you just won a luxury cruise or a lottery you didn’t enter, or you’re told you have an unexpected refund on your credit card — if you just sign in.

As someone in China once said succinctly to an old friend: “If a stranger comes up to you on the street and says ‘Hello!’ … What does he want?”

11: Never punch a sumo wrestler.

12: Don’t be too certain about anything — you will probably change your mind when you’re older.

This applies to many of these rules, too.

I’ll be away for two weeks. See you April 6.

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