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Bumper Sticker Wisdom (SELF magazine)

This piece ran in early 2011 and is one of my recent favorites.


How I Discovered Bliss…From Bumper Stickers

Sometimes wisdom comes in the most unexpected places. Like the back of a car. —Stephanie Dolgoff

I was headed home from a weekend yoga retreat, and my brain must have been unusually uncluttered because I found myself noticing things I’d never noticed before—the way the road seemed to rise to meet the wheels of the bus I was on, how the turn signal clicked in time to the music on the radio. And the bumper stickers on the cars we passed on the highway.…Was it only me, or were some, like, incredibly profound?

Did I mention I’d just done quite a bit of yoga?

Seriously, apart from the occasional eye roller (“I had a handle on life, but it broke”) and snarky worldview (“Just when you think life’s a bitch, it has puppies”), I spotted quite a few that seemed to convey a universal truth or, at least, made good sense. It got me wondering: Was it possible to espouse a wise life philosophy on a sticker slapped on the back of a Prius?

To find out, I contacted experts in various fields to see if I should yield to these pithy sayings or let them recede in the rearview mirror. What I discovered: Happiness may be all around you. You simply have to slow down and notice it.

Not all who wander are lost.

I doubt that this quote, adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, is much comfort to parents whose grown children work in Starbucks while taking pottery classes, then move to China to teach English and ultimately return home to become Zumba instructors. Fortunately, I’m not one of those parents (yet). To me, this homily means that even when someone seems to lack a long-term plan, that doesn’t mean she’s flailing. She may simply be an in-the-moment planner. “People who rely on intuition to decide their path may come off as aimless, but they might simply prefer a nonlinear approach to life,” says Richard Bolles, author of the best-selling career-seeker’s bible What Color Is Your Parachute?

Of course, some folks who wander, do, in fact, need a Saint Bernard to track them down, give them a shot of brandy and shepherd them inside before they die of exposure. How to tell if you’re in need of some guidance? You might want to consult a friend (preferably a nonjudgmental one) who appreciates your way of thinking but who can also remind you that, although your new ambition to be a trapeze artist might make you happy, it could delay your long-held plan of getting pregnant. “It also helps to jot down answers to questions like ‘When did I enjoy myself today?’ and ‘What did I learn?'” Bolles says. What’s crucial is tuning in to your feelings, then paying attention to them as you find your way to your passion.

Those who discourage your dreams have likely abandoned their own.

Back in college, I had a cynical friend who, when I’d told him how jazzed I was by the positive feedback I’d gotten from my first-ever published article, said, “Great writers write what must be written. They’re not looking for praise.” He then suggested that my personality was better suited to a more quotidian profession with a steady paycheck than to a potentially unstable writing career. At first, I felt like a squashed insect. Then I thought, What a jerk.

Read the rest HERE

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