Kevin Kelly
Excellent Advice for Living

Excellent Advice for Living

Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier

by Kevin Kelly, 221 pages

Finished on 22nd of June, 2023
🛒 Buy here
🎧 Listen to the podcast

Kevin Kelly, the WIRED magazine co-founder and longtime executive editor, put his two most popular blog posts into a small book full of byte-sized advice, ranging from short and sweet to funny to helpful and thought-provoking.

🎨 Impressions

Kevin Kelly is about 70 years old at the moment and has lots of useful advice to give. He has traveled the world multiple times over and started his writing career at different ecology and future themed magazines, before co-founding WIRED magazine in 1993 and becoming its executive editor. His thoughts about the future of technology and society have been published in many renowned outlets, such as the New York Times, the Economist, Science, or GQ. He wrote a bunch of books about our future with technology, including the New York Times bestseller The Inevitable, which is about the technologies which will shape our future.

Kelly has published lots of blog posts on and many of them went hugely popular, e.g. his essay called “1,000 True Fans”. Another one was called “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice”, which he published for his 68th birthday. In it, he had collected tweet-length sentences of often funny but still thought-provoking life advice. It was so popular, he made another list for a later birthday, and eventually turned both lists into a book. This is the book.

It’s a small one, containing 450 pieces of advice. Some light-hearted, some deep. You can read it in an hour, but I think it helps to stop after some of the bits and think about them and how they might be applied to your own life. That’s what I did and I enjoyed that a lot. This way it took me more like 3-4 hours to read. The book is an easy recommendation, you can’t really go wrong with it. Makes for a great gift, too, in my opinion. Here are some of the pieces of advice which I thought give you a good idea, but which also were helpful to me personally to read.

📔 Highlights & Notes

A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Whenever you have a choice between being right or being kind be kind. No exceptions. Don’t confuse kindness with weakness.

Whenever you can’t decide which path to take pick the one that produces change.

Tend to the small things. More people are defeated by blisters than by mountains.

At first, buy the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job buy the very best you can afford.

Be more generous than necessary. No one on their deathbed has ever regretted giving too much away. There is no point to being the richest person in the cemetery.

When you get invited to do something in the future ask yourself: Would I do this tomorrow? Not too many promises will pass that immediacy filter.

You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.

If you are not embarrassed by your past self you have probably not grown up yet.

Over the long term the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore the multitude of problems we create; you just have to imagine how much our ability to solve problems improves.

Train employees well enough that they could get another job but treat them well enough that they never want to.

The foundation of maturity: Just because it’s not your fault doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.

Your best response to an insult is “You’re probably right.” Often they are.

Your passions should fit you exactly but your purpose in life should exceed you. Work for something much larger than yourself.

Calm is contagious. Be calm to help others.

You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

Ignore what others may be thinking of you because they aren’t thinking of you.

If your goal does not have a schedule, it is a dream.

Be a good ancestor. Do something a future generation will thank you for. A simple thing is to plant a tree.

Every person you meet knows an amazing lot about something you know virtually nothing about. It won’t be obvious and your job is to discover what it is.

Figure out what time of day you are most productive and protect that time period.

Experiences are fun and having influence is rewarding but only mattering makes us happy. Do stuff that matters.

Efficiency is highly overrated; goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks, and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic.

You can find no better medicine for your family than regular meals together without screens.

When you don’t know how much to pay someone for a particular task, ask them, “What would be fair?” and their answer usually is.

You will be judged on how well you treat those who can do nothing for you.

What you actually pay for something can be twice the listed price, because the energy, time, and money needed to set it up, learn, maintain, repair it, and then dispose of it when done all have their own cost. Not all prices appear on labels.

Our descendants will achieve things that will amaze us yet a portion of what they will create could have been made with today’s materials and tools if we had had the imagination. Think bigger.

Do more of what looks like work to others but is play for you.

If you repeated what you did today 365 more times, will you be where you want to be next year?

When you are presented with a task that could be completed in 2 minutes or less do it immediately.

Hiker’s rule: Don’t step on what you can step over; don’t step over what you can walk around.

If you think that something “goes without saying,” it is usually best for everyone if you just go ahead and say it.

To have a great trip, head toward an interest rather than to a place. Travel to passions rather than destinations.

Anger is not the proper response to anger. When you see someone angry you are seeing their pain. Compassion is the proper response to anger.

Don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.

Worry is ineffective. It is certain that 99% of the stuff you are anxious about won’t happen.

When you can’t decide, ask yourself, “Which choice will pay off more later than now?” The easy choice pays off right away. The best choice will pay off at the end.

The greatest killer of happiness is comparison. If you must compare, compare yourself to you yesterday.

Don’t define yourself by your opinions, because then you can’t change your mind. Define yourself by your values.

Being curious about another person’s view is the most powerful way to change their view.

Go with the option that opens up yet more options.

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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