Kevin Kelly is a tech-focused author and writer, the first executive editor of Wired, and is known for being an optimistic and enthusiastic futurist. His latest book, Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier, is a no-frills collection of short pieces of advice that he’s gathered throughout his life. He had previously published similar lists on his blog to celebrate his birthdays, but it seems like he’s gone back and edited those posts to point to his book instead.
Each piece of advice is short and pithy, looking to capture a piece of how the world really works or some aspect of self-improvement. Some of my favorites:
Movement plus variety equals health.
Don’t be the best. Be the only.
You have to first follow the rules with diligence in order to break them productively.
Don’t treat people as bad as they are. Treat them as good as you are.
It’s mostly serious stuff, though there’s certainly some silliness and standup comedy levels of truth-telling mixed in as well. The style reminds me a little bit of Morgan Housel, another writer who dispenses advice in short, easily quotable sentences. At a glance, the book reads like an expanded listicle—fun to read and easy to digest. Unabashedly, Excellent Advice for Living is fast food for self-help1.
There is a certain formula for generating Words of Wisdom™, where the supposed “deep insight” is taking common perceptions, angling them 45° off expectations, and reframing the result as the discovery of newfound knowledge. Some of them hit the same notes as $200 Jeopardy questions—hard enough to make the viewer think just a little bit, but easy enough for the broad audience to feel like they’re smart for getting it2. By advice #200 out of the ~450 excellent pieces of advice, the book takes on a bit of a r/linkedinlunatics vibe, where some of the formulaic repetition ends up highlighting its shallowness.
Yet, the profound piece of wisdom that I took away from Excellent Advice for Living was not from any of the individual sayings, but the context of this book and how it came to be. As mentioned above, the author Kevin Kelly has been collecting them for decades, from articles and friends and family and hard-earned experience. The consistency and perseverance to keep at it, to maintain a sense of optimism and desire for self-improvement, is for me the truly impressive bit. It may be cooler to approach tech with skepticism and cynicism—particularly where we are now in the tech backlash cycle—but Kelly has chosen to remain cheery, and persistently hopeful for a brighter future.
Which perfectly encapsulates this bit of advice:
You will thrive more —and so will others— when you promote what you love rather than bash what you hate. Life is short; focus on the good stuff.
Which is itself fast food for personal development.↩
A recently favorite piece of pop culture wisdom: “What is grief, if not love persevering?“↩