Wise words: Local notables share the best advice they've received

slinn@thetribunenews.com, ppemberton@thetribunenews.comJanuary 30, 2012 

There’s no shortage of advice in the world — as any trip to a bookstore’s self-help section will prove. Yet, not everyone takes advice the same way.

English writer G. K. Chesterton once declared, “I owe my success to having listened to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.” But the Bible offers a different perspective, declaring, “A fool thinks he needs no advice, but a wise man listens to others.”

We won’t advise you which one of those approaches to take. But, curious to hear tales of good advice, we asked a handful of successful locals to share some of the best advice they’ve ever heeded.

FRANK MECHAM San Luis Obispo County Supervisor

Some of the best advice I ever received: My dad told me one time, “Never, ever underestimate the intelligence of the person you are speaking to … But more than that, never, never, never underestimate who that person knows.”

I’ve tried my best to always remember that.

ROGER BRADFIELD Author of ‘Pickle-Chiffon Pie’ and other books for children

Best advice I ever got? That’s easy. Back in 1948, when my sweetheart and I wanted to get married, my folks said, “No way, it’ll never work out.” Her mother said, “No way, it’ll never work out.” But her father, bless his old Norwegian heart, said, “If you two love each other, go ahead!”

That was 63 years ago and we’re still very much in love.

JIM DEE Owner of The Palm Theatre independent cinema

My father told me when I was very young, with regard to whatever career I chose: “Do what you love to do and be the boss.”

My father came to the United States from Sicily as a young boy, graduated from the New York School of Music, had a studio at Carnegie Hall, and, yes, was his own boss as a musician, music teacher, real estate agent and insurance salesman. He was also a World War II veteran. Perhaps my story regarding that advice is by all means, if you can, do what you love to do, because there will be some days where even what you love to do becomes old and tiresome!

CATHERINE RYAN HYDE Best-selling author of ‘Pay It Forward’ and other novels

About a year before my first novel, “Funerals for Horses,” was accepted for publication, an editor at Grove Atlantic took a liking to it. She tried to get support for the novel at that venerable publishing house, but it was going slowly, and … not well. It had been a full year, and nothing much was happening. I wasn’t too sure where I stood. Then a tiny little start-up publisher by the name of Russian Hill Press offered to buy it and bring it out the following spring.

I called my mentor (at the time) to ask, “How do I get a definite answer from Grove Atlantic so I know whether I should go with a much smaller press?"

He said, “You don’t. You tell them “Funerals for Horses” is no longer available, but that you hope to work with them in the future on aproject they can meet with more enthusiasm.”

Really. Really? I sure wanted Grove Atlantic if I could get them. I asked him why.

He said, “Because the way they’re treating you now is the way they’re going to treat you after signing.”

And that was the best advice on this business I ever got.

DIAN SOUSA Former San Luis Obispo poet laureate

My favorite and best advice came from a poetry professor at Long Beach State. His name was Richard Lee and he only wore orange. Even his shoes were orange, not just the basic produce aisle Florida orange, but blazing tangerine. He always looked like he was standing in the glow of a magnesium fire.

His critique of my earnest, fledgling poetry was no less incendiary. After reading one of my early poems involving a trash collector, rum, rabid babies, and the Virgin Mary, he gave me a short, weird sermon on passion. He told me to always keep the passion stoked. But he also said to be careful where I put that passion. His exact words were: “Put the passion into your poems, Dian, or you will end up picketing churches.” So far, so good.

JUDE JOHNSTONE Singer-songwriter

The best advice anyone ever gave me was from my father, when I was 19 and leaving my home in Maine for Los Angeles, to try and find my way in the music business. Knowing the fearful, over-sensitive kid I was, he simply looked at me and said, “Just be yourself.”

That advice, although I veered from it a few times over the next 32 years, has always served me well.

PHYLLIS MADONNA Co-founder of the Madonna Inn and philanthropist

Whenever I would bemoan what I had done or have said in the past or would worry and have anxieties concerning the future, the best advice I was ever given was by my friend who said, “Live in the now.” You can’t change the past and the concerns you have for the future usually never happen, because tomorrow will be the now. So live with appreciation for “THE NOW” that you are in today.

DANA CUMMINGS Co-founder and executive director of the Association of Amputee Surfers (AmpSurf) and county veterans services officer

"In life you can usually always get yourself out of things, but you will always regret the opportunities you had but never took and now don’t have.” That was shared with me by afellow vet, Tom Place. It was in reference to me getting a car I had always wanted, and I was worried if I should spend the money or not. I was also worried about what people would think.

JERRY SCOTT Co-creator/writer of ‘Baby Blues’ and ‘Zits’

I’m not the type of person who generally listens to advice, or else I would probably have a real job by now. But the best advice I ever got was from another cartoonist (a pretty good one, in fact). Charles Schulz once told me to never listen to the experts, but to listen to my inner voice, instead. That has served me well — inside and outside my career.

ERMINA KARIM President/CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce

Like everyone else, the fabric of advice I have received — either directly or through modeled behavior — has shaped me. My mother exemplified “Take pride in everything you do, no matter the scale of the task,” and my father lived each day treating people with respect and dignity.

It was a friend, however, who reminded me that we have “just one life.” That inspires me to fill my life with meaningful work and jam pack it with as many moments of joy as possible with those I love and learn from. How we choose to live each day matters.

LEIGH RUBIN Creator of ‘Rubes’

In my case it should be the best advice I never got.

I was very fortunate to have supportive parents who didn’t have my future all planned out for me. They allowed and encouraged me the freedom to pursue a career in the arts. The fact that I ended up cartooning for a living cannot be blamed on them.

I was working for my parents at the family printing company when I first came up with the idea to create a line of greeting cards which eventually led to my syndicated cartoon, “Rubes.” I could work on my greeting cards as much as I wanted as long as I got all the work done for my parents first. I didn’t have to pay for office space, only the paper, postage, phone and any other materials I used. To say their advice, or lack thereof, played a significant role in my career would be an understatement.

JOE CALLERO Cal Poly basketball coach

When I was a freshmen in college my basketball coach told the team, “Your actions will speak so loud I will not need to hear what you say.” What I have realized since that day is that my parents raised 16 children and never gave us a lot of verbal advice. Their daily actions — hard work, love and respect for all people — spoke so loud we all learned about life without the long lectures!

Still trying to lead by example these days as a parent and coach!

ARTHUR TRESS Fine art photographer

“Keep your workspace uncluttered,” from my high school graphic design teacher Mr. Leon Friend, Brooklyn, 1955.

Works for the mind also.

Mr. Friend was unusual for a teacher of that period in that he treated all the students as though we were young adults and not teenagers. The high school was in a lower-middle-class neighborhood, and the depressing attitude of the teachers was that when you finished school you needed to have mature work habits to survive in a tough world (a little like today). It was just a general statement he made during class. We just had regular school desks.

He had many famous students in the professional graphic arts world: Alex Steinweiss, who created the first record covers, and Seymour Chast, who founded Push Pin Studios along with Milton Glazer.

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