Life Advice From 10 Smart Humans


Humans are complicated, and so is life. Sometimes, a few sage words from someone who knows what’s up can help turn everything around. So! Here’s a collection of mostly wise, sometimes funny thoughts from 10 smart people…

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Maya Angelou

“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked… that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
Neil Gaiman

“Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not a jackass whisperer.”
Brené Brown

“I see people my age… getting married to people they’ve known for like a year and a half. A year and a half? Is that enough time to get to know someone to know you want to spend the REST of your life with them? I’ve had sweaters for a year and a half and I was like ‘What the fuck was I doing with this sweater?’”
Aziz Ansari

“Deep breaths are very helpful at shallow parties.”
Barbara Walters

“My husband likes to say that the work is probably evenly split if both partners feel like they are doing upward of 60 percent of the work, since a lot of what one partner does is necessarily invisible to the other partner. If you feel like you are doing half, you’re not.”
Rebecca Rosen

“There is hardly a more gracious gift that we can offer somebody than to accept them fully, to love them almost despite themselves.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

“Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ It is never too early, either.”
Anna Quindlen

“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
Anne Lamott

“Sometimes you just have to put on lip gloss and pretend to be psyched.”
Mindy Kaling

What are your favorite words of advice? We’d love to hear…

P.S. 15 career tips from smart women, and what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever read?

(Photo of Greta Garbo in 1926 with Leo, the MGM lion, by Don Gillum)

  1. Anita says...

    “Living well is the best revenge.”

  2. Boon Tarkas says...

    That picture is awesome. I’d call it, ‘Why Women are Better than Men”
    Women roll a shoulder, men…they probably would’ve killed it and made a silly blanket.

  3. J says...

    Love this post :)

  4. I love these. The jackass whisperer one has been over my desk for years.

  5. Ah I love all of them. Most of all the one about sweater made me LOL!

    • Julie chambers says...

      Loved the sweater…. I married my ex husband after 14 months of meeting him wished I had seen that before

  6. LOVE these. And totally off topic but that is one of my favorite photos ever. (I’m a huge Garbo fan. )

  7. Kirsten Foster says...

    I love this! I keep a document of inspiring quotes and whenever I feel down I read the document. It is an instant boost of confidence and a source of inspiration.

  8. Saira says...

    If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
    -Wayne Dyer

  9. despina says...

    “The kindest word in all the world is the unkind word, unsaid” by Author unknown

    (We are Paris; yesterday, today and always)

    Love, peace and solidarity

  10. Haha putting on lipgloss and pretending to be psyched.. Ain’t that the truth sometimes!!

    Nat Lewis
    Rocky Mountain Decals – Cute Wall Decals for kids, home and office!

  11. joanna says...

    I love the brene brown quote. That is perfect. I am not a jackass whisperer.

  12. Ahhhh Aziz is killing it. Love.

  13. Jo says...

    Ack. I stand corrected… Thanks, Caroline!!!!!

  14. Jo says...

    Thank you for this great post, Joanna!

    My favorite (one that I shall tell my boys when they’re a weeny bit older ;-) is:

    “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
    – Motto Of The Special Olympics

  15. Judith says...

    Maya Angelou: If you don’t like something, change it. And if you can’t change it, change your attitude. very wise advice.

  16. CN says...

    I absolutely love your site! …and you have outdone yourself with this post!

  17. This is why I constantly come back to Cup of Jo. I’m going to feature this in next week’s Worthy Reads. Thanks for doing what you do!

  18. I love quotes. Please do more of these posts. That is all.

  19. natalia says...

    its very funny to find someone to quotes Pepe Mujica!! :D I mean i am from uruguay, anyway I think he was quoting Albert Eintein
    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  20. Kayie says...

    “Behind all this, some great happiness is hiding.”

  21. My dad always says “you have to break eggs to make an omelette.” A good reminder that worthwhile things take investment. I’m in the process of building a small business, and my husband and I have to remind ourselves that we’re in the “egg breaking” stage right now, and (hopefully) an omelette will follow eventually!

  22. I love these, especially the Neil Gamain and Aziz Ansari quotes as I hadn’t heard those before. Thank you.

    Elizabeth Gilbert just posted this David Whyte quote to Facebook and I loved it:

    “When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation…Solace is not an evasion, nor cure for our suffering…. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depths of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp of nor make sense of… To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable that is coming to you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light, and then, just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?”

    For whatever reason the line, “to look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions” keeps coming into my head over and over again.

    Also, in keeping with the creative dynamo that is Elizabeth Gilbert, here is another one of hers from Eat, Pray, Love:

    “Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”

    And lastly, a poem :)

    Tell Me

    Tell me who you are,
    and what brings you here.
    What story breaks with the waves
    against your shore?
    What storm deposits shells and stones
    and jelly-fish
    on the soft sand of your being?

    In the dark night of your soul,
    What whispers to you on the tide?
    When the gulls cry to you at daybreak,
    what does your heart answer?

    What piece of driftwood do you cling to,
    bobbing on the swells, and
    How do you imagine the raft or boat
    you hope will rescue you,

    I wonder,
    will you listen
    when I invite you,
    Dive in, and sink.
    You will not drown
    You were born

    Sandra Belfiore

    • Bethany says...

      This poem really speaks to me, 6:30 in the morning, sun rising, four fat cats snuggling next to me during my reading time, but so unhappy with my work and afraid to make a change because we have one child going off to school next year and one graduated lovely and creative child back home, jobless and uncertain about what to do and where to go. Time for us all to jump in. Thank you!

  23. Trish says...

    I married my husband after a year of knowing him! I love my husband and I really like him! Love is love. Why waste time! We have three children and feel blessed everyday. As far as quotes this has always stuck with me:
    My mother always told me ‘If you meet more than one a**hole in a day maybe you are the *******’. Just some good ol’ mom advice:)

  24. Deleila says...

    “Sometimes you just have to put on lip gloss and pretend to be psyched.”
    —Mindy Kaling
    I’m pretty sure I said something like that this morning before work! I love Mindy!

  25. Stephanie says...

    ‘If you want to change things, you can’t keep doing the same thing’ – Jose Mujica. I love this for its simplicity and truth.

  26. “Deep breaths are very helpful at shallow parties.” Made me laugh because it’s so true! Holiday parties, here we come!

  27. Laura says...

    My favorite Pinterest quote is, “Mother Teresa didn’t go around complaining about her thighs. She had shit to do.”
    I think of that whenever I’m feeling down about something trivial and I think, “ok Laura, no one but you cares about this. Get over yourself and do something productive.”

    • Christine says...

      i like this.

    • Yes to this!

    • Theresa says...

      I love this!

    • Molly says...

      Buah ha ha. What a good reminder.

  28. Geny says...

    The problem is, you think you have time.


  29. tyler says...

    HA! Mindy Kaling’s quote sums up my life.

  30. Peggy says...

    Lovely collection of quotes! Thanks. But…I can’t take my eyes off the picture posted with them. There must be a great story there! ;->

  31. Brian says...

    “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill.

  32. katrina says...

    In the Mindy Kahling vein, my cousin used to say, ” You may as well put on some heels and lipstick, and give people something hot to look at!” :) She always looked good, and I smile whenever I think of her and that quote. She died 2 years ago, at 28 years old.

  33. I love Berné Brown! What a fabulous collection of quotes!! “Deep breaths are very helpful at shallow parties.” might be helpful as holiday party season rolls around…!


  34. Kim says...

    From Lorrie Moore’s Self Help (one of my favorites, it’s a collection of short stories basically guaranteed to speak to your soul):

    “When she was first practicing law, to combat her courtroom stage fright, she would chant to herself, Everybody loves me. Everybody loves me, and when that didn’t work, she’d switch to Kill! Kill! Kill!”

    Always helps get through a workday.

    Also, “bitch you better get stronger” from RuPaul. Always knows what to say.

  35. Cait says...

    Elizabeth Taylor: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”

  36. After years of giving myself the hardest time when I failed, I started realizing that it didn’t matter so much a month later, then a year later, then 5 years later. In fact, those times I failed and eventually picked myself up helped me grow more wholly than any instant success. When I fail now as I still often do, I ask myself, “will this really matter in a year?” and I learn to let go of the self-kicking much faster.

    Kensley at Hot Mess Mamas

  37. Anna says...

    My favorites come from Joseph Campbell:

    “As you go the way of life you will come to a great chasm. Jump. It is not as far as you think.”

    “The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.”

    • Saira says...

      Thank you!

  38. Amber says...

    My grandmother used to always tell us, “If you’ve got one thing going your way, you’re doing pretty good. Appreciate that. You can’t have everything”. She used to tell us this when we were upset over our parents not letting us do something we thought at the time was important, but her advice still rings true for me in adulthood as well. We get too caught up in what’s going wrong sometimes to see what is going right.

  39. have you ever read Cheryl Strayed? she is amazing, her book, Tiny Beautifful Things from her advice column Dear Sugar completely broke my heart, striped me down and then built me back up again.
    these passages spoke to me:

    because in your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole. also, because it’s harder to be magnanimous when you’re in your twenties, i think, so that’s why i’d like to remind you of it. you’re generally less humble in that decade than you’ll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. you will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. be a warrior for love.

    ​you don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. you don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. you don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards.

    • I love Cheryl Strayed’s work.

  40. Anne says...

    My grandfather often told me, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” He used it in all contexts– never mind if there wasn’t any bastardly thing going on!

  41. Trust yourself!

  42. Lisa says...

    Great post!

  43. alanah r says...

    Thomas Merton said, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can”.

  44. Sara Hummer says...

    “There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.”
    Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

    This whole book is amazing and had me weeping with the recognition of all I wished I could say many times.

  45. Raeleen Redzuan says...

    Joanna, your site has just elevated my spirits almost everyday for 4 years now. So grateful to you.

  46. Trena says...

    This is one of my favorites:

    “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.” ~Saint Teresa of Avila

  47. Laura says...

    I just read salt. by Nayyirah Waheed and her poems are all I can think about lately. I sent this to a recently dumped friend:

    you haven’t felt yet.
    give them time.
    they are almost here.

    – fresh

    • Meg says...


  48. Rachel says...

    These are all great!! One of my favorite quotes/mantras is “it’s okay to not be okay.” I like remembering that sometimes I just need to ask for help, a hug, or whatever it is that will help me get through a moment in my life. I can’t always be “fine” – life is tough and you can take it day by day, minute by minute if needed.

  49. Rue says...

    Ohh, as someone sprinting towards the finish line of a PhD (with a breakup just a few months behind me), I’m taking such comfort scrolling through all of these. Thank you!

    I keep Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” as an open tab on my phone’s browser, and I repeat “you do not have to be good” to myself in my head. It’s such a powerful reminder, especially for women raised to be overachieving good girls (raises hand high).

    I also have a notebook that I keep at my desk at work where I write down the aphorisms that will help keep me going, and when I start to panic I flip to that page and scan til the right quote catches my eye. Everything from “write first” to times colleagues have told me I’m doing good work to “there is no ‘far enough,’ you just are where you are” to “eff it and keep going.”

    • Kristina says...

      Rue, I am right there with you (though the finish line is still a few months away, I am beginning to see it in the distance)! I also have my trusty notebook of quotes nearby when I am writing. Keep going, you’re doing amazing! xo Kristina

    • Rue says...

      Thanks Kristina! I’m a few months away too, we can be internet PhD-finishing buddies. I know you’ve got it in you, too!

  50. Keri says...

    My favorite quote is from my dear now late mom, “When in doubt, choose people. When in doubt, choose grace.”

  51. Caz says...

    These are great! Two of my favourites are:

    “A man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he always has good company.” – Charles Evans Hughes

    “If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?” – Shantideva

  52. I really enjoyed this article, on a sad and mopey day here in England. Thank you xx

  53. Mjm says...

    A wise person told me when catching me grumping about life, “it’s better than a stick in the eye” and you know whatever is going on it is better than a stick in the eye.

  54. Anna says...

    Principles are like prayers- noble, of course, but awkward at a party. (c) Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

  55. abbie says...

    Do one thing everyday that scares you.
    -Eleanor Roosevelt

    I interpret that as not something that is necessarily “scary”. But something you may not be 100%comfortable with. Trying a new yoga class, waking over to a group of moms you don’t know at the play ground and introducing yourself, wearing that bright red lipstick!