Dear Thrive: Best Advice I Ever Got


Welcome to Thrive! A weekly advice column for creatives and the generally confused.


This week I am taking a moment to reflect on the best advice I’ve ever received and share that with all of you here on THRIVE.

When I was in the 7th grade I had an English teacher that we all called Ms. J. Ms. J was beloved by a lot of students because of her ability to be fun and high energy, while also very tough. She was a classic “Oh Captain, My Captain” type. Sometime during our very first week of classes, our very first week of middle school, the very first time we found ourselves with 8 different teachers instead of one, Ms. J told us a very long drawn out story…

The story was about a boy who was trying to learn how to throw a baseball. He practiced constantly. And every time she mentioned that he practiced, she’d pretend to throw a ball with a really weak wrist. I kept giggling because I had a pretty good arm and I wondered if anyone had taught her how to throw or if she was just guessing. The story went on, the boy practiced before school, at practice, after practice– but he never got any better. He worked as hard as he could but never got any better.

Here she paused and asked why he wasn’t getting any better. I didn’t know. I shrugged. The classroom shrugged. And she said, “He was practicing a terrible throw!” I realized she DID know how to throw a ball and the boy in the story did not. She went on, “He was working hard but he wasn’t working smart. I want you all to work smart.” If the boy had asked for help, had someone help him get his throw down, then all of his hard work would have paid off in a big, big way. But since he had tunnel vision and only thought he only had to work hard to get anywhere, he failed.

I have carried this with me ever since. I catch myself so often working hard but not smart. I have to stop and readjust, remind myself of my goals and the best ways to reach them. I catch myself wasting time on pieces of projects that I do not need to, or not stopping to ask for help. Hard work is great but not without direction and self-awareness. Also, paying attention to both is harder to do than you would think so be easy on yourself in the beginning. After 15 years it still does not come naturally to me.

Today’s takeaway is this: always pay attention to the work you are doing and ask yourself if you’re being smart about it. Notice where you can streamline efforts and don’t work yourself into corners you can’t get out of. Stay flexible, stay alert, and work smart. You’ll love feeling the shift when you do. Thanks Ms. J!


THRIVE is answered by Amanda Kusek, a poet, blogger, and dog mom living in NYC.


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