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I’m standing with a group of people at a fancy charity event. I kind of want to impress them so I’m talking…and talking. Because for some reason I always feel others need the benefit of my opinion.

At some point it occurs to me that contrary to my feeling they really care what I’m saying, I’m actually turning them off - subtle clues like when I look into their eyes, it’s like looking into the eyes of dead fish. I can tell the crowd is not with me. I know I should shut up. Back off. One thing I know for sure is I should not double down.

But I do.

Afterwards, lying in bed, first comes the denials, then the excuses, then the recriminations and at last ultimately, the question: Will I never learn?

Clearly not. Though I’ve been kicking around for a long time – in fact a very long time – I still make the same mistakes I did in my twenties. On and on, when it’s so easy to see….

Don’t I get the message? I guess I feel this time it’s going to be different; this time when I make that trip to the well it’s not going be dry.

And it isn’t just me. How many times have I seen friends making the same blunders over and over, choosing the wrong partner, making the wrong business moves, ignoring the same rules? Most people I know exist leaving a trail of lost keys, iPhones, and ignored resolutions.

There’s no better place to see this in full operation than in Los Angeles. Vanessa Greene, a writer and producer, used to say: trying to make it in Hollywood is like standing at a one-arm bandit, shoving in the coins, year after year, believing, beyond all evidence to the contrary that one day the jackpot will come spilling out.

Still I have to assume some people do learn from life. So I decided to do some research. I set out on a journey to look for what others have said on the subject. Which led me to Google, of course.

Here are a few examples of what I found:

“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way.”

Al Franken

Oops! It’s possible only Americans understand the irony of this life lesson. But it certainly was learned the hard way.So I moved on:

“Don't let anyone ever make you feel like you don't deserve what you want.“

Heath Ledger

Now that’s just sad. And clearly a life lesson he did not learn. So I tried again.

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.“

Oprah Winfrey

That certainly is inspiring, but is it really true? I mean some of life’s bad breaks come from too much courage. Or just plain bad luck.

“After a while, you learn to ignore the names people call you and just trust who you are.”


I’m supposed to be taking lessons from a cartoon ogre?

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.

Robert Frost

That’s better but a fairly depressing thought.

I suppose there is a good side to making mistakes. After all there is no progress without making errors. Very few people have been successful in Hollywood without being laughed out of the room... several times. Science wouldn’t exist without making whopping booboos. I often used to go to the Improv, a comedy showcase in Los Angeles. I’ve seen a lot of stand-ups starting out, watched with horror as they made incredible howlers. And then seen them become huge stars.

So I know in theory mistakes are terrific. It’s just never learning from them is not such a great idea.

Recently I saw a documentary on Norman Lear, the 96 year old, legendary television writer, producer, director and activist. One of the people talking about him said though Lear was 92, he was the youngest, smartest man he’d ever met. And when they interviewed Lear he said that the one thing he learned in life was: “you are responsible for your own happiness.”

I’ve been thinking about that one and it seems pretty valuable. But try as I might, it is difficult to hold on to. Especially when the woman sitting next to me at Starbucks is speaking loudly on her phone and elbow-slamming me. I can feel myself thinking: now here is a woman who could benefit from a few choice words of advice from me.

A few weeks ago I read an interview with David Hockney, the 80-year-old world-renowned painter. He is still experimenting with his art, using a computer. He said: “I live in the now. When I’m in the studio, I’m 30.”

Is this the message? Both men are still working; both are still learning, both continue to be young. Is that the lesson here?


I remember my mother, who was a very wise woman and who lived to 91. She told me the only thing she ever learned in life was that four prunes are too many; three are enough.

I’m still struggling to come up with a life lesson as profound.

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

Out Now

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