Excellent Advice for Living, by Kevin Kelly

Wisdom I Wish I'd Known Earlier

It was in Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, where I first read that there are literally stone tablets from thousands of years ago saying that “the younger generation is going to hell.”

Or whatever the ancient Sumerian equivalent of that statement is.

Basically, people have been lamenting the decline of civilization ever since the beginning of civilization, and there have always been older people sitting around giving advice.

Much of this life advice has been written down, and fortunately for all of us, the tradition has continued, all the way from ancient Mesopotamia with their stone tablets, to Silicon Valley and their…well, tablets.

Funny how we still use so many of the same words!

We still “scroll” on “tablets” and so on.


Before I start rambling like Grandpa Simpson: my latest book breakdown features the brilliant technologist and undefeated optimist Kevin Kelly’s latest book, called Excellent Advice for Living.

It’s a collection of 450 wise, practical, and enlightened aphorisms - tips on living a better, happier, richer life - that I believe are worth passing on.

I was such a big fan of this book that I wrote a complete breakdown of Excellent Advice for Living for the Stairway to Wisdom, highlights of which I’ll share with you here in this email.

The breakdown itself is about 10,000 words, covering all the Key Ideas, Book Notes, Action Steps, and more.

It’s also free, by the way.

It’ll only take you about 35 minutes to read the whole thing, and in it, you’ll learn how to open up a much greater number of options in your life, become 110% happier, learn anything, inoculate yourself against hardships, successfully navigate an uncertain future, and more.

You can read the full breakdown here, but I’ll give you a little preview in this email so you can decide whether to check out the full one later.

Again, totally free.

I should actually say “free for right NOW,” because it’s going back behind the paywall very shortly.

Then it’s just for members only at the Stairway to Wisdom. 

Alright now, let’s gather around Kevin Kelly as he dispenses some…

This Book is For:

*Young people who are staring impending adulthood in the face and who want to catch a glimpse of how kind, creative, successful, and wise they could potentially become.

*Parents who love their children too much to let them leave their protective embrace without arming them with essential wisdom for living in peace, comfort, and happiness.

*Everyone who feels the need to push back against the relentless pressure of the outside world to conform to a predetermined script of how their lives should unfold, and who instead wishes to construct their own vision of what life should be about.

*Lifelong learners who, regardless of how much they've read, seen, or experienced already, feel as though they could never possibly learn enough about life, and who want to keep drinking from the proverbial firehose of human wisdom that is Kevin Kelly.


"On my sixty-eighth birthday, I decided to give my young adult children some advice. I am not a frequent advice giver but soon I was able to write down 68 bits. To my surprise, I had more to say than I thought.

So for the next several years I wrote down a batch of advice on my birthday and shared it with my family and friends. They wanted more. I kept going until I had about 450 bits of advice I wished I'd known when I was younger.

I am primarily channeling the wisdom of the ages. I am offering advice I have heard from others, or timeless knowledge repeated from the past, or a modern aphorism that matched my own experience. I doubted any of it is truly original, although I have tried to put everything in my own words.

I think of these bits as seeds because each one of them could easily be expanded into a long essay. Indeed, I have spent most of my time writing by compressing these substantial lessons into as compact and tweetable forms as possible. You are encouraged to expand these seeds as you read to fill your own situation.

If you find these proverbs align with your experience, share them with someone younger than yourself."

-Kevin Kelly

Just because you're old doesn't mean that you automatically have much valuable wisdom to share. Some people haven't really lived 10,000 days, they've just lived the same day 10,000 times. Kevin Kelly, however, is an exception, and it turns out that the brilliant and insightful tech innovator gives excellent life advice.

For anyone hearing about Kelly for the first time, he is the co-founder of Wired magazine and a highly-praised futurist and author whose optimistic outlook on the next chapter of human history has inspired a generation to think bigger and to advance confidently into the next stage of human evolution.

It's not controversial to point out that humanity faces tremendous internal and external survival pressure, including some fairly intimidating existential threats that we can no longer ignore if we wish to continue to exist as a species.

But we've all had enough of that pessimistic, misanthropic "life advice" from people who don't even try to come up with any answers to our problems. This much is now clear: if you want to change history and survive long enough to do so, you bring in an optimist.

As Kelly says in the quote that began this summary, the life advice presented in this book was originally intended for his young adult children to help them navigate the hazardous future we all find ourselves hurtling towards. But the very act of writing them down caused him to realize that he had much more to offer than he thought he did when he began, which resulted in him eventually compiling this wonderful collection of 450 wise, practical, and incredibly valuable aphorisms.

The range of subjects they cover is as wide and deep as life itself, and so you'll find here advice about setting ambitious goals, cultivating peace of mind and equanimity, dealing with loss, organizing your life around adventure and spontaneity, dispelling anger and sadness, minimizing regret, and so much more.

One criticism that's leveled against the book - fairly, I believe - is that he doesn't offer much in the way of context, which is why I've selected 17 of the aphorisms here and gone more deeply into why I think they're important and how you can implement this wisdom into your life to make it better.

Now, in a book with hundreds and hundreds of wise, practical aphorisms, my choices about which ones to expand on and which ones to ignore likely say more about me than they do about whether they're the "best" aphorisms or the "most useful" ones.

However, I've tried to select the ones I think are going to be the most thought-provoking and mind-expanding for many people. In the whole book, though, I really didn't find too many that weren't worth reading at least once, and so, as per usual, I've once again featured a book on the Stairway to Wisdom that I believe most people should read themselves in its entirety.

As you read the book and filter this life advice through your particular worldview, situation, and understanding, you're probably going to disagree with at least a few of them, or find them irrelevant or silly, etc. But which ones those are will change depending on who you are. That's part of what makes books so magical!

That being said, if it's true that your quality of life is roughly equal to the quality of the 20-30 people who give you the best advice, then you'd be wise to include Kevin Kelly in that group.

Key Ideas:

#1: The Future is Decided by Optimists

“Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist, you don't have to ignore the multitude of problems we create; you just have to imagine how much our ability to solve problems improves."

-Kevin Kelly

Given the freedom to do so, humanity solves far more problems than we create. We've already survived so much - and we've made such incredible progress towards making this Earth free and beautiful - that it would be a damn shame to stop now.

Naturally, pessimists will always try and point out that the world's on fire: poverty, misery, destruction, and death everywhere you look (and, increasingly, you have to look harder and harder to find any). But Kevin Kelly isn't saying that we ignore what's going on and focus exclusively on the positive.

Indeed, we need to recognize where we still have more progress to make, because then we can actually do something about it. But, both optimists and pessimists should be aware of the facts before they start handing out life advice:

More than 2.6 billion people have received access to an improved water source since 1990, and the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s were richer than the richest countries in the world in 1800. Technology and innovation advance with or ahead of our greatest problems, and now's not the time to stop pushing for further progress.

#2: Play the Long Game

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it 10 years. A long game will compound small gains that will be able to overcome even big mistakes."

-Kevin Kelly

In keeping with the first Key Idea, I believe we should focus more on our current trajectory than our current results.

As I write this, it's only 2023. Philosophers like Will MacAskill believe that should humanity surmount its current problems and protect itself from future existential threats, we could be looking at potentially millions of years of human history yet to come!

It's often difficult to put such huge numbers into context, but even today, some of the damn-near futuristic medical advances that are either available now or coming soon used to belong to the realm of science fiction. Now they're science facts.

On a personal level, although the length of our lives is uncertain, embracing long-term strategic thinking can help us make smarter moves in the present that will set us up for extreme success in the future.

My advice is to plan in decades, even while you commit to taking massive action today. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk refers to this as macro patience, micro speed. It's where you realize that every single moment of every single day matters, but you're not in a rush to achieve results, because you know that if you take the required amount of action every single day, you're going to get somewhere amazing eventually.

The potentially vast human future that is opening up before us today can help us to stretch our own time horizons, and help us realize that we have no time to waste, but we have all the time we need.

#3: Win Big by Aiming Huge

“The advantage of a ridiculously ambitious goal is that it sets the bar very high, so even if your effort falls short, it may exceed an ordinary success."

-Kevin Kelly

The true value of thinking big in life - of thinking huge, really - is that it gets our imaginations firing in spectacular new ways. Massive dreams and ambitions expand our minds, and even if we don't achieve every single thing we set out to do, a mind expanded by a huge goal never returns to its original dimensions.

Naturally, it's important not to tie up our whole self-worth in whether or not we achieve this "One Big Thing," and it's also important to cultivate the skill of happiness so that we can find pleasure and meaning in the process, even though we may be quite far away from our goal currently.

To aim big, we need to ask big, powerful questions like, "How would I do this?" and not, "Is this possible?" Or another favorite of mine, "What would I attempt if I knew I could not fail?" These are the kinds of questions that expand our minds and our possibilities, not questions that cause us to shut down and stay small.

Regardless of the results we achieve, there is tremendous value in the attempt itself. Imagining the grand vision and building it out in your mind changes your orientation to life, and where you end up is far less important than who you become on the way there.

Book Notes:

“Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.”

“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.”

“If you are looking for something in your house and you finally find it, when you're done with it, don't put it back where you found it. Put it back where you first looked for it."

“Shorten your to-do list by asking yourself 'What is the worst that will happen if this does not get done?' Eliminate all but the disasters."

“Forgiveness is accepting the apology you will never get.”

Action Steps:

So you've finished reading. What do you do now?

Reading for pleasure is great, and I wholeheartedly support it. However, I am intensely practical when I'm reading for a particular purpose. I want a result. I want to take what I've learned and apply it to my one and only life to make it better!

Because that's really what the Great Books all say. They all say: "You must change your life!" So here, below, are some suggestions for how you can apply the wisdom found in this breakdown to improve your actual life.

Please commit to taking massive action on this immediately! Acting on what you've learned here today will also help you solidify it in your long-term memory. So there's a double benefit! Let's begin...

#1: Take It One Aphorism at a Time

It's really easy to read this book too fast and miss all the magic. It's not a long book whatsoever, but try and slow down a little bit and take a few minutes to ponder your favorite aphorisms, maybe as you're doing the dishes or walking around the block. More will be revealed to you!

#2: Try and "Break" an Aphorism

An interesting exercise is to try and find out where one of Kelly's aphorisms breaks down, or where it doesn't apply. "Breaking" an aphorism means to find some special situation in which it's no longer true anymore, and where a more complex, nuanced explanation or thought process is required.

"The path to success is to take massive, determined action."

-Tony Robbins

About the Author:

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993 and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He is also the editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which gets half a million unique visitors per month. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers' Conference and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control.

Additional Resources:

This Book on Amazon:

If You Liked This Book:

Ok, that’s it for now…

More excellent book recommendations coming your way soon!

Again, the rest of the above breakdown is absolutely free (for now!), and you can find it right here.

What you see in this email is less than half of what you get at the Stairway to Wisdom. I left out most of the Book Notes, all the Questions to Stimulate Your Thinking, several of the Key Ideas, etc.

So there’s a lot more for you left to read if you enjoyed what you read in this email!

You can also apply to work with me directly on this page right here. I help clients gain wisdom and strength by using the knowledge found in the best books to assist people like you to get in peak physical shape, master your mind, make more money, and live a life you won’t regret.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of The Reading Life, and enjoy the rest of your week!

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

P.S. Whenever you're ready, here are three more ways I can help you apply the wisdom found in the greatest books ever written to your life:

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