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Life is fairly difficult, and people often get in their own way. They get wound up about things they cannot control, people who are ruining things from the way they were to they way they are, and put a lot of emphasis in pushing down what makes them suffer.

The thing is, we need suffering. As it comes from Proverbs, iron sharpens iron. The refining process of maturity and experience is what guides you through life between the difficulties and the good times—feast and famine.

Know your values, use them to guide you, and stick to them. It won’t make all troubles go away, but being true to them will help make navigating the path easier. Don’t be too idealistic, ignore or hide your problems, or make excuses for others. The snake just comes back bigger down the road, and it’s rattle gets louder. Recognize predatory people, develop your own insights into yourself, and don’t use others for selfish gain. Take the time to develop hobbies and interests, be intentional and interested in who people are, not just what they can do for you. And always be kind, even if you don’t like the person; some people just have bad days, and sometimes you’re the reason people stop and change because you acted differently than everyone else around them.

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No "average" people make the cut? I would be more impressed if an average housewife/husband submitted an approved essay, or maybe a factory worker, or someone in retail sales. And why not someone in law enforcement or working in social settings? I am sure that these people are worthy, but they have no connection to ME, and their lessons do not resonate. Sorry.

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The fifth time is the charm, apparently. This author is a self-proclaimed work in progress, and seems to find that oh so endearing. I’d like to hear the perspective of his two children, dealing with his life choices.

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“Bill Hankins from Cordele, Georgia, submitted a beautiful poem. One poignant line read: Peace will begin when expectation ends.”

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Peace will begin when Nikki Haley cashes the final check from Raytheon.

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They were all kind of a bust. Gives my age cohort a thumbs down, but I know that have many of us have lived and continue to live deep and meaningful lives

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Well written stories all. At 76, there are far fewer days behind me than ahead. The one lesson I take away is that while aging is inevitable, growing old is a choice. There is always more to learn, more to experience, risks to take. The choice is yours.

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The young people's essays were much more interesting

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I vote for the Australian lady

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“She has a master’s degree and wrote a thesis on W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz. Her hobbies include oil painting, writing, and walking.”

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Hillary Clinton has degrees from Yale and Wellesley and her hobbies include selling adrenochrome and polishing her hooves.

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My comment is a short essay I would have submitted to the contest. It's a chapter in a book I wrote for my kids and grand kids. The chapter answers the question, "Who is the wisest person you've ever met and what did you learn from them?" I'm new to the Free Press and missed the submission phase. I appreciate the indulgence of anyone who chooses to read this narrative.

* * * * * * * *

If you’ve read other chapters in this book, it will be no surprise that I can’t pick just one “wisest person” I’ve known – I have a hard time picking “one” of anything from my life. I’ve tried to learn from many people and learn both, ways TO live and ways NOT TO live my life. Nonetheless, I’m going to share what I’ve learned from just “one” person, Otto, the man who taught me to sail.

Otto picked me; I did not pick him. Our relationship and my love of sailing literally began with, “Hey kid; come here.” It was a very simple and friendly appeal for a crew when I was about 13 years old, and I had no idea of the profound impact it would make on my life.

Learning to sail put me on Lake Michigan with a much older, childless man who could not have been more eager to share with me what he had learned about sailing, and life. Lake Michigan is a big body of water that deserves respect. I became comfortable with big water at a young age, and I think that is largely because Otto taught me when to enjoy it and when to avoid it. “Discretion is the better part of valor” was Otto’s first sailing lesson. In retrospect, that time on the water with Otto now seems magical.

Otto’s was a racing sailboat, a Star, the oldest Olympic Class, one-design boat at the time. When we were finished racing and had extra time, he often asked me sail the boat around the harbor. This may not sound like anything special, or even interesting but I now can’t imagine a better way to learn to sail, to learn about myself, and to learn some life lessons. He would give me a goal, a point to take him to on the other side of the harbor (this was Jackson Park Outer Harbor in Chicago, still in use). I had to consider where I was, where I wanted to finish, wind direction, and what obstacles I had to negotiate, obstacles both moving and moored. With this information I formulated a plan for a series of short sailing legs (it's not a big harbor) that would get me to the goal, and I executed it. Otto did whatever I told him to do, he made no corrections and gave no advice while I was in control of the boat. I soon realized, almost without thinking about it, that I was constantly measuring and evaluating my plan to see if it was still good and was taking me where I wanted to go. Early on, I sometimes had to change my plan because I simply didn’t know enough about how the wind, the boat and the waves worked together. As I learned, my plans became more efficient – arriving at the goal with fewer tacks and in less time. As I improved further, I “pushed” my plans to take more advantage of the boat’s capability and speed. Plans that I “pushed” had new lessons for me; I learned where I needed to build in a safety factor or consider an escape route because other boats didn’t know my plan, and occasionally, when I needed to completely “bail-out” and start over. I remember feeling a growing sense of accomplishment as I learned to sail through the harbor. The first time I tried, it seemed daunting, and I was more than a little unsure of myself. By the time Otto and I were done sailing together this seemed like child’s play, and I was proud of my ability to sail the boat on my own.

I have never forgotten those lessons. I credit them with helping me take on new challenges in all phases of my life, things I had not done before. Otto knew exactly what he was doing. He gave me a set of skills for problem solving and the confidence to “jump-into” something new and figure-it-out as I went along. He gave me experience making decisions and plans, measuring intermediate outcomes and then, sticking with the original plan or making a new one and putting it in play.

I can’t think of better lessons for an adolescent to learn, and I’m always thrilled when I see kids learning to sail. And I should make it clear that I think sailing is only one of many, many ways for kids to learn these lessons. The trick is to find an activity for which they have genuine interest. Then, with a little guidance the rest will almost take care of itself - sailing just happens to be tailor made for these life lessons. And yes, I'm still sailing on Lake Michigan out of Chicago Harbors with my family and friends; some habits can't be unlearned.

There were plenty of other bits of wisdom and knowledge that Otto shared. He was a successful entrepreneur on the South Side of Chicago who started life as an orphan. Probably his favorite “pearl” - the one I heard doled out most often to anyone who would listen - was, “the harder I worked the luckier I got”; he had a smile and a little “cackle” that usually went along with that one. But the sailing lessons were certainly the most impactful on me and the “wisdom” that I have reflected on for most of my life. I’m glad you asked this question ,and that I had the opportunity to share this life story.

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Disappointing essays. Embarrassed my age group if those are the "best".....and I live in rural Montana! Hoping that the winning essay tomorrow makes up for these.

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Dec 26, 2023·edited Dec 26, 2023

Ouch. Yeah, I agree with the comments that these are essentially unserious essays. 70 year old HS sophomores from that awful 1960s era. (I’m 65, btw).

Oh well. You’re entitled to the occasional whiff.

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The bee lady found comfort and joy watching an innocent child mesmerized by nature. Yesterday I had similar feelings sharing the enthusiasm watching my grandchildren unwrapping their Christmas presents. Of the other two one wants to live closer to rattlesnakes and the whines about his 95 year old mother. They sound like pronoun people.

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At 71 years and 42 years into my second marriage (my first was to a fellow medical student, lasted only through med school, and I chalk it up as the worst mistake of my life and, simultaneously, the best lesson) I can say without fear of being proved wrong that there is a reason some things are timeless. Like fashion, they may periodically fall in or out of favor, but inevitably they are rekindled, over and over, like an inexhaustible ember that can periodically be brought back to flame by a small, favorable puff of wind. The reason, I believe, is that they uniquely suit our innate nature. Some call this God-given while others ascribe it to some poorly understood natural law. I am with the former. These are exactly those things mentioned in these three wonderful essays: the preciousness of time taken to rest, reflect, and enjoy the natural world; the ultimately unsatisfying nature of living with continuous comfort and convenience; and the otherworldy contentment that can only come after decades living with your soulmate. A very nice piece with which to enter the New Year. Wishing all a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful, and Blessed New Year!

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Very narrow perspectives and demographic. Not enlightening or moving or poignant.

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Moving to Montana soon. Gonna be a dental floss tycoon.

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