I’ve always felt unsolicited free advice was worth what you paid for it. I mean, it’s one thing for you to ask someone for their thoughts or ideas, but something else entirely when they stick their nose in your business, usually by saying, “I know it’s not any of my business,” or something similar.

Granted, sometimes the advice is sound: “Don’t touch that; it’s really hot,” for example. Sometimes, though off-putting, it could have some worth: “Don’t eat the yellow snow.”

I stopped asking my dad for advice when I was very young, because he always told me to ask my mother and she always made it sound like any problem I was having was my fault: “If ye didne listen to that music of yours when ye werrrre supposed to be doing yer homework, ye might no have trouble with yer algebra.” Or: “That lassie’s that nice so she is. And she’s that smart tae. If yer havin’ a harrrd time talkin’ to her, maybe ye should be talkin’ te some o’ the lassies that aren’t as clever.” Hard to believe she never put together a self-help book.

Anyway, I know it’s none of my business, but I think you should do everything possible in your life not to settle for less than what is best for you. You’re welcome.

This came up the other day when someone asked me if I’d learned anything special from having cancer. I’m not sure if I’ve learned anything “special,” but I do know I’m more determined than ever not to settle for less.

Notice I didn’t say settle for less than what you want. I do that for a number of reasons, but mainly because what I want isn’t always what I should have, let alone something that’s good for me.

Once I realized that getting what I needed was far better for me than getting what I wanted, things started taking a turn for the better. I met and married Sheri, we moved to Maine, met people who would have tremendous influence on our lives. Those and plenty more, all without asking.

But — and it’s a big but — finding what you need demands paying attention and, quite often, sacrifice of something you have or something you thought you had to have.

It’s hard not to settle for something less, don’t you think? Hard enough that we come up with all sorts of rationalizations when we do.

A relationship is OK because the two of you are comfortable together, and who wants to go through all that dating hassle anyway?

A job is OK because you make good money, and you feel about as secure as you think is possible in this day and age. Yeah, you hate coming to work each day, but being out of work sucks.

You’d love to try living in a different part of the state, or even a different part of the country, or the world, for that matter, but it’s scary. You’d be leaving people you know and love. You’re secure where you are, comfortable. Still, it would be nice to see what it’s like living in a completely different place.

Believe me, I get it. Being secure is important; comfort is nice. But, just think: You’re favorite baked good is wonderful, until it goes down the wrong hole and you start coughing, snorting and spewing because you can’t breathe.

As I said, I’m hardly the person to be telling you what to do. I’m the last one I usually listen to when trying to make a decision.

Since I got sick, though, I’ve really come to see the amount of crap we have no control over. There is so much this and that we have to do, or get arrested, fired or told “this relationship isn’t working, and I think it’s because of you.” The amount of life stuff we have options about is very small. So, we don’t get much practice, one way or the other.

What all this blah, blah, blah comes down to, it seems to me, is understanding that our happiness is our responsibility. I chose where I live, who I have a relationship with, and I used to choose the job I had. If I’m not happy with any of those things, or countless others, I’m the only one who can do something about it. Sure, I can say, “If it wasn’t for (fill in the blank), I would be happy.”

In the end, though, it’s our choice whether we’re happy or not. Of course, we were given a terrific piece of advice, possibly life-altering advice, back in 1963 when the soon-to-be-drug-addled Jimmy Soul advised: “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. So for my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.” Amen, Brother Jimmy. Amen.

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.

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