Brain Pickings

10 Life Lessons from Esquire’s “What I’ve Learned” Interviews

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From 50 Cent to Julia Child, or what Apocalypse Now has to do with sperm whales.

Since 1998, Esquire magazine has conducted more than 300 interviews with artists, athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, musicians, politicians, scientists and writers. The series — called “What I’ve Learned” — provides a fascinating cross-section of the lives of prominent people. From Buzz Aldrin to Batman, the interview list reads like a Who’s Who of our era.

We’ve chosen 10 timeless quotes on how to live, from 10 of our favorite interviews in the series, a fine extension of these 5 guides to life from cultural luminaries, featured here last spring.

Smoke like a chimney, work like a horse, eat without thinking, go for a walk only in really pleasant company.” ~ Albert Einstein

Get yourself in trouble. If you get yourself in trouble, you don’t have the answers. And if you don’t have the answers, your solution will more likely be personal because no one else’s solutions will seem appropriate. You’ll have to come up with your own.” ~ Chuck Close

You practice and you get better. It’s very simple.” ~ Philip Glass

A big part of life is realizing what you’re good at.” ~ Alyssa Milano

Children teach you that you can still be humbled by life, that you learn something new all the time. That’s the secret to life, really — never stop learning. It’s the secret to career. I’m still working because I learn something new all the time. It’s the secret to relationships. Never think you’ve got it all.” ~ Clint Eastwood

You can’t just live in a comfortable little suburban neighborhood and get your education from movies and television and have any perspective on life.” ~ J. Craig Venter

A friend is someone who will tell you when you’re bullshitting, when you’ve overstepped a mark, or when you’re being an idiot.” ~ Sting

I think we will make it. Because one quality people have — certainly Americans have it — is that they can adapt when they see necessity staring them in the face. What to avoid is what someone once called the definition of hell: truth realized too late.”~ E. O. Wilson

The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.” ~ Julia Child

In the end, winning is sleeping better.” ~ Jodie Foster

In addition to reading the “What I’ve Learned” archives online, you can also collect the interviews in book form — Esquire published an anthology of their own favorites as The Meaning of Life: Wisdom, Humor, and Damn Good Advice from 64 Extraordinary Lives, featuring icons like George Carlin, Ray Charles, Faye Dunaway, Eminem and Oliver Stone.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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