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23 Life-Changing Things You Can Read Right Now

Guaranteed pick-me-ups, in under a half hour.

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1. "Tiny Revolutions" (Dear Sugar #86) by Cheryl Strayed

EXCERPT: "Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It's one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before. It's the man who opts not to invite his abusive mother to his wedding; the woman who decides to spend her Saturday mornings in a drawing class instead of scrubbing the toilets at home; the writer who won't allow himself to be devoured by his envy; the parent who takes a deep breath instead of throwing a plate. It's you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It's our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be." (Full text.)

2. Syracuse University commencement address ("The Importance of Kindness," May 2013) by George Saunders

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EXCERPT: "Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare's, bright as Gandhi's, bright as Mother Teresa's. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly. (Full text.)

3. "Forever" (Rookie editor's letter, December 2013) by Tavi Gevinson

EXCERPT: "One way to avoid killing your heart is to decide that you will spend your whole life growing up. I am not saying you should aspire to the maturity level of the characters in Hot Tub Time Machine; I am suggesting we resist a life that looks, in line-graph form, like it goes up and up and up and then it stops, and then it levels out, and then it stays on that flat plane until death. I hope to live a life that goes up and up and up until the end, with the inevitable dip here and there. I hope to continue to learn and change." (Full text.)

4. "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou

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5. "This Is What You Shall Do" (from the preface to Leaves of Grass) by Walt Whitman

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6. The University of the Arts commencement address ("Make Good Art," May 2012) by Neil Gaiman

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EXCERPT: "Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art. Make it on the good days too." (Full text.)

7. The poetry of Nayyirah Waheed

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(More here.)

8. "A Quick Note on Getting Better at Difficult Things" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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EXCERPT: "I am emphasizing how I 'feel' because, when studying, it is as important as any objective reality. Hopelessness feeds the fatigue that leads the student to quit. It is not the study of language that is hard, so much as the 'feeling' that your present level is who you are and who you will always be. I remember returning from France at the end of the summer of 2013, and being convinced that I had some kind of brain injury which prevented me from hearing French vowel sounds. But the real enemy was not any injury so much as the 'feeling' of despair. That is why I ignore all the research about children and their language advantage. I don't want to hear it. I just don't care. As Carolyn Forché would say — 'I'm going to have it.'" (Full text.)

10. Kenyon College commencement speech ("This Is Water," May 2005) by David Foster Wallace

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EXCERPT: "[T]here are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom." (Full text.)

11. "Reprieve" by Tim Kreider

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EXCERPT: "I don't know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best ones, crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. It's easy now to dismiss that year as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you'd experience after being clipped by a taxi. But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of grace. It's like the revelation I had when I was a kid the first time I ever flew in an airplane: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold onto and take back with you when you descend once more beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather." (Full text.)

12. Dartmouth commencement address ("Ditch the Dream and Be a Doer," June 2014) by Shonda Rhimes

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EXCERPT: "My point, I think, is that it is OK if you don't [do what everyone is expecting of you]. My point is that it can be scary to graduate. That you can lie on the hardwood floor of your dorm room and cry while your mom packs up your stuff. That you can have an impossible dream to be Toni Morrison that you have to let go of. That every day you can feel like you might be failing at work or at your home life. That the real world is hard. And yet, you can still wake up every single morning and go, 'I have three amazing kids and I have created work I am proud of, and I absolutely love my life and I would not trade it for anyone else's life ever.' You can still wake up one day and find yourself living a life you never even imagined dreaming of." (Full text.)

13. "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

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14. "The Dream of Life" (from The Nature of Consciousness) by Alan Watts

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EXCERPT: "Let's suppose you were able, every night, to dream any dream you wanted to dream, and that you could for example have the power to dream in one night 75 years worth of time. Or any length of time you wanted to have. And you would, naturally, as you began on this adventure of dreams, fulfill all your wishes. ... Then you would get more and more adventurous, and you would make further and further gambles as to what you would dream, and finally you would dream where you are now. You would dream the dream of the life that you are actually living today. That would be within the infinite multiplicity of the choices you would have. Of playing that you weren't God. Because the whole nature of the godhead, according to this idea, is to play that he's not. The first thing that he says to himself is 'Man, get lost,' because he gives himself away. The nature of love is self-abandonment, not clinging to oneself. ... That's the nature of life. So in this idea, then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality. Not God in a politically kingly sense, but God in the sense of being the self, the deep-down basic whatever there is. And you're all that, only you're pretending you're not." (Full text.)

15. Gabourey Sidibe’s Ms. Foundation Gala speech

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EXCERPT: "'How are you so confident?' 'I'm an asshole!' OK? It's my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I'm an asshole, and I want to have a good time. And my mother and my father love me. They wanted the best life for me, and they didn't know how to verbalize it. And I get it. I really do. They were better parents to me than they had themselves. I'm grateful to them, and to my fifth-grade class, because if they hadn't made me cry, I wouldn't be able to cry on cue now. If I hadn't been told I was garbage, I wouldn't have learned how to show people I'm talented. And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn't have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn't told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn't tried to break me down, I wouldn't know that I'm unbreakable." (Full text.)

16. "Roll the Dice" by Charles Bukowksi

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17. "String of Pearls" (from Therapy Drawings series for the New York Times) by Barry Michels and Phil Stutz

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EXCERPT: "It's the effort that has significance, not the result. This doesn't mean that you lie to yourself — throwing a wedding will mean more to you than giving a dinner party for six people. However, in an inner sense, you can choose to put your best effort into both, and make them of equal value to you. Your job is simply to put another pearl on the string, regardless how big or small the event is."

(Full text, book.)

18. Wellesley College commencement address (May 1996) by Nora Ephron

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EXCERPT: "[T]his is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn't know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever. We have a game we play when we're waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy. Whatever those five things are for you today, they won't make the list in ten years — not that you still won't be some of those things, but they won't be the five most important things about you." (Full text.)

19. Berkeley Journalism School commencement address (May 2011) by Robert Krulwich

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EXCERPT: "So for this age, for your time, I want you to just think about this: Think about NOT waiting your turn. Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepeneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don't know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends, and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it. And when it comes to security, to protection, your friends may take better care of you than CBS took care of Charles Kuralt in the end. In every career, your job is to make and tell stories, of course. You will build a body of work, but you will also build a body of affection, with the people you've helped who've helped you back." (Full text.)

20. Stanford University commencement address (June 2008) by Oprah Winfrey

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EXCERPT: "[B]e a part of something. Don't live for yourself alone. This is what I know for sure: In order to be truly happy, you must live along with and you have to stand for something larger than yourself. Because life is a reciprocal exchange. To move forward you have to give back. And to me, that is the greatest lesson of life. To be happy, you have to give something back." (Full text.)

21. Immaculate Heart College's Art Department rules

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22. Stanford commencement address (June 2005) by Steve Jobs

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EXCERPT: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." (Full text.)

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