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Giving me 500 words with which to inspire people about living well is sort of like giving a child $500 to spend in a toy store. Where to begin?

Let’s start with your first job: learning. Your earliest learning is informal, becoming more structured when school begins. All of your learning, though, helps you to grow. The first step in living well is to do everything you can–formally, informally, and lifelong–to extract from all of this learning not just job training that makes you functional in a certain role, but an education.

Educate yourself to become a whole person. Learn to read, write, speak and understand at least your native language, and the language of the country in which you live, well. It’s your lifeline, your means of communication. Learn the cultural references that demonstrate your interest in the world around you.

Take a course in basic logic and learn to distinguish sense from nonsense; learn about the teachings of ancient and modern philosophers. Learn to think. Then take that learning out of the classroom and carry it with you wherever you go. Never use it to lord it over others, but never dumb yourself down for fear of not “fitting in” somewhere where you used to be.

Your second job is developing the ability to discriminate. Shocked? Don’t be! Anyone who can’t or won’t discern good from evil, truth from falsehood, quality from shoddiness, enduring values from politicized trends, and priorities from time-wasters will never even survive in this world, let alone achieve a life of joyfulness and abundance. All things and all ideas are not of equal value. Look deeply into what’s set before you. Don’t bother grabbing for the brass ring–go for the gold!

I’ve heard this quotation many times before, but have never known its source: “When life is too interesting to worry about how my face looks, that’s how I like it.” Like any woman, I care to some extent about what I wear and how my face looks.

Yet if I thought for a moment that these trappings, rather than what’s in my head and how I pursue my enthusiasms, were my image, I’d flee like a spooked deer and be off in search of a life that I considered to be real. So the last job I’m recommending to you is simply this: find your most important passions and pursue them full-tilt boogie. All of them.

Don’t put yourself on short rations in the enthusiasm department.

Don’t worry about how/whether your interests may be different from those of anyone around you.

Don’t be afraid that life is too short to explore all that attracts you. The longer you worry about this, the less of your life is left to you. The great Pablo Casals didn’t marry until he was in his sixties, and Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her eighties. There is world enough and time.

Ready to take that first step?

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Sharon Clark Chang grew up in Richmond, Virginia, longing not only to see the world, but to see it become a more tolerant and loving place. She followed an intelligence career with work in advocacy and with minority businesspeople.

Having returned to Virginia after years spent in other cities and countries, she keeps house for a pair of rescued terriers and brings smiles to the faces of fellow motorists with her license plate, “INCRGBL.”

Escaped Alone, her memoir of those early Richmond years that inspired her search for racial, religious, and other forms of nondiscrimination, was published in 2013 and is available from Tate Publishing. Signed copies are available here.

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