The Best Advice from David Foster Wallace

May 16, 2013


By Koseli. Illustration by Lim Heng Swee.

I recently came across a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace in 2005 that hit me squarely in the forehead. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, annoyed, or bored by “the average adult life” this just might be the best nine minutes of your day. It’s some of the most sound life advice I’ve ever heard, not to mention a simple, clear argument for education. Absolutely beautiful.

It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.” It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.

How do you “stay conscious and alive, day in and day out“? Do you find yourself choosing love and fellowship in difficult situations? If so, how do you do it?

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Advice – This Is Water
May 17, 2013 at 8:00 am

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Liz May 16, 2013 at 7:20 am

I really needed this video today. Thanks so much.


2 Koseli Cummings May 16, 2013 at 8:01 am

Me too, Liz! So glad it resonated with you like it did me.

“It’s just water, it’s just water.”


3 Andrea May 16, 2013 at 7:25 am

beautiful. Thank you.


4 Carrie May 16, 2013 at 7:56 am

This is one of those messages that is so simple and “why didn’t that occur to me” yet so profound at the same time. Love the reminder that we choose how to view these mundane things, and decide what is important. Sometimes I get caught up in what “is” important without really considering whether it should actually be important to me. Thanks for sharing.


5 Koseli Cummings May 16, 2013 at 8:02 am

Me too, Carrie.


6 Rebekah May 16, 2013 at 7:56 am

True true! Excellent message, perfect at the start of the day.


7 Koseli Cummings May 16, 2013 at 8:03 am

So glad you liked it, Rebekah! Rejuvenates your focus, doesn’t it?


8 Emily May 16, 2013 at 8:23 am

Whenever I remind myself to think like this the world gets infinitely better. This is such a great reminder, thank you.


9 Chelsea May 16, 2013 at 8:25 am

Thanks Gabby! I loved this. Hard to do when you’re in the moment, but something I’d love to strive for more often. I have a few friends who I think put this attitude in motion most days, and they are the happiest people I know- so wonderful to be around. It really is so simple.


10 Carla May 16, 2013 at 8:55 am

Poetic, beautiful, thought-provoking, calming – thank you for sharing! I was sad to learn that Mr Wallace took his own life but I am going to look for his books.


11 Angela May 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

I love that. And it’s pretty much what every mystic throughout history has been told us. :) There’s more to life than what’s at the surface. Below is something mesmerizing and sacred.


12 Adina | Gluten Free Travelette May 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

Thanks for sharing! What a great video – it all really resonated with me except that challenging white collar day job part. That threw me since I’m still looking for the challenging part :-).


13 Chase @ The Smell of Summer May 16, 2013 at 10:29 am

What a great video. Perfect start to my day :)

Chase Miller
The Smell of Summer – A Boutique Lifestyle Blog


14 Julie May 16, 2013 at 10:31 am

I loved the excerpt, but was saddened by the link about David Foster Wallace that discusses his suicide. I wanted to leave this post feeling hopeful about my choice about how I think about the world, but that link left me feeling sad about the choices others make to end their lives. Perhaps this sadness is a result of my twin brother’s suicide. And, of course, Wallace’s death does nothing to counteract the beauty of the work he did during his life. I just feel sad.


15 Franca Bollo May 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Me, too. I knew of Wallace’s suicide before I started to listen so I had that in the back of my head. I think most people, knowing this, would feel sad, too. You, especially. I’m so sorry for your loss.

Thanks, Koseli, for posting this. I know a graduate who’ll be receiving this video this very soon.


16 Olivia May 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

Thank you.


17 Uncle Beefy May 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Just extraordinary. So eloquently put and profound.

I try to make the choices he speaks of in my daily like and, just like he said, some days it just doesn’t happen. But when I get cut off in traffic and feel that surge of anger I’ll try and stop myself and imagine that perhaps that person just received news that their child was hurt, or that they lost their job, or even that they just have to use the bathroom *really* badly. When I can find that place it makes for a much more peaceful and compassionate mindset.

Thanks so much for sharing.


18 Allison Warmbir May 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm

This is absolutely beautiful, thank you for sharing. Bringing awareness and conscious decision-making to otherwise routine moments ultimately creates a life full of meaning. Certainly a mindset we should all strive for.


19 sandra May 16, 2013 at 5:18 pm

:) Love. I have always tried to teach my children (now 20 and 22). You never know how the other person’s day has been… or where they have just come from – I use it with the elevator – people get on – you smile – they continue a blank stare. It’s not about YOU….. keep smiling and realize their day is not the same. It could be a number of reasons – perhaps you just made a difference. Or not. Not about YOU. Keep smiling anyway.


20 isabelle May 17, 2013 at 2:41 am

This breaks my heart it is so sad. So very sad. It is hard for me to see it as inspirational because I cannot take it out of context, separate it from who DFW was and the difficulty he had his entire life with depression, with trying to tame the beast but it didn’t work and it swallowed him piece by piece. Very thought provoking.


21 Koseli Cummings May 17, 2013 at 9:55 am

It’s very difficult and tragic to think on his suicide, or any and all. Man Repeller posted the video today and I thought her insights were really helpful. The comments are too. Here it is:


22 butternutb May 17, 2013 at 5:10 am

what? … this isn’t an argument for education, it’s an argument for unschooling.


23 Butternut B May 17, 2013 at 5:52 am

here’s a post about unschooling, and education.. this is how I interpreted that video- as a call to lead this kind of life!


24 annie@mostlovelythings May 17, 2013 at 11:32 am

Yes, absolutely beautiful…just as you said and worth every minute!


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