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  • Calli Zarpas

9.5 Life Lessons in 95 years: Advice From My Grandmother

My grandmother was born in 1924 in New York. She was born to Greek immigrants and spent the majority of her childhood back in her mother's village on the Grecian island on Kefalonia.

She is one of the most caring and real women I know. She will out-sass and out-dress anyone. She's generous and honest and gives some of the best advice I've ever received.

So if you're looking for some wisdom, check out a short interview with Mary inspired by Tim Ferriss' Tribe of Mentors.

1. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for success? Do you have a "favorite failure"of yours?

It was mostly seeing the failures of others, the abuse of children, adults, alcohol, etc. I do not believe you are destined to become those who came before you. I told myself from a young age that that’s not my path.

2. What was your secret to a happy marriage?

It had its bumps, big bumps. For me, the first time I saw him I was fourteen. We were married several years later and then divorced for another fourteen years before we got remarried. A way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Cooking well and enjoying cooking were important for me. Pillow talk at night. If you're upset about something it's better to say it nicely, without anger, later. I don't like what you said to me today. I didn't like your tone. The man's eye is constantly on you so presenting yourself well is nice too. You can't take him for granted, and he can't take you for granted either.

3. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

What do they call those boxes at the bank you can put things in? A lockbox. You are the only one with a key to it. It's the perfect way to save money. For example, when I was younger I wanted to buy a house and when I would accumulate $100, I would put it in the box. Not in the savings. Because if you put it in a savings you’re going to draw it out because its easy to put the card in the ATM. I only took it out when I accumulated enough to buy a house. It was a lot, but it wasn’t. It was a small house. But what happened? The property doubled in value within a short time because they were going to open a metro station nearby so the property became valuable that way, so that's the lucky thing. So a small one level house turned into a five bedroom house. The little box brought me the little house and the little house brought me the big house.

4. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

You know the movie company, I don’t know the name, that has the lion’s head and the line’s bite. Well, every time I see the bite, I always say it back to him. But, one of the saddest thing I’ve heard about lions is that my old boss had an apartment building in Washington D.C. near the zoo and the people in those apartments would hear the lions crying at night. Even right now it brings tears to my eyes. That beautiful beast put in a cage. People hearing them crying at night. To me who is the beast? The beast? Or are we the beast? And I don’t believe in circuses either. Animals are innocent. I don’t care if you say this, or that, that they're vicious. No. Even little baby ants. What are that little bug that has dots on them? Lady bug. They’re kinda cute. But my habit, I growl back at him.

5. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Always thanking people and being thankful for what you have. Every night before I go to bed I thank God for my family and my family of friends. One Sunday, I heard a sermon where the priest said sometimes standing in silence is the best prayer you can say because if God doesn’t know what is in your heart, who does? 20-30 years of hearing sermons on the Bible, but that stays with you: if God doesn’t know what is in your heart, who does? But I’ve also heard sometimes God wants to hear your voice. Tell Him and the world how thankful you are.

6. What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Before you do anything, work for someone, a company in your field and learn from that experience and then move on. Don’t feel like thats the end. Graduating isn't the end of your education, of your journey. You can get further, a masters, even if you have to go at night. The answer is continuously learning, either through reading or experiences, but you never stop learning. Just because college is over doesn’t mean the learning is and figure out how to use it the right way. Read, stay current, stay interested in what is going on around you, in your government. Everything in moderation is excellence. Keep moving forward.

7. What are the three books that have influenced your life?

Well, that's a lot to ask. But, if I had to name three: The Letters of Abigail Adams, Grant, and A Traitor to His Class: Franklin D. Roosevelt.

8. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively influenced your life?

Giving to the small needs of others.

9. If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

Believe in yourself, the better part of you. Believe in yourself and move forward, advance humanity, advance whoever you touch. If you aren’t number one then you can’t take care of others.

9.5. She had a lot to say for this one so I thought it deserved an answer and a half.

Find your inner strength. You may come to your knees sometimes in life, but dust yourself off and stand up. Knocked down again? The same thing. There’s jealousy. There are people who don’t want you to succeed. If you have to sprout wings to jump over the blocks, do it. But always have your ego in check and believe in yourself.



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