Don't Bite off More than you can Chew

and other timeless Principles for effective living from Seniors.

By Charles Waldo

You undoubtedly are familiar with the title Principle:  “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”  Don’t take on more obligations,  debt,  projects, and so on than you can handle and get done on time and with quality. Because it is so applicable to success in so many situations,  you have no doubt applied it….perhaps often.  Where, when, and from whom did you first hear it?    I’ll bet it goes back a ways,  to your parents and, perhaps, even to grandparents.  You no doubt have many more which you can quickly bring to mind.

I belong to a Seniors exercise class in Columbus (IND) jointly sponsored by the local hospital and Senior Center.  There are 27 Seniors in the group,  average age probably 75+,  almost evenly split between females and males;  all retired from a wide variety of occupations, ranging from farming, to teaching, to engineering, to the military.  Some have lived their entire lives in the Columbus area, while others are recent arrivals. Salt of the earth folks, with very positive attitudes, especially considering that many are fighting Parkinson’s Disease.

Our leader likes us to exercise both our minds and bodies. Recently,  during a break,  she asked us to consider and bat around two questions:  1)  Using the old adage or Principle of “Don’t bite off more than you can chew” as an example, can you remember any similar Principles which were applied to you and which you subsequently adopted and applied to others in your sphere of influence, such as children,  employees, and so on?  2)  From whom did you first hear each Principle and how long ago was that?    Get your memories cranked up and we’ll just go around the room and share.   You might be surprised how far back some of these Principles go.


Sensing the potential makings of a useful article for this magazine,   I rustled up a note pad and pen, and took copious notes as the members shared.   

As we went around the room there were many smiles,  outright  laughter, and some embellishment of the conditions under which a particular Principle was applied to or by that person.  It was obvious most of the Principles were widely used and most said they wished they had learned the lesson undergirding the Principle a lot sooner.

(Quick – Before going on can you think of any Principles for effective living that you abide by….or should?  Have such Principles changed as you aged?  How so?)        

Here are the Principles that were shared, most several times by different members.    How many of them are “part” of you?   How many have you used?   In what situations?   Where and how did you learn it?   Are these Senior Principles for effective living ageless?

  • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Mentioned by just about everyone.)
  • “Listen more; talk less.”
  • “Always tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember what you said.”
  • “Get as much education as you can. Never stop learning.”
  • “Work hard. Always do your best.  Don’t give up.”
  • “Measure twice, cut once.  Do things right the first time.”
  • “Be kind and generous, especially to those who have less than you.”
  • “Stay away from trouble with the law. Remember,  nothing good happens after 2 AM.”
  • “Don’t cheat. It will always catch up with you.”
  • Put a part of each paycheck into a savings account.”
  • “Always give credit where credit is due,” and related, “If you can’t say something good about a person,  don’t say anything.”
  • “Good luck tends to find those who work hard and help others.”
  • "Look people in the eye when talking with them.”
  • “Good manners and good grammar are always in style. “
  • “Don’t drink and drive.”
  • “Don’t smoke.”
  • “Come in to work a little early; stay a little late;  do a little more than is required; and make sure your output is the best quality possible.”
  • “Laugh with people, not at them.”
  • “Fool me once and it’s your fault. Fool me twice and it’s my fault.”
  • “Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”
  • “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
  • “It will never be noticed on a galloping horse.” (Do you have any idea what this several- times- mentioned Principle comes from or refers to?)
  • “If you make a mess,  clean it up.”
  • “Praise in public. Criticize in private.”
  • “You can’t trust a dog to guard your food.”
  • “Be careful as to who you run around with. You are known by the company you keep.”
  • “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
  • “Always wear clean underwear. You never know when you might be in an accident and have to go to the hospital.”     (This one was mentioned by several of the ladies….but not by even one guy. ???)

Your reaction?

What do you think? Have you heard these Principles? Do you use them? If you have several not listed above but that you’ve found helpful, send them my way and maybe there’s a follow-up article possible.

As to when they first hear of each Principle, members said the first exposures usually went back many years, often to a parent, grandparent, coach, and, in a couple of cases, to their Army drill sergeants. Several Seniors said they had no doubt the Principal want back far beyond their grandparents.  Some said “It’s in the Bible,” that’s how old and everlasting it is. “ That is old. Pass them on.  Good luck.


Charles Waldo, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing (ret.) in Anderson University’s  Falls School of Business.    He can be reached in Columbus, IND at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..