A Lesson from Willie Nelson

There is a line in a Willie Nelson song that brought me up straight in my chair. In his tune, The Songwriters, Nelson sings about all the fun songwriters have crafting songs about breaking out of prison, shooting bad guys and hanging out with big stars.

But here’s the line that got me.

Teach lessons but don’t bother to learn ‘em.


How often do we teach others but fail to abide by those lessons? Why? Let Willie list the reasons – as they pertain to songwriters. And by extension to all of us.

We’re heroes, we’re schemers

We’re drunks and we’re dreamers

We’re lovers and sometimes we’re fighters

We’re the truth, we’re the lies.

We’re stupid, we’re wise.

We may not drink, we may not fight, but deep down we sometimes do not abide by the truth we hold true. After all, we are human – frail and failed. At the same time – and in the spirit can opposites can be true — we are strong, and wise and able to learn. If we allow ourselves to listen to the better angels of our nature.

Hope is on our side

There is, of course, hope for us. But hope cannot be a method. It can be what focuses our attention on what we need to do for others as well as ourselves. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden advised, focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot do.

Here’s Willie with the last word:

Remember the good times

They’re smaller in number and easier to recall

Don’t spend too much time on the bad times

Their staggering number will heavy as lead on your mind.

Amen, Willie.

Note: The Songwriters is included in his book Willie Nelson’s Letters to America.

First posted on my LinkedIn Live newsletter. 5.21.2023