Not Seeking Advice

Not Seeking AdviceWhat is it that compels people to offer unsolicited advice? I’ve written about this before but it’s worth writing some more. Unless I ask for it, I don’t like receiving advice. Most of my friends and family know this about me, so when I do get unasked-for advice, it’s from people who don’t know me well.

Recently, for example, a new woman in yoga overheard me explaining to the teacher why I shouldn’t be pushed on the lower spine (the beginnings of bone loss). I already had a funny feeling about this woman, since I’d heard her advising others and I could tell she was listening in. Sure enough, she moves in closer and starts to tell me about a magic herb cure. I cut her off, telling her I wasn’t into herbs and preferred treatments that were tested and proven safe and effective. I then walked out.

In retrospect, I wish I had calmly replied, “I am satisfied with my current treatment.” Let it go at that. The incident made me think about advice giving after a long period of being blissfully free on the receiving end. I even Googled it.

According to what I read (admittedly not totally scientific), most people do NOT like unsolicited advice. So I am not alone here. Only a handful said things like, “I am always learning so I welcome new information” or “The universe is bringing me what I need.” Whatever. If they are perpetually 15 or grew up in a cave, I understand.

It takes awhile to get our bearings in life, to figure out what makes us happy, healthy, what’s important, what work we enjoy, how to take care of ourselves. Some figure it out sooner and give out vibes – no advice needed! (Or maybe they become advice givers, personally or professionally.) Some, me included, are late bloomers and look to many sources for learning – exercise, discussion and support groups, therapy, retreats, reading, fellow travelers, pills, martinis.

I think during this blooming time, which coincided with the colorful, experimental seventies, I listened to a lot of advice! I deliberately put myself in the way of know-it-alls. Dated and even married men who recommended careers, writing styles, how I should handle my sons. Hung out with a few girlfriends who insisted I would benefit from Buddhism or EST being louder. I willingly embraced nuggets of advice, at least long enough to examine them and decide if they made sense to me.

No AdviceThen I reached a saturation point. Enough already! I gradually realized I’m living the way I want to and feel content most of the time. I like the word contentment better than happiness, since it seems more realistically human, embracing self-acceptance and gratitude, even if we have days of sadness, regret or frustration. Yes, I may need a shoulder to cry on sometimes, or a sympathetic ear, but not necessarily a bunch of babbling “shoulds.”

Does this need to tell others what to do come from a good place? A desire to help a friend? Perhaps. But I also think it comes from a need to alleviate anxiety. To solve problems and thus feel in control. Men do it because they are brought up to be take-charge protectors. However, women do it too.

And sometimes those who offer advice do so because they don’t want to look inward. Easier to solve the problems of others than their own. I admit I have done this mentally, more in the past. Getting older has helped me focus on what I can do with my remaining time and less on self-righteously planning what my friends should be doing. So I try very hard not to offer advice and to ask first if I think of an idea.

And thus my annoyance, after years of being a patient listener, on the receiving end of so much blather. Shut up, already. There is room for no more. If I need help expanding my mind or improving my life, I’ll ask, but in all honesty I prefer to learn on my own.

What I really wanted to ask that woman was, “Why do you think I need medical advice? Are you a medical doctor? Do I have a sign on me that says, Know nothing. Soliciting your infinite wisdom?”

This morning as I left yoga she was busy advising the teacher on how to teach a pose.

 

 

 

 

 

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Strolling Down Enlightenment Lane

Browsing in the bookstore recently, I realized I never look in the self-help section anymore. You’re more likely to find me in home improvement or garden makeovers or fiction or mysteries or current events. All of these appeal to me more than the excavation and renovation of my soul.

Self-HelpThe last self-help book I bought used gardening metaphors such as digging, planting seeds, watering – so many that even this metaphor lover wanted to brandish her pruning shears. Not that the advice was bad – how to grow a good life – but it was so simplistic and repetitive that I also wanted to throw a pot at the author. I put the book in my recycle bin. Maybe it would transform into something really useful, like costume jewelry or coasters.

Don’t get me wrong. I think these books serve a purpose. Understanding oneself is a worthy goal. If we face challenges or feel stuck, then reading and reflecting can help.

And it takes a lifetime. After a few decades of exploring inner and outer terrains, I don’t think I’ve “arrived” at any great pinnacle of enlightenment. However, I’ve earned the right to guide myself, to listen to my own voice rising above the chorus out there. And to like who and where I am, flaws and all. I will never achieve perfection and I don’t strive to.

Some people are lucky or smart enough to learn this early. They are happy to be, not that they are lazy or without problems. But I suspect many of us spend our lives figuring things out, extricating our own feelings and needs from those imposed on us by family and society.

Self-Help 2In recent years, gardening and writing have captured my soul and so my strolls through bookstores usually wind up in the non-human improvement section – how to toil in the soil and earn a few bucks with words. Before then, I read dozens of helpful books on work, relationships and mental and physical well-being.

A few of these books stand out in my memory like light bulbs. No, searchlights. Much more than “self-help,” they are a rich mix of history, culture, and science, including psychology and sociology. In them I found help for myself – as well as a larger view and understanding of our common human condition.

“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan (1963)

“Compassion and Self Hate: An Alternative to Despair” by Theodore Rubin (1975)

“Solitude: A Return to the Self” by Anthony Storr (1988)

“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990)

“Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (1991)

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (1992)

Pssst … Have You Heard?

Recently a friend said she thought it was okay when people expressed opinions about how others should live. “Who knows what unresolved dreams they have for themselves? At least it’s better than gossip, isn’t it?”

No, I don’t think it is. In fact, I think it’s just another variation of gossip. But this got me to thinking. What is gossip? Is it good, bad or in between? Does it serve a purpose? Is gossiping so engrained that we can’t help it, or should we work to minimize or eliminate it?

There is a saying, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (but not verified): “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

As with almost all sayings, this appears snappy and smart, but upon closer examination doesn’t hold up. Many of us have minds that are ever changing – small one minute or day, large the next. If we are analyzing ideas, how can we not mention the people who create them, write about them, or run for public office spouting them? We are not either/or, one way or another and neither is gossip.

The word gossip has a variety of meanings. Its Old English origin is godsibb, from god and kinsman, meaning godparent. In Middle English, it came to mean a close friend with whom one reveals personal information about others. Today, this can mean anything from “chatty talk” to sensational facts or rumors.Garden Party

There are times when I would prefer to hear gossip – for example, if a co-worker overhears the boss saying there are going to be layoffs, or if a friend sees my husband kissing another woman, or if a neighbor reports a stranger lurking on our street or that another neighbor is in the hospital. This is information I can use to protect myself or to help someone else.

There are times when I do not want to hear gossip – the malicious kind making fun of a person or spreading untruthful rumors. Whenever I do hear unpleasant gossip, I picture 18th century ladies in wigs surveying the ballroom and clucking away behind their fans.

Some gossip kind of falls in the middle. So and so’s marriage is in trouble. Did you hear his wife ran off with the gardener? Did you know she had to file bankruptcy? This information may or may not be useful. It sometimes gives us a momentary high, like chocolate. “At least that hasn’t happened to me,” we think. But then it leaves us with the sugar blues letdown and a bad taste in the mouth as we realize it could happen to us and most often people need our compassion.

I think spouting off about what someone else should do can fall into this category. From our safe vantage point, it seems reasonable that someone should start her own business or leave an unhappy marriage. But we are looking at these situations from the outside, not the inside, and we don’t fully understand what the person is thinking, feeling, dealing with. For us to assume that we do is arrogant – that same high-minded attitude that is glad we are “above it all.”

I usually don’t offer my family, friends, or anyone, advice unless they ask for it. I am not perfect. I do indulge in chocolate. I may think to myself, “He should leave that job or that woman,” but I try not to say it out loud. And if it does slip out during idle chatter, I hope my fellow gossip reminds me I am on a healthy diet and that I need a clear mind and heart.

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A note about the photo: I took this in 1980 while covering a garden party for a local newspaper.

 

Success and Other Magic Formulas

“Success Kit. Your second chance in life just arrived.”

I was so excited when I saw this in my email. At last! Instructions on how to live.Success Kit It’s not too late! No more tedious decisions for me. The answers are all here in this handy kit.

Reading further, I see the sender is at moola.com. Oh, okay. That kind of success. Making money.

I hit Delete. Not that I’m against making money. I like being able to support a roof over my head, wheels and shoes on the ground, the occasional flight to distant destinations. I have figured out a way, by trial and error and about 25 jobs, how to make enough money using my wits and writing ability. I don’t need a magic formula, which usually involves the slippery, hard slope of a pyramid plus multi-level slave labor.

I like to think of my work as making a living and money is just a part of it. There is so much more, from enjoying the small moments to undertaking huge new challenges, taking care of myself and others, discovering each day where I need to do more, or less.

Bikini Body  Sometimes this is not easy. My work changes daily and thus so does my free time for my own writing and other interests. I have to be flexible and grab moments while I can. And sometimes I admit I am tired. Tired of thinking and planning. Thus the appeal of instant answers, available at the click of a mouse. Some examples:

The seven behaviors of successful people.

How to be happy in five easy steps.

How to meet the man/woman of your dreams, not nightmares.

The six foods you must eat to avoid having belly fat. Or is it the six foods you must avoid?

Write a bestseller in 21 days.

The Plan of a Lifetime. Lose 20 pounds, zap up your sex life and make Alzheimer’s a distant memory.

Look 20 years younger with this simple ingredient from your kitchen.

As for the life of the spirits:

Make your own wine and prevent heart disease.

Or (and I am not making this up):

Hire a Certified Soul Memory Discovery Facilitator.

Or sign up for online therapy – www.prettypaddedroom.com/

My mouse clicks don’t lead to easy answers. Maybe there’s a mental click if someone else’s success kit sparks an idea. But the brain and heart and gut must engage, chew, digest and even spit out if necessary. There are many, many chances in life, not just one or two. At some point, it’s okay to send these advice messages to the junk mail folder and rely on our own inner Inbox.Get RichLook Younger

 

Walking on Both Sides of the Street

Feelings
Feel.
Acknowledge. Respect.
Analyze. What showing me?
Let go.
Trust I will do the right thing.

This is my little mantra. It popped into my head 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t think it’s plagiarized. At least not the exact words. The spirit, perhaps – a distillation of discovery wandering down many paths, including reading, writing, counseling, sharing with friends and solitary reflection.

It’s not a mid-boggling breakthrough or a marketing plan for polishing personas, mine or anyone else’s. It just works for me, reminding me to pay attention to all my feelings. Reminding me not to label feelings good or bad or positive or negative, but to just accept that they are and I can let them guide me, especially in conjunction with realistic, rational thinking.

It seems to me that when therapy first became popular, the self-help movement was telling us to get in touch with our feelings. No more of the stiff upper lips of the Puritan or Victorian eras, no more dusty old rugs with feelings swept underneath. Let them all out and don’t keep them inside and make yourself ill.

But then this movement took another turn onto the sunny side of the street. Yes, get in touch with your feelings, but mostly positive ones. Avoid bad negative feelings, and by extension, negative talk and people. Why are we now attaching value judgements to feelings? True, some are pleasant — and some are not. If we go out into the day with a sour face, we often get treated less well. If we feel good and smile and speak kindly to people, people often smile back. Most of us would rather tip the balance over into feeling good.Happy Face

But why ignore unpleasant feelings or pretend they don’t exist? If we have a physical pain, we pay attention, seek medical help if it interferes with our lives. So why ignore mental or emotional pain? Pretending it’s not there isn’t going to make it go away any more than ignoring an infected finger or heart attack is going to cure us.

For me, my little mantra is telling me to recognize what I’m feeling, accept it, mull it over or toss it around, figure out what to do. Do I need to change jobs, make new friends, spend more time alone? Do I need to take a trip, take up a new hobby, or just rest? Decide what to do and move on! If the unpleasant feelings persist and I can’t move, then get help! It helps to move the body too.

Sad FaceI say we avoid unpleasant feelings at our own peril. They are there for a reason – a sort of early warning system. Maybe even seeing them in someone else can help us by triggering something we need to think about. Recently, I read in a yoga magazine that we should avoid all negative people. This seems harsh. We may not choose to hang out with severely troubled or self-destructive people, but what if someone we meet is going through a hard time, or feeling sad one day? Do we instantly conclude they are negative and turn our backs? If we do, we may be missing out on learning something, or making a new friend.

Walking through life, we need both the sunny and the shady sides of the street.

When Less is More, More or Less

I can’t tell you how annoyed I am at this woman, Debora Spar, for writing yet another advice book, but I am going to try.

Her book is called “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.” She is the president of Barnard College and her message is that women can’t have it all and that feminism has led us down the wrong, harried path by telling us we can. I’ve received a double whammy of her message in the past week, an interview on The News Hour and a review and interview in a women’s magazine called “More.”

She admits she is too young to have been a part of the ’70s wave of feminism from which she benefitted. She seems to equate feminism with having it all and persuing perfection. I wish she had been around then to see what most of us wanted – when we first read “The Feminine Mystique” and pulled together in consciousness-raising groups. Most of the women I knew then, including myself, were trying to figure out our lives and what we wanted. We were trying to cut through illusions that defined us, not erect delusions about perfect lives.

We didn’t know anyone who had it all.

Some of us had wonderful husbands but felt trapped at home. Some of us had great jobs but crappy husbands. Some of us had wonderful children, some had troubled children, and some had no children and wanted them.

We Can Do It!Some of us had ended bad marriages and entered the workforce after a few years away. We took jobs that were beneath our abilities and pushed to learn more. We often met with barriers, with closed doors. Women can’t write about technical stuff. Women can’t work safely past the fifth month of pregnancy. Women can’t wear pants to work. Oh wait, you can wear pants to work, but the tops must cover your butts. Mini-skirts are okay. Seriously! It seems hard to believe now, when girls wear shorts and flip-flops to school.

Those of us with close to perfect lives – content alone or with a mate, with or without children, interesting work and activities – knew we were lucky. In life, we never know what will happen.

What we wanted – and still want – is to be treated with respect, by men and women, and to have equal access to opportunities, including the opportunity to choose. We may decide to work full-time, part time or to devote our time to our children or a worthwhile cause. Not all of us can make this choice if we have to support ourselves or children as single parents. If we are working, it helps to be making the same wages for the same work as men do. This is not the same as “having it all.”

Ironically, Spar is a perfectionist who ignores her own advice! She seems driven and even her own daughter tells her she’s setting a bad example. On one particular day, her husband is having shoulder surgery, she has a meeting with her publisher, an interview about her book, and then three – yes, three – parties to attend in different parts of town. She chooses to do them all and not visit her husband. For all we know, he was okay with that and even encouraged her to do her thing, so I’m not necessarily criticizing her. Me, I know there’s no way I could do all that in one day and still be a pleasant person who could converse. If Spar wants to be a super-achiever, that’s okay with me, but why tell other women not to do it – or confuse it with feminism?

And “More” should have less of this claptrap.

Dear Abby

Dear Abigail Van Buren. I know you’ve been dead a few months now. You enjoyed a long and successful career dispensing advice to those who wrote to you as Dear Abby. Your twin sister Eppie did the same as Ann Landers.

I wish you were still alive because I need your advice. How do I get people to stop giving me advice? I’m serious. I mean unsolicited advice, advice I don’t want or need. People wrote to you because they wanted to hear your opinion, right? I mean, you didn’t just call up folks or knock on their doors and announce I’m here to tell you how to run your life, did you? Hopefully, you didn’t do it to your children either.

There are probably several qualified columnists or talk-show psychologists I could ask today for advice. But many I do come across are flippant or flagrantly rude. They lack your comforting wisdom and class. They make a mockery of human life by turning every situation into a trailer park side show, lacking compassion and humor.

I am older now and have earned my emotional stripes, my peace of mind. Unless someone is being really rude or bugging the shit out of me, I have no desire to give anyone a piece of my mind. Unless I am asked for an opinion or a recommendation, I try not to offer advice to my friends or family. And I don’t want any either, thank you!Looking

For example, recently I told several friends I am looking for a new place to live and asked them to keep their eyes and ears open for me. To be fair, I’ve received some good For Rent leads. But the advice … !!! Have you thought of talking to a realtor? Have your walked around the neighborhood? Have you looked online at ads? Blah, blah.

Give me a break! How do you think I landed in my current home or the 10 others I’ve enjoyed in the last 40 years? Do you honestly think the magic moving wizard flew past my window and gave me a lift on his carpet to the home of my dreams? Who do you think did the work of looking, calling, walking, driving, signing rental forms, paying security deposits – not to mention hiring a truck or mover, securing boxes, cleaning, packing, unpacking, cleaning, keeping cats calm, waiting for the gas, electricity and cable? All while working full-time?

The same goes for other areas of my life too. Unless I am taking a class or ask for specific feedback, I don’t want to be told what to feel, eat, wear, move (as in body parts), read or write. I think I understand why people do it. They think they’re being helpful and don’t like to feel powerless when confronted with something they may not know.

Advice HoveringFor example, someone recently asked me for book recommendations on a certain subject and I had none. Part of me wanted to suggest she Google or look on Amazon or in a bookstore in an attempt to feel I was helping, but I stopped myself. That would be insulting to her years of experience as a professional, as well as her intelligence.

Nothing about my own life has been easy. I’ve worked hard for more than 40 years, I raised two children alone, I turned to outside help (groups, counseling, reading) when I needed it. I learned almost everything the hard way. I’ve come through with grace, strength, humor and profound gratitude. I don’t have energy left over to run anyone else’s life. Nor do I have patience for those who think they know how I should run mine.

Thank you, Dear Abby and Ann, I knew you’d understand.