Don’t Tell Me What to Do!

Unsolicited advice!  It’s everybody’s favorite!

“You know, dear, you should get married.  Find a nice man at church.   You’re not getting any younger, you know.” I know.  Shut the hell up.

“Move to Alaska!  It’s so quiet and there are lots of guys!” Yes, conveniently leave out the arctic cold, the giant hungry bears and the isolation.

“Know what you should do?  You should get one of those self-publishers. You can pay them to make you a book!” And it will sit neatly in boxes in my garage for the rest of my life.

“Have a baby!” Yeah, when the first one happens we’ll see.

“Sell your crap on Craigslist!” Actually, this one is pretty good.  I sold my kitchen table for $75.   Now I’m going through the house on a mission.  Everything is fair game!

Okay, so one out of five isn’t bad.  I’ve heard many versions of these over the years.  They always push my buttons, no matter who they’re from.

Why do we bristle so much when people give us advice?  Because unless we ask for feedback, we hear it as criticism.  If I ask for an honest opinion, it’s not very good form to get pissy with the person who gives it to me.   But if I’m just minding my own bidness, I can get all the pissy I want with you, because I did not ask for your feedback.

We’re an opinionated bunch lately.  I blame the Internet.  (Or, for SSTers, Nate.)  It’s given us a forum to express all kinds of ideas, random thoughts, ranty stuff, and advice.  The advice part is tricky.  When someone you care about is having difficulty, it’s tempting to offer the diamond-studded wisdom you know will lift her up.

What if she doesn’t want to hear it?  Then maybe you should keep it to yourself until she asks.

There are two kinds of advice that really bug me.

The givers try to help, but you’ve already tried everything they’re telling you.

They never believe you when you tell them that.  “Just do it this way.  No?  Then try my Aunty Margaret’s version.”  It never stops.  They’re sure if they keep making suggestions, one of them will be the magic bean.

How to Counter:

Sometimes just whining about something will make you feel better.  Your true friends will let you do this.  Unless you whine all the time, in which case they are justified in giving you a swat.

If you want to vent, tell them.  Say something like “I’m gonna blow, and I need you to just listen.”  Ladies, this works on men too, who like to offer solutions and don’t get why you don’t want to hear it.  There are times when solutions ain’t what you need.  You have to let them know that.

For those who won’t stop, simply smile and thank them.  You don’t have to listen or do what they say.

The givers have no idea what the bloody hell they are talking about.

This is the one writers have to contend with the most, as will anyone in a profession or activity where the inner workings aren’t known to most people.  As you learn the nuts and bolts, invariably roadblocks to progress will pop up.  The problem could be a lack of knowledge that you need to acquire, or a conundrum you need to take time to work through.  Well-meaning people will give you advice to try and ease your way.  Realize that unless they are actually experienced in the subject, they will not understand and their specific advice should not be taken.

How to Counter:

Understand:  I’m not dismissing advice givers who are coming from a similar place, like say someone who has juggled work/family and a new career/school/start-up business, who may know exactly what you are going through even though it’s not the same thing.  If those people want to help you cope, by all means let them.   Their advice will not only be helpful but valuable.  They should not be dismissed.

You can blow it off when other people tell you what you should write, or that you must pay someone to publish your book when you don’t want to, or any number of things non-writers will tell you about the business.  If you’re trying to learn from legitimate sources, you can’t afford to take bad advice that might wreck your career chances.  That’s like telling someone to run for President on the “Vote for me and I’ll dance naked on the White House lawn” ticket.

Instead, take the advice in the spirit in which it’s given—that of generosity.  Those who truly care for you will want the best for you and that alone is worth sitting through the most ridiculous suggestion on earth.

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