I typically don’t look for writing prompts. I find inspiration throughout the day, through reading others’ essays, blogs, books, through conversation or an experience. But I am part of this writing group, 500 Words a Day, and a recent prompt asks what advice you would give yourself 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or 1 year ago. I thought about it for a few hours. What advice would I give my past self? But here’s the thing about advice: you have to be ready for it.
In fact, that’s the thing about everything. You could meet the love of your life on the subway 15 years before you are actually ready to connect to him, and you will walk right past each other, uninterested, if you are not ready.
Your dream job will remain completely unavailable to you until you are ready for it, and then you will kill the interview and shoot for the stars in your new position.
I tell my students this all the time. If that college doesn’t accept you, another one will, and you will do well in college when you are ready to. Period. The colleges that don’t accept you aren’t ready for someone like you, and your performance will be based on what you are ready for.
If we could all just be really comfortable with functioning in our flow, not lagging behind our abilities and not pushing too hard, too far ahead of our skills, we would all reach the pinnacle of success and maintain a steady high performance level for life, and we’d be a lot happier.
Of course, there are peaks and valleys. No one can sustain constant excitement for life. You need to be able to get really excited for big wins and then take a moment to settle into the new level you have reached. Then gear up to aim for the next level, the next win.
When I was younger I was great at being a pushy obnoxious know it all. Seriously, I could have won awards. “Most Self Righteous Absolutely Certain If You Don’t Believe Me Just Ask Her Award.”
Picture me, smirking and shaking my finger at you.
“Shame shame, should have taken my advice.”
Oh, yea, “told you so” was another favorite of mine.
But then I realized that if my goal was to help people, and it ostensibly was, then this was no way to do it.
People who are hurting first and foremost just want compassion. Genuine “I’m so sorry that happened or is happening to you” compassion. They just want to be heard, acknowledged, and cared for.
Then, when the time is right, (Now!? Can I give advice now?!) still don’t give advice.
Ask what you can do to help. Or, if there is clearly nothing you can do, let’s say a woman’s husband or boyfriend is just an asshole and she’s struggling with it, you can flip it: “What are you thinking,” or “What are you going to do?”
Then, if, and only IF she asks, what she should do, then you can work through it with her.
And that’s the thing about advice.
There is no one size fits all for any situation.
Someone with no money may not want money from you; she may want help with her resume, or help finding a job. She may need a place to crash.
Someone with a broken heart may not want to break up; she may want help figuring out how to work through a relationship, not out of one.
Someone struggling in her job may not want advice on how to be better at her job; she may want encouragement to quit.
My job, as someone who wants help, isn’t to go around waving my superior knowledge and perfect advice in everyone’s face. It is to be an ally. To listen, to think, to discuss, and to share my own experiences with that person in a way that may help them find their own answers.
And only if they are ready to find those answers. Sometimes we just need to cry. Sometimes we haven’t hit rock bottom yet, the time when we are most receptive to change and new answers. Sometimes we just need a shoulder.
So, what would I say to me from 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago?
Everything you need, everything you want, will be available to you when you are truly ready for it.
Just keep going.
And when that obnoxious overbearing know it all comes along with advice, be kind to her.
She’s trying to help.