Last weekend, I found myself in the very fortunate position of having the house to myself for 48 hours. And I did what most women in my position would do. I cleaned the house from top to bottom, rolled around naked on my sparkling floors, listened to music, drank wine and binge-watched Netflix. (Actually, it was Shomi, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
So, I was watching Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. Now, don’t read anything into that. My current marriage is wonderful. And frankly, I could probably write my own guide to divorce having been there and done that a couple of times. Successfully. And by “successfully” I mean that my kids are happy, my exes are my friends, and I spent nothing on lawyers. Okay, I spent $500 on one lawyer back in 2003.
Anyways, there was a line in one particular episode of Girlfriends’ Guide that made me stop rolling naked on the floor and put my wine glass down (yes, I can roll and drink simultaneously). “There’s a new survey that just came out and it says that today’s woman can’t even think about having it all. She’s just worried about doing the shit she needs to do without losing it. You know, she’s just worried about cracking up.”
These words got me thinking about some advice I had received recently. In fact, I started thinking about all the advice I had received recently. Then I started thinking about advice overall. And I had an epiphany. There are three separate and distinct methods for receiving advice! Well, four methods if you include the internet memes with cutsie expressions that appear in your Facebook newsfeed. But I don’t count those. So, there are three.
Firstly, there is solicited advice. This is where you research something on the internet or go to the self-help section of the bookstore. You actively seek out someone else’s opinion. For me, solicited advice comes from my friends, almost exclusively. I tell them something that I am dealing with, knowing that they will offer up their thoughts and suggestions. And I know that the advice I receive from them will be from the heart and free of judgement. It will be based on their morals and beliefs (which we generally have in common) and it will be prefaced with the disclaimer that they don’t have any experience dealing with some of the things I deal with.
Then there is unsolicited advice. Obviously, this is the advice that you don’t ask for. This is the advice you probably don’t even want, but you get it anyways. Recently, I received some unsolicited advice, and it all came back to me when I was watching the aforementioned show. I knew that the advice had bothered me at the time, but I suddenly realized how problematic it was for me. It was problematic because no one should ever tell a peri-menopausal woman with five kids, a blended family, a husband who travels to the arctic once a month for work, a more than full-time job, a marriage as well as friendships to maintain, and three cats…<deep breath in>…that she should be doing more. Unless of course, you are a peri-menopausal woman with five kids, a blended family, a husband who travels to the arctic once a month for work, a more than full-time job, a marriage as well as friendships to maintain, three cats AND you actually do more. If you fit that description, PM me. Immediately.
Finally, there is inferred advice. Inferred advice is serendipitous. This is the kind of advice you don’t ask for and no one offers it up. It just happens. In my humble opinion, inferred advice is the best kind of advice, because it only occurs when: 1) people are honestly and selflessly sharing their own life experiences, and 2) you are open to receiving it.
For example, on this same weekend where I had the house to myself, I also had the opportunity to have lunch with my friend, Laura. Now, Laura and I have never really had the occasion to talk one-on-one. We always seem to see each other in group settings. This lunch was our first chance to really talk. Eventually, she started to talk about her own very difficult parenting experiences. And I listened. Intently. It was as if she knew the things that I had been worrying about and just started addressing those worries. One after another. But she wasn’t doing this intentionally. She wasn’t telling me what I should do in my situation. My situation wasn’t even the topic of conversation. She was just sharing. And as she spoke, I was making mental notes. I was thinking about how I might be able to apply the advice that I was inferring from that conversation.
Having said all of that, here is my unsolicited (and therefore hypocritical) advice on how best to give and receive pearls of wisdom:
- Make sure you surround yourself with people who will say what you need to hear. When you need to hear it. And not at any other time.
- Don’t give advice unless someone asks you for it. Even if the advice is well-intentioned, you can’t predict how it will be received. This is particularly true if it is being received by a peri-menopausal woman.
- If you do receive unsolicited advice that you don’t appreciate in the moment, don’t burn it in a bowl on your back porch…I mean…don’t discard it completely. Tuck it away on a shelf in your mind. You never know when it might come in handy.
- Share your experiences with others. Even the negative experiences. Most people are secretive about the bad stuff that has happened to them. But there’s a chance your bad stuff can lead to better stuff for someone else.
Advice is a tricky thing. Everyone wants to give it. Old people want to give advice to young people. Skinny people want to give advice to non-skinny people. Annoying bloggers want to give advice to just about anyone who will click through. But almost no one wants to receive it. And sometimes, there is no cure for what ails you. Sometimes, you just try to do the shit you need to do, without losing it. Because the truth is, not even Dr. Phil has the answer to everything. (No, Leslie. He really doesn’t.) The truth is, we are all just lost together.