You Don’t Always Have to Take the Advice of Others

Have you ever noticed how, at an engagement party, or baby shower or graduation party, people tend to give all kinds of advice?

“Start investing now—you won’t regret it.”

“A water birth really is the way to go.”

“Whatever you do, don’t go to bed angry!”

advice

This is all well-meaning advice, of course, and some of it actually pretty wise. But I guess the reason this has been rubbing me the wrong way lately is because I’ve learned the hard way that giving someone advice is a lot different than actually doing it.

Telling someone your advice is much easier than living it out.

“Don’t go to bed angry” for example, sounds nice until you’re four months married and it’s four in the morning and you’re still awake because you can’t resolve a fight.

When I think back to the advice I’ve been given in my own life—about college, about career, about marriage—I’m grateful for some of it. But some of it I also think took me off track. When I was choosing a major in college, for example, I had several people tell me, “it’s nice that you want to be a writer, but choose a major that is going to get you a job.”

I took the advice. After all, it was practical and smart. But because of that advice I paid a lot of money for a degree I’m not using.

So was this good advice for me? Maybe not.

All is not lost. My skills and expertise have gotten me to where I am and I’m finding innovative ways to put my degree to work. But sometimes I wish someone would have just looked me in the eye when I was in college and said: forget what everyone else tells you should “should” do.

Do what you want to do.

Do what you think is right. Trust your instinct.

Do what works.

I used to read a lot of self-help books. I liked them. It felt comforting and nice to have someone tell me exactly how things were supposed to be done, to give me a list of all the steps. And, hey, when my life didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I could blame the books. After all, I followed the formula. I worked the plan.

I didn’t have to blame myself.

But these days I’m realizing: while there is a lot to be learned from those who have gone before me, there are also many things I have to learn myself.

After all, life is not black-and-white and my life is totally unique from anyone else’s life and most of which way I go depends on who I am and what I want.

There really are not shortcuts. No amount of good advice can save me from the inevitable pain and obstacles of life.

There are many “right” answers to most problems and the best answer is usually this:

Do what works.

Be willing to try and fail and try again. Be humble and learn quickly from your mistakes. Pay attention and be agile and adjust quickly. Don’t let insecurity get in the way. Figure out what works for you and then do it.

Trust your instinct. Trust your gut.

So if you’re feeling lost in your marriage or your career or as a parent or just in life—or if you’ve just graduated or are about to have a baby or are newly married and you’re getting a bunch of advice—remember this: advice is much easier to give than it is to execute.

Don’t dismiss the advice. Give it a try. But if the advice isn’t working, try something else.

Don’t worry about finding the “right” answer or the best answer or the most impressive answer.

Just do what works.

Having Faith When You Get What You Don’t Want

The first time I talked to my husband I was at my parents’ house.

We hardly knew each other. We’d connected over Twitter and he’d commented on my blog a few times and we shared several mutual “friends” online but he also lived all the way across the country and I wasn’t even sure I knew his whole last name.

If you ask him, he’ll tell you he called me that day because he wanted to date me.

skype

If you ask me, I would say I had no interest in dating anyone, anywhere, let alone a strange guy I barely knew from the Internet.

I didn’t make a habit of talking to strange men on the Internet, but the reason I agreed to talk to him that day was because he found out I was trying to publish a book and told me he thought he could help me. And well, those were pretty much the magic words for me.

So we Skyped.

I sat at the island in my parents’ kitchen and told my mom, who was making dinner, I had to have a quick online business meeting. She agreed not to make too much noise.

So we talked for about ten minutes and exchanged stories and he told me how he thought he could help. We agreed to connect again later and I closed the lid to my laptop so I could go help my mom make dinner.

But before I could even get out a pot to begin boiling water, my mom said, “Hey, didn’t you say that was a business meeting?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like a business meeting,” she said smiling.

Everything inside of me fought what I knew she was saying—that she had seen my interest perk up a little when I was on the phone with him. I don’t like him, I told myself. I don’t want to date him or anyone. I wasn’t ready. This wasn’t the time.

I even believed myself.

If you would have asked me that day, I would have told you I wasn’t interested in dating him and I never would be. In fact, in full-disclosure, at the time I would have told you I was in love with somebody else. But sometimes our hearts want things our heads don’t even know we want.

A little over a month after that conversation, I flew to Minneapolis to meet him.

Four months after that, we were married.

It wasn’t what I thought I wanted. It wasn’t what I would have told you I wanted. But at the same time, something deep inside of me—something I couldn’t quit put my finger on—wanted him, wanted to date him and be married to him, in a way my thoughts couldn’t say.

(Also, let’s be honest—he won me over. He’s pretty smooth like that).

I try to remember this part of my story every time something happens in my life that I don’t think I want. There have been a few things lately, a few instances where I think to myself, “this is now how I would have planned it! This is not what I wanted!”

But I try to remember that some of the best things that have ever happened to me would never have happened if I’d gotten exactly what I wanted at the time.

Sometimes we don’t know what we want.

Sometimes we want things we don’t realize we want.

Sometimes we avoid the things we really want because we’re not sure we’re strong enough to face them, or because we’re afraid of the work it takes to keep them, or because we don’t quite have the clarity to see who we are and where we’re headed just yet.

We’ll see, with time. We’ll get what we want.

What Happens When We Listen To Ourselves

One day recently I was really struggling to get words on paper.

This was not new. Some version of writers block has been plaguing me for weeks. But on this particular day my husband suggested I go for a walk and I took his suggestion. I hadn’t showered in a few days and I was starting to get to that dark place I go when I don’t shower.

I needed an excuse to get out of the house.

inner-voice

So I walked, and as I did I tried to listen to myself. This is something I’ve been practicing lately—being present with the sensations in my body and using them as a guide for what I was feeling, underneath the thoughts floating through my head. I walked and listened and prayed God would help me see through the cloudiness I’ve been feeling in this season. And within a mile or two of my walking, this phrase came to me, without thinking:

Take care of yourself first… others second.

At first, everything in me cringed at these words. Although they felt true in the deepest part of me, I immediately wanted to push them back down. Consider myself first and other second? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

All the phrases of my upbringing fought with the phrase that had come to the surface in that moment. The last shall be first, my brain argued. Lose yourself to find yourself, my thoughts challenged. But no matter how hard my thoughts fought, I couldn’t ignore the intention that had risen up from a deepest part of me. I couldn’t explain it, but I also couldn’t ignore it.

So I walked home with something that resembled a thought but that also felt much deeper and more powerful than the “thoughts” I usually had.

Yourself first, others second.

It felt more like an intention, like a meditation, than a simple thought. I didn’t know what it meant or what I was supposed to do with it, but I just held onto it, trusting the rest would become clear over time.

Later that day, an idea came to me I wanted to get down on paper. Feeling an energy I hadn’t felt in weeks, if not months, I opened my computer and started typing. Before long, I got an email from a coaching client who had a question she needed me to answer. I got a text message from a friend who was wondering if I wanted to go for a walk. My husband was asking me what we were going to do for dinner. And yet, for some reason, this phrase kept rising to the surface of my heart: yourself first, others second.

I texted my friend and asked her if we could walk later that evening, or the next day. I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind picking up take-out for dinner. I assured him he would have my full attention in an hour or so. And I closed my email and resolved to respond the next day.

Miraculously, I was able to get a few thousand words down that day.

With the “myself first, others second” intention in place, I was able to clear the blockage and get moving again. It was almost like my body, my spirit, knew what I needed to do. It knew the solution to the problem even more than my mind did. But in order to get there, I had to get quiet and be able listen to myself.

What would happen if we listened to ourselves a little more often? What would happen if we stopped ignoring our instinct, our intuition, our fear and our pain? Maybe we would find relief from our worry, our anxiety. Maybe we would uncover happiness. Maybe we could give ourselves permission to stop caring so much about how many many people like us or hate us, or how viral a post we write.

Because with this in mind, we would have what we set our for all along—not fame or fortune or popularity, but a small and growing semblance of self.