“It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.” ~Aeschylus
Earlier this year I got some feedback from the ‘tween magazine I wrote for: “It sounds like good advice, but kids probably won’t do any of that.”
In my head it all sounded logical but I didn't consider whether I'd have taken that advice as a kid. Or now, for that matter.
People do it all the time: look at a situation from a removed, non-emotional place and hurl suggestions that are far easier said than done. And sometimes, just plain unrealistic.
I’ve listed five of these hard-to-follow, cliché pieces of advice, along with alternative suggestions you may actually be inclined to take.
1. Don’t worry about what other people think.
Unless you are a complete narcissist you will likely never master this one. Try as you may to turn off the part of your brain that thinks about other people’s perceptions, you will always care on some level.
This is a good thing. It’s what allows us to feel compassion. It reminds us to consider other people before we make choices that could be hurtful. It humbles us and reminds us to be better every day, both for ourselves and the people around us.
Instead of trying not to worry about what people think, learn to filter your worries into two buckets in your head:
Worry you can channel for something good.
If you’re worried that your employer thinks you’re incompetent because you did poorly on your last task, turn it into determination to improve. If you’re worried your friend’s upset because you forgot her birthday, put that feeling into a belated card and let her know how much she means to you.
Worry you need to let go of.
You experience this when you’re worried about strangers’ perceptions, for example. You can’t strong-arm strangers into seeing you the way you want to be seen. You can only work harder to actually be that person. Put your energy into that and let your worry fade behind your efforts as best you can.
2. You don’t need other people to make you happy.
Derivatives of this advice include: Be your own best friend. All you need is you. Complete yourself. All wonderful platitudes that may make you feel empowered and strong for a while.
And maybe for longer, if you’re not one of these people Barbara Streisand sings about. You know: people who need people. Most of us do need people. Maybe not to be complete, but to feel a sense of connection.
Instead of trying to be an army of one, work on depending on yourself and needing people simultaneously. Devote time to the things that make you happy, and risk letting other people be a large part of that.
If you walk around thinking, “I don’t need anyone” you might close yourself off from potentially deep and amazing connections.
It’s like Christopher McCandless said: true happiness is shared. Find your own happiness and let people give it to you, too.
3. Do what you love and the money will follow.
Forgive me for not sugar-coating, but this is a complete fallacy. You’re more likely to make money if you do something you love because you’ll put your heart in it, even when things get tough—which means you’ll keep going long enough to see some type of reward. But there’s no guarantee here.
If this statement were universally true there would be no starving artists. No crowds of hopefuls at American Idol auditions.
Passion is not a magic potion that ensures you’ll be successful. It helps your cause, but it can't support it alone. Most people don’t stumble into acclaim or wealth; a very small percentage of the world was at one point discovered by someone and then handed success.
If what you want is money, work hard at whatever you do, whether you love it or not. You’ll probably need to arrive earlier and leave later than other people. You’ll have to sacrifice other things in your life, like time with your family and friends.
If you do what you love and work hard, then the money may follow. If you do what you love and balance work with play, you’ll likely make enough money to be comfortable and happy.
4. Smile and the whole world smiles with you.
You probably have a very nice smile, but odds are it won’t spontaneously inspire seven billion people to follow suit—or even the fifty people in your vicinity. Maybe not even the four people in your living room.
Don’t get me wrong; smiling is often contagious. Someone who is in a good mood can very easily uplift people in her midst, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, try as you may to share positive energy, the people around you stay stubbornly immersed in their own negativity.
A better piece of advice: smile and accept that some people may act in opposition. Those people may stay upset or bitter about whatever they’re holding onto. They may even be annoyed by your good mood because they can’t find it within them to let go of their pain.
But you will affect others. And inspire them. And motivate them to find and hold onto happiness. Act for yourself and those people. It’s not the whole world, but it’s a whole lot to fill your heart with.
Okay, this is just four—I'm leaving the fifth up to you. I’m sure you can think of a lot more advice that sounds good on paper but doesn’t apply so easily to real-world situations. Add them in the comments. You get what you give. (Another cliché—true or not?)