“You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.“- John Steinbeck
Imagine Dorothy meandering down the Yellow Brick Road en route to the Emerald City. She comes to a crossroads where her first friend in Oz: the ‘man’ who is in search of a brain, a.k.a The Scarecrow is suspended on a pole. She is puzzled as to which way to go. At that moment, he speaks up and points to the various options and tells her that each is a nice way to go. He doesn’t tell her she needs to head in any specific direction. He leaves it up to her to make the choice.
So it is with the role of therapist and teacher, parent and friend, mentor and supervisor. We come into these relationships with the idea that we can be advisors to each other. As a therapist, I have taken the stance that while I may have a wide assortment of suggestions (and after more than three decades, I have accumulated a bunch of them), it is only my role to offer them, not insisting that anyone is required to scoop them up and carry them away, as much as I might be tempted to do so.
Knowing that seeking and accepting advice is not a weakness makes it far easier to do so. Sometimes two or more heads are better than one. I have experienced moments when I was too close to a situation to view it objectively and needed to consult others who may have the distance to view it through fresh lenses. Advice seeking also provides me with what I think of as a ‘sanity check.’
I smile fondly as I recall a memory from my childhood in which my Russian immigrant Bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) would sit in front of the television, engaged in her soap operas. She called them her ‘stories.’ She would shake her head and tsk tsk at the characters who didn’t heed her sage advice as she reproached them in her strongly accented voice, “You never listen to me. I told you, don’t go ‘vit him’. He’s a bad guy.”
Although not as humorous, my parents offered their own wisdom that I retain to this day. My father would tell me, “They put their paints on one leg at a time just like you do,” so I wouldn’t be intimidated by anyone. My mother shared, “Walk in like you own the joint,” with head held high, making eye contact. I would playfully add, “knokcers up.” When I suggested that to a patient who I was counseling in an acute care psychiatric hospital, she looked down at her less than well endowed decolletage and said ruefully, “Not much there,” to which I replied, “You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”
My parents’ words have served me well as I have interviewed countless notables in various fields of endeavor, from art to politics, from spiritual to scientific both as journalist and radio host. Their names would fill a Who’s Who in those arenas.
Adding to the mix was my dad’s guidance that, “Your life is in the hands of any fool who makes you lose your temper.” This has prevented me from being at the effect of other people’s moods and behaviors. There are times when I am tempted to react in proportion to their actions. When I recall my father’s wise words, I am free, rather than being imprisoned by them.
In Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work, Raul Valdes-Perez, PhD, describes ways in which people seek and accept advice. The book incorpates a 20 item-questionnaire with true-false items.
The following tidbits of wisdom come from a number of sources and stand responses as I asked about the best piece of advice that people in my life had received.
“If it hurts that badly it’s not the first wound…find the first wound and heal that.” -Pat Jackman
“Don’t take other people’s suffering, even if it manifests as judgement of you, personally. It is always about the layers of the other person’s own conditioning and mistaken beliefs through which they see you; not an expression of who you are.-” Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh)
“My fourth grade nun Sister Joan. I wanted to quit choir. She could see I was breaking away from many activites. One day she talked to me and said. ” You will find many things in life that you don’t want to do.” But you will find out that you are going to have to, even if you don’t want to. She was spot on !! I still think about her telling me that to this day.”
“My dad who was a recovered alcoholic used to say this quote often…. *after he quit drinking. 😉
“Whatever liberates our spirit without giving us self-control My dad. My marriage was breaking up, I knew I wanted a divorce, but was sort of stuck. He was a man of very few words and never any advice, but he took me aside and said, I’m just going to say one thing – if you know what you want to do, do it. Don’t spend a lot of time mulling if over. Just do it. And I did it. It is disastrous.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German Playwright, Poet,
Novelist and Dramatist. 1749-1832
Although it was not actually advice…. I TOOK it as such.”
“My dad. My marriage was breaking up, I knew I wanted a divorce, but was sort of stuck. He was a man of very few words and never any advice, but he took me aside and said, I’m just going to say one thing – if you know what you want to do, do it. Don’t spend a lot of time mulling if over. Just do it. And I did.”
“Don’t miss opportunities and let other people tell you can’t do something.”
“Long term short term – In the light of all eternity how will whatever decision your making impact either of those.”
“The first thing that came to mind was when Will Mead told me one thing he does every day to bring a spirit of peace. He sits and quietly watches the sunset (or sunrise) for one hour. Love it! (I seldom do it for that long, but when I do, it’s wonderful.)”
“What is your core wound?”
“Write what you know: write from your heart.”
“Pain is just sensation. You choose how to feel.”
“When I was 19 years old I read that you have all the answers inside of you from the Tibetan phrase/chant, om mani padme hum; “the jewel in the center of the lotus lies within”. It helped me heal from my family’s threatening religion and has never stopped centering me.”
“Don’t be for everybody.”
love your self deeply and everything goes right in me.
“My Dean in seminary- be loud.”
“Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.”
“Summer camp writing instructor, when I was 14 or 15 gave me written advice on a paper I wrote: “Trust your subliminal self.” I’ve been working on this ever since. It was an important time in my life to receive the message that my inner knowledge and feelings should be trusted.”
“This to shall pass . My first massage trading partner she was 24 at the time. Go figure.”
“From my dad…”make a list…pros and cons…and sleep on it to listen to your heart. From my mom…”grow hobbies and be with nature.”
“Do not let your lecture title stop you from saying what you need to say.”- Metaphysical friend Emerson King.
“From Soul Guidance , just relax , Liv. Breathe, be still, let it come. Really pisser, when I’m raring to gogogo! Lol however, every time this, guidance I remember, works like a charm.”
From Eckhart Tolle: “Be Present.”
“Get busy living or get busy dying.” That statement kicked me straight out of my fear place.”
” It never hurts to ask, in other words It’s NO until you know,”. said Mom. This one works for me a lot.”
“2 things my mom told me:
1) Leave everything better than you found it and
2) The best way to reduce the suffering in the world is to be happy. Your happiness will not only make you happy, it will help others be happier.
And 3) Do it well the first time.”