Most often, when I come across an advice column, the words of wisdom promise to help the reader become more “successful” in some way. If you follow these suggestions, the implication goes, you will become wealthier / achieve higher grades / improve your job prospects / lose weight / gain more energy / reduce stress/ become more attractive / save your marriage / fix the environment / increase your life expectancy, etc. I often wish I had some such polished pearls of insight to toss your way, dear long-suffering reader. Sadly, my entire store of organizational strategies and life hacks pretty much boils down to “wake up and see what happens next.” In my opinion, it’s as good a philosophy as any other, and the only one I would ever be likely to stick to anyway.
So, that said, my intention with this column is to pass on a little piece of advice, which is as follows: try not to give advice. Unless it is explicitly requested, just don’t, okay? Following this suggestion will probably not help you gain any traction at all on the ceaseless grind towards self-improvement. You will not become any better-looking, or self-assured. You will not notice any improvements in your overall physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual health. It will not cause you to be perceived as a guru or the smartest person in the room.
Of course, advising people not to give advice is paradoxical, bordering on hypocritical. I have no excuse for that. I also have no excuse for the fact that my intention with this advice is purely self-serving and mercenary. It may, at some point, if we ever cross paths at a cocktail party, say, or find ourselves sitting side-by-side on bar stools, save me from being exposed to an unsolicited monologue. For that reason alone it is worth it to me, hypocrisy be damned. (Anyway, most of the time I can’t get through my morning coffee without an inconsistency or three.)
The thing about advice is that the person who gives it doesn’t have to live it. And from my experience, it’s more frequently offered in a spirit of self-aggrandizement and general know-it-allness than for any altruistic intention. Too often, the bestowing of advice is a gift bolsters the giver, and diminishes the receiver. I have been guilty of this far too many times in my own life, and I would like to apologize to all of those who were subjected to it. With every passing year, I am becoming more and more aware of how little I understand the intricacies of life, the vagaries of fate, the caprices of the heart and the soul. More and more, I am coming to the understanding that the most helpful thing I can do for others who are experiencing periods of emotional turbulence and perplexity is to keep my trap shut, my ears open, a box of Kleenexes at the ready, and the coffee pot warming. More and more, I am learning how to offer up a shoulder to cry on, and a pair of open arms to fall into when they are needed. I am awakening to the realization that I don’t know anything more than anybody else does, and that may be the most profound advice I can offer.