We’ve all been there. The person across the table (or perhaps in your blog comments) knows that you’re making a major life decision or that you’ve been struggling with an issue…or maybe that you’ve just been having a series of bad days. They mean well. They think they’re helping…but they’re not. They’re offering clichés, platitudes, and just plain bad advice.
Following are some pieces of bad advice that you’re likely to get at one of “those” points in your life. I’ll also discuss exactly what makes the advice so inane in the first place. And, before all else, let me give you the only GOOD piece of advice you’ll ever get. Be true to yourself, make your own decisions, and don’t trust Whitey.
1. “Only YOU can determine what kind of day you’re going to have!”
- This one isn’t always bad advice…but it really CAN be. Someone actually said this one to me recently. In that particular instance, he was right. I was just pissy about how my day was going and he reminded me that I was choosing to be pissy about things that didn’t really matter. Okay. Good point. But… No matter how you slice it, the day you find out that you’ve got cancer and your wife’s been sleeping with your mother is a bad day (unless that’s your *thing,* I guess). There’s really no positive response to that. Also, I have a suspicion that people who “choose” to always be in a good mood and always “choose” to have a good day will inevitably explode when they’re 68.
2. “If you really think about it, you’ll find that you already KNOW the answer.”
- No. That’s just crap. If you already knew the answer, you wouldn’t be having lunch with the douchebag across the table in the first place. Sometimes you actually have no idea what to do, where to turn, or what choice to make. Sometimes it’s because you’re faced with nothing but bad options. Sometimes—if you’re really lucky—it’s because no matter what you do, things will be awesome and you just want to choose the MOST awesome thing. But either way, sometimes the decision isn’t easy and you look back wishing you’d done the other thing. And sometimes it turns out you only chose the thing you did because somebody said the following to you…
3. “I don’t want to tell you what to do…buuuut…”
- Someone has almost definitely said this to you—probably one or both of your parents. This statement isn’t only invariably followed by bad advice (such as, “…if it were me, I’d go for it.”) it’s also a complete and total LIE. Of COURSE they want to tell you what to do! Everyone wants to tell everybody what to do all of the time. For example, right now even I’M telling you what to do. Think about THAT for a while!
4. “Let’s compromise!”
- Okay… I believe in compromise when it’s for the greater good. Political issues. Religious disputes between people of the same faith. Things like that… But there are people out there that will insist that the only way for both sides in ANY disagreement to be happy is for both sides to compromise. This, of course, is another lie. It is most frequently used by one romantic partner to trick the other into giving up something they love (like their beard or lucky t-shirt) or by businessmen to make more money. There are one of two things that take place in most compromises. (1) One side gives up FAR more than the other side and is miserable. (2) BOTH sides give up integral parts of their desires and BOTH sides end up miserable. You want some GOOD advice? Only compromise when it’s useful…otherwise, choose your friends wisely.
5. “You don’t know if you don’t like it unless you try it.”
- I don’t even really need to address this one, do I? Brussel sprouts suck. I’ve never had one in my life…but I don’t like it. With all due apologies to George Carlin for stealing his bit, “You like it? YOU eat it!”
6. “Think positive!” (Or the variants: “If you THINK you can do it, you CAN do it!” / “You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to!”)
- That’s just not how life works. You’re not going to play in the World Series. You’re not going to become a brain surgeon. You’re not going to win a Grammy. You’re a lower/middle-class schlub who’s going to settle into family life and live in the suburbs for the rest of your life. And it won’t be bad. But you won’t marry Lindsey Lohan. (And really, who would want to at this point?) Good things DON’T happen just because you believe they will. Good things happen because of luck of the draw and/or because you work your BUTT off to achieve them. If the “power of positive thinking” actually worked, the Obama camp would’ve changed the whole WORLD by now.
7. “Act your age!”
- Usually said by someone who’s dead inside and doesn’t want anyone else to have any fun. It’s often said by an adult to a five-year-old…which is weird because five-year-olds DO act their age…but whatever… Sometimes though, if you’re lucky, you’ll still get this one in your 30s. For some reason everybody wants you to grow up…but if you want to be happy, you’ll ignore them. Or fart at them. Whatever’s your poison.
8. “You can’t critique [insert inane musical, directorial, sporting, or other conquest here] because YOU’VE never done it!”
- (This one’s not quite in the same category as those above…but it still bugs me, and hey…it’s my list.) This one is usually uttered by people who are fans of something that you think sucks. More often than not, they’re sheep who just do what Oprah or Ebert tell them to do and have no arguments of their own to make…so it’s best not to take them too seriously. And with that said… Look…I don’t need to have a Nobel Prize in Musiconomy (Not a thing!) to know a bad note when I hear it. I don’t need a Masters in Radiology (That one IS a thing but doesn’t mean what I think it does!) to know that “Single Ladies” should never be played on the airwaves again. Some stuff just sucks, and if the arm-chair critics don’t call it out, NO ONE will. In fact, I think we’re the ONLY ones who should be critiquing art…we’re the ones PAYING for it, after all.
…and I’m sure there are others. Any I missed? What’s the worst clichéd advice YOU’VE ever gotten or given—and why? (Seriously, I’d love to hear a few.)
As a side note…this is exactly why I’ll never have a career as a motivational speaker to high-school students…
- “The people have spoken, the bastards.” – Dick Tuck
- “Larry, call off the hypnotist!” – Me
- “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I’ve been eating sandwiches too long!” – Christine