In Praise of Bad Advice

Janet - Tucson, Arizona
Entered on August 15, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

Thank God for bad advice. Especially when you don’t take it. When you narrowly escape such advice, and instead of falling apart, your life takes flight, you’re free.

What better way to begin trusting your inner compass?

I’m not talking about the generic “Don’t wear white after Labor Day” tips from harmless busybodies. They’re easy to pass up. I’m talking about heart-felt wisdom from beloved friends, teachers, family members. Wisdom that sounds right, is enveloped in love, but feels inexplicably off.

I once told a counselor about midwives who astonished me with their compassion at a regular check up. They treated me as if I was a whole person, instead of body parts. Previously, I’d thought midwives only existed in the Middle Ages.

Interview them, I kept hearing in my head.

What? I was a nanny who wrote essays on the side. The only person I’d ever interviewed was my kid sister, and that was just to annoy her.

I shared this with my therapist and waited for her to give me a nod.

“Writing is just like playing the lottery for you, isn’t it?” said this spiritual woman, known for her risk-taking. “All about the thrill of chasing the next big hit.”

She was right. How silly.

Still, when the midwives called me with test results, an inner sense of sunlight flooded the urge: Interview them. I seized the moment. They were ecstatic. Their practice was young. They welcomed the publicity. Within the week, a friend told me about a new paper in town.

They published that interview and every other interview I wrote for the next three years. Twenty years later, my life is rich in interviews with inspiring people.

Inspiration I’ll take. It’s fuel that energizes us to discover books, songs, spiritual paths, careers and food that work just right for us. Inspiration lights up our individual pathways of knowing, loosens solutions uniquely ours. Guides us to take actions that benefit our lives.

Now whenever anyone insists I follow specific how-tos, even when I ask for them, I check in. Does it feel right?

Lest I forget, my dreams keep me on track. One night I dreamed that a cherished friend handed me some pills. I quickly noticed it was her name on the bottle, not mine. She was trying to feed me her own medicine.

Yes, I’ve done same thing. I’m doing it right now!

We are all juggernauts of juicy information we’re eager to share. Here’s the rub: although we’re all connected, we’re each originals in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. What a baffling, delightful set up!

I think of Monty Python’s movie, “The Life of Brian.”

“You don’t NEED to follow ME,” shouts Brian to a worshipful crowd. “…You’re ALL individuals!”

“Yes! We’re all individuals!” yells the crowd.

”You’re all different!” Brian agrees.

“Yes, we ARE all different!”

To which one lone voice pipes up, ”I’m not!”

Bad advice? Close calls with it are good for the soul. This I believe. But don’t trust me.