By Nora Brunner
Originally published in Skin Deep, November/December 2009.
One need look no further than a newspaper’s advice column to better understand the human condition. Amazingly, the questions don’t change all that much over time; neither does the advice. Do we ever learn?
Few of us actually write letters to columnists, but nearly all of us seek the advice of friends or family at some point in our lives. In a recent online survey I conducted, respondents were asked to share some of the best and worst advice they ever received.
Marilyn had lost her job at an advertising agency when a big client fell through. Her father bugged her about her job search saying, “Why are you looking for a job? Look for clients.” He pointed out to her that she had the background to run her own business and said she would always come to some point of disagreement with any employer who hired her. The way around this, her father advised, was to do it her way by running her own successful business. And, that’s just what she did.
The survey yielded other sage business advice. Marlene reported she once submitted a proposal seeking work and received a phone call from someone speaking in a very low voice. He said her proposal had been received but there was an error in it.
“Not to worry,” the confidante offered. “You left a zero out of your proposed fee. But don’t worry. I fixed it for you.” And then in a definite whisper, he added, “Young lady, don’t ever again underestimate your worth.”
Advice in Love
Much of the advice compiled from the survey had to do with reasons people got married—or didn’t. LaRita, a jittery bride, confessed to her mother she was spooked by all the things she had overheard women kvetching about—that “most men drink too much, cheat, or spend too much money.” Her mother asked, “Are you marrying most men, or are you marrying Kurt?” LaRita and Kurt have been happily married for 28 years.
People of both sexes said they received the universally bad advice to lower their standards in seeking a mate; one woman got the bad advice from her own mother that marrying for money was the way to go. Alison was advised by her aunt that an engagement should be long enough to encompass all four seasons, so you might observe, for example, how your intended handles the holidays.
Perhaps the best life advice was given to Nancy by her 80-years-plus college professor. The professor was about to be hoisted on a wire to make a flying entrance into the set of a play. “Try something very new every 10 years to keep yourself engaged in life,” the octogenarian said.
There’s plenty of advice out there, good and bad, including the advice that you should trust your own instincts and not listen to others. I don’t know anyone who’s quite that smart or sure of themselves, so I recommend cultivating a few people you can trust absolutely with your career and personal life issues. It was a dear friend who strongly encouraged me to marry my husband. Over the years, she’d been unfailingly right about dentists, movies, restaurants, and career strategies. She even loaned me her beaded white jacket for my wedding. My husband and I just celebrated our 16th anniversary.