There are few things I cherish more than being able to help make someone feel better, being able to improve someone’s ability to get through a trying time. This practice, this ability that many of us have to empathize, to relate and then to try to mend, is so important because it’s the one outlet we have that connects our overacting neuroses and sensitivities with the experiences of someone other than ourselves. It’s the one outlet that leads us out of our own heads. It’s the one way we can transform our pain into aptitude.
The flipside of this though, at least for me, is that I’m laughably terrible at following the pieces of advice I dole out the most often. In reality, it’s probably precisely because I am so unable to follow these hard-earned pearls of wisdom that makes me so qualified to be their messenger.
A friend of mine once told me, “Daniel, I think people like us, we’re really good at knowing how to make other people happy and feel good about themselves but really hopeless when it comes to knowing how to make ourselves happy and feel good about ourselves.”
This statement, despite being spoken with that dangerous combination of insobriety and fatalism, struck me as also containing at least a hint of truth. Here are the top 6 pieces of advice that I’m really great at giving, but really terrible at following.
1. To the overly self-conscious: Don’t assume everyone else isn’t just as busy living their own lives as you are.
Here’s what I say: I see how self-conscious and body-conscious you are. I can sense how worried you are about what other people must think of how you dress and how you look. But try to remember that everyone else is just as busy living their own lives as you are. Because of this, people spend far less time (maybe even no time at all) deconstructing every single aspect of your appearance than you think they do. Ask yourself two questions:
1. How much of a person’s appearance do I notice and critique?
2. How much do I project that other people notice and critique about my appearance?
Sure, everyone’s different, everyone’s at their own distinct level of immersed in their own world, but still, if the answers to these questions are wildly different then the reminder is probably worthwhile.
Here’s what I do: Let’s put it this way, if I took the time I spend fine-tuning each of my hairs in the mirror before I go out, the time I spend feeling anxious about my complexion each morning, the time I spend (when I finally do leave my apartment) adjusting and being aware of my body position so as not to reveal the least appealing angles of my facial profile, and did I mention the time I spend fine-tuning my hair in the mirror EVERY TIME I have a chance to look in one, if I took all that time and spent it instead “living my own life,” well I’d probably have a lot more of a life to be living in the first place.
2. To the holed up and socially anxious: Try to remember that you always think holing up, shutting off and taking a ‘me day’ with you and your computer will make you feel better than it actually does.
Here’s what I say: As alluring as Netflix and takeout on the couch will eternally be, don’t romanticize the way it makes you feel. Don’t underestimate its ability to slowly and subtly get yourself stuck in a rut (even if Freaks and Geeks really does get better the 3rd time). I know your social anxieties make the couch look all the more comfortable. And it doesn’t do any good to call your anxiety objectively ridiculous because of the fact that you’re one of the most well-adjusted, appealing, amazing, hilarious people who I’ve ever met. It doesn’t do any good to do this because just because your feelings are out of touch with my reality doesn’t mean they’re not part of yours, it doesn’t mean they’re not debilitating for you. But, remember that it’s so so rarely as bad as you think it will be, remember that at that point you decide to act against them, at that point they are the most powerful, is the same point they are the closest to going away and you are the closest to kicking that gross feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes when you go a day without leaving the couch.
Here’s what I do: Just ask my Netflix history, ask the deep and personalized indentation I’ve etched into my couch, ask the shots of dread I feel whenever my phone vibrates more than once and I actually have to interact with (or, more likely, ignore) somebody on a ‘me day’ and they’ll all tell you how hypocritical I am on this one.
3. To those who too often think they suck: Cut yourself some slack, you’re too hard on yourself and you too easily forget all the amazing things you’ve done and continue to do everyday.
Here’s what I say: It is a very sad truth that, for many people, negative events carry with them far more psychic consequences than positive events carry with them psychic rewards. So, let me try to remind you of all the great things you’ve done and the great effects you have on people. Not just people, let me remind you of the great effect you have on me, and how great and awe-filled I am by how wonderful you are. I say this only because I mean it and I say it not in the hope that you will you nod and smile to appease me but in the hope you will internalize it and make every negative event go through that armor of self-respect before they can really get to you.
Here’s what I do: The two most repeated phrases I direct at myself in my mind are: 1. I’m such an asshole and 2. Fuck me.
4. Any and all breakup advice.
Here’s what I say: I don’t need to tell you that breakups suck. I also don’t need to tell you that, as ceaselessly painful as I know it feels right now, you will feel better. Despite its truth, that would be as unnecessary as it would be counterproductive. What you need right now is to trust me and your other friends to help you through this. Don’t try to go it alone, it just makes everything take longer. I had a teacher once who told me: “Daniel, you get to choose whether today will be a good day or a bad day.” And while you have no choice in the matter of how much the week after a breakup will suck, you do have a choice when it comes to the second week. You can either keep holding on to all that pain after the primacy of it fades, you can keep sadistically trying to make yourself cry, or we can go for a walk. We can talk about it. You can choose to let the process of healing be a little less painful, a little less stagnant and a little less lonely.
Here’s what I do: I kick everyone else the fuck out. There are more tears shed than during a Parenthood marathon. Instead of walking and talking and healing and all of that bullshit, the second week consists of humiliating attempts at harnessing my sadness so as not to forget about how happy she once made me. Or something like that. I don’t know. Let’s move on.
5. To those who are feeling guilty about something: Guilt is a worthless emotion for a person like you.
Here’s what I say: Guilt, to those for whom it doesn’t come naturally, wields an extraordinary capacity for good, for positive action, even for salvation. But to people like you? To someone for whom it does come naturally, for whom it is an instinct, a reflex? For people like you it wields the exact opposite capacity. It derails momentum and kills your spirit, it makes you less able to be the great positive force for good that I know you can be, it kills your capacity to amend whatever you feel guilty about. And believe me, you have no reason to feel guilty ever, your foundation as a person is too good. Even when you do something that isn’t like you, something that fills you so immediately and strongly with regret that you feel you might fall over, it does neither you nor the person who you may have accidentally wronged (or at least who you perceive to have wronged) any good at all. You’re great. The fact that you feel so terrible about this and refuse to get over it probably only further proves that. Now try to stop giving yourself this kind of proof over and over again.
Here’s what I do: I feel guilty for things I haven’t even done yet.
6. To everyone: Just be yourself.
Here’s what I say: Just be yourself.
Here’s what I do: AHHHHHHHHHH!!!! WHO AM I?????????