There are some things in life we take for granted; some truths we deem irrefutable, without ever stopping to give them a second thought. We might not know exactly what lies in front of us but we can undoubtedly argue that the Earth will resume its journey around the Sun in the days, years and centuries from now. Seriously, have you ever considered the possibility of the Earth taking a break from its course and, say, deciding to revolve around the Moon instead? Even if you have, I am fairly certain you reached the conclusion it would never really happen.
If we were to doubt everything and believe nothing until we see it with our own eyes, it would make our lives impossible. Imagine going to bed not knowing whether the Sun would come out the next morning. Would you be able to fall asleep in such a state of mind? I would probably spend the whole night sitting at the window and biting my fingernails until the first sunray touched my bloodshed eyes forcing them to close in sheer exhaustion. In order to eat, sleep and survive, I know I must take some things for granted.
Now, here comes the part where I contradict myself. Yes, we must take some things as eternal truths without a shred of doubt – but what happens when we take someone’s advice or another person’s view on life as “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”? Unfortunately, this occurs very often, making us oblivious to the fact that our opinion is actually imposed to us – and what’s more, we allowed it to happen! In addition, we pass these opinions on to others. We should stop that vicious circle and I am starting now by exposing ten frequent pieces of advice we live by (and we really shouldn’t):
1. Time is money.
This is a very widespread statement these days – you’ll hear it in business classes, read about it in self-help manuals and come across its many variations simply by watching TV or talking to your friends. I personally find this sentence very offensive. Some may not share my opinion, but I believe that time is far more important than money. Money is something we all need and it’s something we all generally enjoy. At the same time, it is replaceable; it can be lost and found, gambled away and won back, spent and earned – and then spent again. Can you do that with time? If you waste a day of your life, will you be able to retrieve it tomorrow? How much would you pay for just one more day with a lover who abandoned you? How much does one more month of life cost for a man dying of cancer? Can you put a price-tag on that? I know I can’t.
2. Don’t give up (no matter what).
Another well-intended sentence, supposed to be motivational and encouraging, but at the same time a sentence that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth after you have repeatedly failed at something. I do not believe that everyone can do everything, and if we are to embrace our talents and virtues, than we are also to accept our limitations and short-comings. Sure enough, sometimes you’ll try very hard, picking yourself up and dusting yourself off until you eventually succeed – and when it does happen, it’s the best feeling in the world!
On the other hand, there will be times when getting up seems only to lead to falling down again, each time harder and with a louder thud. You’ll neglect the people you love, put your health at risk and waste time without accomplishing anything. At this point, it’s time for you to give up and find something else. The key to realizing when to stop is quite simple – count your losses. If it takes all you’ve got, then it’s most likely not worth it. There is more than one path to happiness and who says you can only walk one of them?
3. Be strong.
There are several issues with this statement. First of all, how do you define strength? I bet if you asked ten people about it, you would get ten different definitions of the word. Enough said.
Secondly, regardless of my own opinion about strength, when I hear the two words “be strong” combined, I get the message that I am expected not to feel anything that is deemed as a negative emotion. I shouldn’t feel sadness, anger or, God forbid, fear – because that’s what weak people feel. I have seen people experiencing a kind of dignified sadness or controllable fear who actually fell apart right after being told to “be strong”.
The third problem with this sentence is that it appears not well thought through and devoid of meaning. People believe they have to say something meaningful in an awkward or even tragic situation, so they resort to using this awful cliché. Instead, if you don’t know what to say, say nothing at all. Let the fact that you’re there for someone speak for itself.
4. Be yourself.
This piece of advice is not false per se, but I have personally always found it quite confusing. Trying to be “something” implies that you are not that “something”. Being yourself is natural and takes no effort whatsoever. As soon as you’re reminded that you should be yourself , your brain becomes overly analytical of your actions and demeanor, making you extremely self-aware. As a result, you start behaving in a way that is not natural to you. To sum up, if you’re told to be yourself, you’ll be anything but.
To all the caregivers and advisors: Please use phrases such as “Say what you mean” or “Be honest”. They convey the meaning intended with the awkward “Be yourself” statement, without the additional analysis, confusion and vagueness.
5. Be calm.
Be calm– seriously?! Is there anything more annoying and upsetting than hearing these two words when you’re angry? The same goes if you’re trying to calm yourself down. “Be calm” can only serve as a fuel to the fire of one’s rage and is a fantastic choice if you are looking to really piss someone off. Otherwise, these words will not help at all as they translate into: a) “I think it’s easy for you to calm down, which means I’m not taking your frustration seriously”, and b) “I wish you stopped talking now”. Also, by telling someone to be calm, we are implying that they are exaggerating/being hysterical/embarrassing us etc. That is not something anyone wants to hear, particularly not someone who’s already upset.
Alternative: If you’re trying to calm someone else down, don’t say anything. It is amazing just how many conflicts we could solve if only we were able to shut up for a while. An additional nod of understanding could also lead to great lengths, not to mention the so-called McDonald speech (paraphrasing someone’s words to let them now you understood).
Another alternative: If you’re trying to calm yourself down, try this paradoxical approach: Accept that you won’t calm down. As a matter a fact, try to be even more upset. Once you take the pressure off of yourself, you’ll feel calmer without even trying.
6. Good things come to those who wait.
The other day, I spent nearly an hour at the bank waiting patiently in the line, only to find out that the reason my credit card had been rejected was the fact that I had insufficient funds. I had halfheartedly hoped the card itself was somehow damaged. I left the bank, having lost that hope and an hour of my life. Waiting led to nothing.
OK, this might be a weak parody of what I am actually trying to say, but people will generally agree on the view that waiting includes a kind of passiveness and helplessness – you wait when there’s nothing else left to do. On the other hand, claiming that patience is a virtue would be a much better choice of words, as it conveys an active decision to take your time when trying to accomplish something. Semantics, some might say, but I argue that we should be very careful with words. Words make up thoughts we act upon and it is our very (in)actions that lead to our (un)happiness. Sapienti sat.
7. Always have a back-up plan.
It was a matter of life and death – or so it seemed. I was fifteen and so was he; I had a huge crush and he didn’t really look as if he cared at all. To my way of thinking back then, it was of the upmost importance to make this immature boy fall helplessly in love with me. It didn’t really matter how or why.
Having always been extremely methodical and logical, I set out to write a perfect plan – an algorithm that would lead to this babyish teenager handing his heart out to me. I had already decided to approach him and now was the time to come up with all the possible things to say. This meant, of course, that I had to take into consideration everything he might say back to me and prepare (in advance) my own replies which would be interesting, witty, captivating and charming, sweeping him instantly of his feet. My plan was detailed, containing a series of back-up plans in case things went wrong. It was so well considered and elaborate, that it made me question my own sanity in the years to come. Whether I was crazy or not, I certainly did all I could to reach my goal.
The conversation I had prepared never took place. In all of my planning frenzy it never really occurred to me that I would not get a chance to say a single word to him. He just appeared in front of me one day and muttered the following: “Well, I know you kind of like me, but I’m like, you know, not interested – know what I mean?”
I was devastated, not so much because I could not get him to like me, but more so because he made me realize I can’t predict everything. No matter how elaborate our plans might be, sometimes they just don’t work. Having a decent back-up plan is not bad at all, but it also gives us a false sense of security and makes us forget that we can’t control everything.
8. You must.
I love this one. What must I do? What is it that I have to do in order to avoid some vague disaster? And what would happen if I were to disobey? Once you think about it really hard, you might just realize that there are only a few things we must do in life – everything else is a matter of choice. Even when it feels like a “must”, it is usually just something we imposed upon ourselves. The old Romans had a fantastic saying: “When you feel that there is no way out, try getting out the same way you walked in”. There is always an alternative – you are never obligated to choose one particular solution. If all else fails, get out using the same door you walked in through.
9. Live like there is no tomorrow.
You can most certainly go through your life being a blind hedonist. You can ignore the consequences and repercussions, but they will not ignore you. Live like there is no tomorrow and one day you’ll be right. All the other days, however, will have been used in vain.
10. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
When I first started working as a receptionist in a big hotel, I was approached by a guest who looked quite terrifying. Her make-up was melting and the excess skin on her arms flopping around in a kind of frenzy made her look like a huge, sweaty butterfly. The whole image was so grotesque I had to bite my lips to stay serious. However, nothing about the way she looked turned out to be as ridiculous as what she was about to say. The lady bug coughed and spoke softly: “Would you be so kind as to tell me what time the shade in front of the hotel appears?” I was so shocked, I instantly replied: “At 5 o’clock, madam”.
First few such instances were funny – but when you find yourself flooded with an ocean of silly requests, ridiculous questions and impossible demands day after day, you start losing it. And after a while, you lose it all indeed – your patience, your tranquility and the ability to find any of that funny anymore. These vicious attacks on my common sense meant that I would come home irritable, frustrated and ready to explode. It kept getting worse as the time went by. There was just no getting used to it or growing a thicker skin for me.
The experience didn’t kill me, but it definitely didn’t make me any stronger. It happens when you twist your ankle as well – you become more prone to twisting it over and over again. Granted, there are some difficulties in life that make you a better man. On the other hand, there seem to be many more obstacles that will just make you curl up on the floor and cry out to the heavens: “Why me, God? Why?!”
To conclude, we should all really take every piece of advice with a pinch of salt. By all means, disregard some of the things that I have said in case you disagree; however, please do not disregard the importance of thinking with your own brain. Just because something is repeated over and over again doesn’t mean that it’s true. It might as well just be a trite cliché.