It’s that time of year again to starting thinking of bettering yourself. Each year we put together a list of ways to make us better people, and every year many of us fall flat on our faces trying to keep up with the cadre of good-intentioned self-help advice.
Well, here’s my advice on following that good advice this year: DON’T.
This year, give yourself a little leeway in the self-improvement area, and work on giving yourself a year to remember, one where you dove into the pool of experience, and swam boldly against to tide of “in my opinions,” and be the boss of your fate, no matter how ill-fated some “experts” say it may be.
To get you started, her are five pieces of bad advice I hope that little red devil on your shoulder convinces you to follow:
Beat Yourself Up. In this world of embracing one’s flaws, and improving self-esteem, nothing helps get a person motivated more than that proverbial chewing out.
If you have something you want to accomplish this year, whether it’s a project, fitness goal or family matter, put aside those daily affirmations be your own Drill Sergeant.
If you are needing to finish writing, give yourself heck for looking at a Twitter feed instead of your manuscript, Slacker! If you need to lose weight for health reasons, mentally kick your lazy butt of the couch, and scream at yourself until you do those sit ups you promised yourself you’d do.
A pat on the back is always nice, but sometimes you also need the occasional kick in the pants to get things done.
Quit Caring Who You Offend. This is not an invitation to be as disgusting or blue as you can around the wrong crowds. Don’t deliberately drop the F-Bomb around other mothers at a toddler’s birthday party, or tell others how much their favorite show, book or band sucks just to show how much better you are than them. That’s not being forward-thinking, cutting edge or even clever. That’s just being a jerk.
What I mean is, quit walking on eggshells around everyone, just in case you set off the “that offends me” trigger. It’s really okay to give your opinion or view on something (again, not to deliberately be mean).
In the 1980s comedy A Fish Called Wanda, the repressed barrister, Archie, lamented the plight of the British, which actually holds true for everyone today:
“Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone ‘Are you married?’ and hearing ‘My wife left me this morning,’ or saying, uh, ‘Do you have children?’ and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see…we’re all terrified of embarrassment. That’s why we’re so… dead.”
Yes, we all have our limit on what we’ll stand in the good taste department, including me, but we’re getting a little too “outraged by everything” these days.
Safe zones in universities? Really? How old are you?
Someone is always going to think differently from you. Profoundly so, in some cases. That person may be soooo wrong on a topic, it is hard to comprehend, but huffing out of the room in offense isn’t going to steer them in the right direction. Likewise, if someone blows their top Inside Out style because you gave your honest opinion, which wasn’t their own, that’s their problem.
Don’t be an opinionated hot head, but if you keep your opinion to yourself too much, you might explode. Wouldn’t that be awkward?
Don’t Act Your Age. This is my personal favorite bit of bad advice. It was inspired by an article I read called “Things Women Over 40 Should Never Do,” and it was, to be polite, a big stinky pile of pompous excrement.
There were things on this list like “don’t color your hair in unnatural colors,” or “don’t ride a skateboard,” and it just got more stupid.
Don’t wear graphic tees, like concert tees?
Never wear your hair in two ponytails?
Don’t go to theme parks without your kids?
Never wear biker boots or jackets?
What the what???
I’m sorry, but aging gracefully does not mean stripping away your passions and personality traits bit by bit, until you become this sensible little carbon copy of the lifeless, white pants and yellow sweater wearing senior citizen. This is particularly true when you look around, and all the cool people are in their 40s, 50s and even 60s now. Take a look as of January, 2016:
Idris Elba: 43
Helena Bonham Carter: 49
James May: 53 this month
Sophia Loren: 81
Stan Lee: just turned 93!!!!
Need I go on?
I’ll cede, it may be wise to avoid bacchanalia-filled evenings of too much booze and booty, but really no one should be doing that, anyways.
Even so, if the only reason you’re skipping that Rolling Stones concert, avoiding taking a second look at those Triumph café racer tribute models, or not purchasing that comic book, video game or awesome Lego set, is because it isn’t the acceptable thing to do at “your age,” then you’re making your decision for the wrong reason, Sunshine. If you have the money and the physical ability to still enjoy your favorite things in life, then do it!
When I turned 40, I started getting my hair done at this tattoo parlor, which was also a salon. No, I’m not inked (can’t commit), but it was such a fun experience. I started heading back to my favorite style of the modern rockabilly hot rod chick, and I’m sticking to it.
If you don’t like looking at a 40-something with a blue or purple streaked Betty Page do, then look the other way. I’m not planning on “acting my age,” just to make someone else feel comfortable around me.
My children love their mom with the “I Am The Stig” and “Bad Wolf” stickers on the back of my SUV who attends school events with purple hair, and my teacher husband still wears bowling shirts with tikis and skulls to his classes.
The worst thing about aging for many is they lose who they were. Hold onto the essence of who you are (at least the good parts) and never let go.
Age is a number. Nothing else.
Ignore “Good” Advice. As I mentioned in the intro “good” advice comes at you from all angles. There are webinars and online forums on what to do and not to do in certain situations. Every talk show host (and vapid guest) seems to be an expert on everything, and the “How to…” book section just keeps growing.
Most of all, our own friends and family are instant authorities on a certain issue, if you bring up a problem, be it dating, deadlines or decorating.
“Oh, you don’t want a stainless steel sink.”
“Well, I’d never marry a guy who still collects toy cars, or Star Wars figures.”
“I didn’t want to say this around the others, but black makes your skin too pale.”
Well, thank you all for your comments and insight, and I will definitely take those things into consideration. Or not.
There’s a quote often attributed to Robert Downey Jr. I can’t verify if he said this, but the memes are everywhere, and I like the sentiment: “Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the f*ck you were gonna do anyway.”
Don’t blow off every nudge in the right direction. Some good advice may be mandatory, like “you might want to get that rash looked at,” “watch where you sit: they just painted,” or “Duck!!!!”
Heck, I even listed some “good advice” in my To-Do List for 2014 and Family To-Do List for 2015. There’s a time and a place to follow instructions, but not every suggestion has to be taken as gospel.
Enable a “junkie.” Whoa, there, before you protest this one. I am in no way advocating nor promoting recreational drug use, or feeding the habit of a person who desperately needs help. However, this last piece of bad advice can be the most powerful one of all to follow, so hear me out.
A couple of weeks ago, my car was in the shop so my father lent me his for a week. One late afternoon, I pulled down the sun visor and was showered with one dollar bills. I had to call Dad and ask him why he was “makin’ it rain,” so to speak, in the car. He told me he had been keeping those odd dollars he gets as change in the visor to give to street corner beggars and other homeless folk.
“I used to not give to these guys,” he told me. “I figured a dollar here and there may not make a big difference for me, but it could for them.”
Whether that person genuinely needed food, money for clothes or shelter, or if they were feeding a drug habit, it wasn’t for him to decide. He only knew, he explained, that he was “blessed to be able to have enough left over” to give to others.
This made me think of the time I was homeless and cold…for all of two hours. We used to help out our youth minister at church until we had our own children, and had to stop for a while. The youth minister gave me a call one night during the Christmas season and asked if I could portray a homeless woman outside of a nearby convenience store, as part of an interactive drama to help teach the kids compassion. He never told them I was an “actress” (they all thought they had just been going caroling) so he wanted to know how they would react.
This seemed like an interesting opportunity, so I dirtied myself up, and had my husband drive me to the store to sit against the outside wall until the church bus pulled up. The bus was over an hour late pulling in, so I lingered for a while.
Yes, I knew I had a warm home to go back to, and yes, I had my family waiting across the parking lot in a cozy vehicle playing Fruit Ninja, but after awhile I got a little sense of what it might be like to not be able to retreat to the comfort of a home. No matter how much I wrapped my hoodie over my face, it was blistery cold that night, especially on the cold concrete. I had to turn my eyes away from the dirty looks of store customers and worried every time I saw a police vehicle driving down the street.
I was beginning to shiver a little from the cold when the bus pulled up, and one large teen boy in a football jersey squatted down and asked me if I’d like a coffee. I nodded silently, and then an entire herd of kids approached me, and asked me my “story.” I improvised a scenario (quite well, actually), and they gave me the name of some place I could go to get warm. Then they handed me a huge coffee and sang me “Silent Night.”
I knew it was an act, but they didn’t, and I was so moved by these young kids taking the time to talk to and comfort a dingy-looking homeless woman, tears just started flowing down my cold, red face. The youth minister told me later, before he let on to the kids it was a “drama,” one girl had wanted to get me a blanket to keep warm, she was so worried.
Between these teenagers a generation after me, and my dad from the one ahead of me, I learned to not always worry if I’m “enabling a junkie” or not. It doesn’t matter if you give pocket change, a cup of coffee or an extra pair of shoes and socks. Give when you can, if you can. Trust me here, you will feel better for it.
Remember, these words of witticism, if not wisdom, aren’t meant to encompass an entire lifestyle, but every now and then it’s okay to crumble up those advice columns, log off those well-meaning help forums, and just smile an nod at those friends and family members who think they have all the answers.
Yes, this year go against your better judgment sometimes, and go with your gut, heart and soul. Live your life well in 2016, but by all means “live it up” a little, too.