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Bad Advice

If you haven’t read the Heath brothers’ books, including Made to Stick and Switch, you really should. They write entertainingly while providing useful and practical advice on how we can change perspectives and behaviors.

In their book Decisive, they write that thinking through what you’d tell a friend in the same position can provide one way to stop mulling a difficult choice.

I thought of the Heath brothers’ advice when reading an article in Johns Hopkins Magazine about a hilarious blog called Ask the Past by historian Elizabeth Archibald. In her humanities research, Archibald has turned up highly curious—and comical—guidance from the past, including ensuring a cat’s undying loyalty through rubbing its nose and legs with butter for three days straight and lengthening and blackening your hair through slathering it in oil boiled with a decapitated green lizard.

Clearly, we should take advice even from friends and “experts” with grains—spoons, buckets, truckloads—of salt.

Amused, I went to the Twitterverse to ask people about the worst advice they’ve ever gotten.

In response, Will Pora chalked “buy the extended warranty” in the bad advice category. My pal @_melissa pointed out that the commonly heard “just keep doing what you’re doing”—no matter the situation—provides no help whatsoever.

Personally, I found most dating advice completely unhelpful. Most times, I ignored it. When I did take it—including making the man do all the work to further the early-stage relationship, from initial contact to the first move—my attempt at suavity backfired. (In my experience, the guy just assumed a lack of interest due to minimal encouragement and moved along to other options.)

Some of the business advice I’ve gotten has led me down bad paths as well. I’d heard so often that personal lives should stay out of the office that I went through a stint without sharing even the most mundane outside-the-workplace details.

Although I do believe it inappropriate to spill messy, overly detailed personal stories in an office setting, giving insight into why you might seem a little distracted or tired can provide understanding and perspective that help everyone work together more smoothly. (Tip: Nothing is ever purely business. Life happens outside the office that affects what happens in the office. And besides: Work comprises far too much of people’s existence for it to have no personal resonance.)

What bad advice have you gotten? And did you take it?


A Woman is Not Her Marital Status

Not long ago, a promotional video for a pediatric oncology center went viral on Facebook. In it, two parents and an oncologist talk about a young female patient with brain cancer.

I won’t link to or embed it here, because it infuriates me.

The video recounts the father’s reaction when told that his daughter had an aggressive cerebral tumor: “Will I ever get to walk my daughter in her wedding?”

Next, the announcer tells us that the girl’s cancer has gone into remission and closes with the father stating that the physician will walk the daughter down the aisle when she gets married someday. In response, the doctor says that he’ll retire when that happens, because he can’t imagine a greater sense of accomplishment.

Hold on a moment. My blood boils again.

I can’t believe that the organization that created this video didn’t see its offensiveness. And I can’t believe that people actually shared it.

Tell me you see the problem here.

Someone tells you that your little girl—a miracle of life and possibility—may not make it past another year. You don’t despair that she may not live to cure influenza or develop the next world-changing technology or, more simply, have a brilliant career and fulfilled life of rich relationships and mind-expanding experiences.

Of course not. Your main concern? That she may not get married.

This reaction exposes the shockingly common notion that a woman’s primary value comes from marriage. As though an altar and a husband mean success for the female sex.

Would this father have said such a thing about his male offspring? Would losing a chance to see his son stand at the wedding altar be the first thought this dad had when he heard about his boy’s likely death?

Doubtful. Highly doubtful.

I’ve never married, though I’ve had the option. Frankly, marriage to anyone I’ve dated so far would have reduced my current happiness and held me back from my achievements to date. Sure, I hope to find a life partner at some point. Yet if I never do, I won’t consider my life wasted or a failure.

And if my father feels that way, he’d sure as hell better not tell me so.

This type of thinking about women drives females to tie their self-worth to their appearance, limiting their happiness and their possibilities. This line of thought leads directly into the princess culture. This perspective pushes women to think that their primary objectives wait at the end of an aisle, rather than in career achievement, challenging life experiences, and fulfilling relationships (even the marital kind). These cultural assumptions push women into unhappy relationships because they feel society expects them wedded—and keep them in unhappy and even abusive unions long after they should have left.

Marriage does not shine as the glorious summit of a woman’s existence. Whether she chooses marriage or her family, religion, or culture make marriage a necessary yet not necessarily life-culminating rite of passage, a woman’s marital status does not bear on her worth as a human or her value to this world. It has no more significance than the color of her hair or her skin. She means so much more than one contract, even a good one.

And we need to halt the currents that make it seem otherwise.


Friday Links #2: Reading to Get You Thinking

I started this little experiment in spreading good writing in last Friday’s post, two weeks ago.

I’ll admit: I’ve had too much going on to read as much as usual in recent days, so I’ve only mustered a short link list below. I know I need to rectify this gap. After all, my brain needs feeding.

Without further ado, I’ve listed the thought-provoking items I’ve read since my last Friday edition:

Don’t forget that I’d like you to share your chewy reads, too.

What have you read recently that I should read?


Saying Goodbye: Last Words to a Dying Man

Cancer sucks.

Hell, death sucks. All of the causes of it suck, too.

Let’s be honest:

Death may wait for all of us, just like taxes, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel a-okay about either one.

I lost a friend recently. After years of struggling with throat cancer that turned into lung cancer, he had a series of strokes. When they occurred, he had gone out of town for a few days; his medical teams in Houston and the hospital in Montana consulted and decided to transition him to end-of-life care—and to spare him the stresses of a transfer back to Houston.

Fair enough. Though travel in his last few days would have likely lessened his remaining time on Earth, a number of us would have liked to have seen him at the end. And knowing him—a social butterfly who loved people more than he could admit—he’d have appreciated seeing more of us right about then, too.

A couple friends, his son, and his mother made it to his bedside in the final days. The rest of us sent notes. Though lucid, he couldn’t talk easily. People could read to him, even if he had moments in which he couldn’t read for himself.

What to say?

I had limited time with which to come up with something. As I write plenty—at least, far more than most people—I should have had no problem, right?

And yet I had no words.

I didn’t want to use the past tense for someone still alive.

I didn’t want to evoke the afterlife or religion for a number of reasons, one of which being his lack of belief in either.

I didn’t want to wax maudlin or sappy or weepy. He’d never had much truck for purple prose—and even still, he knew the end had come. He knew he had a mere few days left. Facing mortality hurts. Why depress and sadden him more with pity-party language?

I didn’t want forced joviality. Pretending that nothing had changed and that he didn’t await the end rang false. Acting as though anything could get better if he just kept fighting felt disingenuous.

And so I wrote him memories. I told him stories of times we’d had together: Funny stories, sweet stories, gratitude stories, recountings of our conversations and my takeaways. I tried to make him smile while letting him know that we loved him, that I cared, and that he would live on in everyone he’d touched in his far-too-brief life.

Maybe I could or should have done something else, if only I’d had time for deeper consideration. As always happens when someone dies, I’ve thought of a few more things I would have liked to have said. Yet even if I’d written these things I’ve remembered to say now, other things would pop to mind.

What would you have said?


The Challenges of Sharing Your “Gifts”

Regrettably, I didn’t save the blog entry that triggered musings leading to this post about sharing our gifts. (If I find it again, I’ll rectify the sin of omission.)

The entry posited that each person should share his particular talents or gifts, as our individual strengths would then complement each other and improve the world.

I agree.


How do you define your gifts?

After all, everyone struggles to see himself clearly. Personally, I feel a little egotistical calling something that I can do a “gift.” I may have worked pretty hard at it—which makes it a skill, not a talent. Or perhaps I believe I perform a certain activity with proficiency, but not extraordinarily well enough to feel I have something important to share.

And maybe no one else would consider what I consider a gift my particular strong point. Maybe I don’t even particularly excel at something—and yet I completely miss that fact.

Or perhaps I kick tail at a particular activity—something others would value highly—but it bores me?

A bookkeeper once told me that she didn’t want to volunteer doing what she labored at all day in the office. Instead, she wanted to build houses or feed the hungry. Yet I knew from personal experience with the nonprofit in question that having help with bookkeeping and clerical tasks would have helped its operations immensely. And she didn’t know a thing about carpentry.

Wouldn’t this person better serve the nonprofit by using her actual gifts—even if doing so feels like more of the same?

Further, we all have many gifts. Perhaps I don’t particularly value one of my talents—if I could define any of them in the first place—yet someone else considers it highly useful. If someone else values a particular skill of mine highly, does her estimation weigh more than my own?

How do you define and share your gifts?

P.S.—As with a previous post, I wrote this topic in tandem with Will Pora, who planned to post on the same topic one day later. Check out his blog, why don’cha.