Green light engaged.
Webcam focused on my grizzled features, I reached for the coffee and recoiled as the liquid hit my lips.
Cold, sharp, stale – it gave a welcome spark to my tired eyes.
I cleared my throat.
A small black window hung above my laptop. From the other side watched a curious and hopeful group of students. I began a relentless monologue on all things life and advertising.
Never give up, always be yourself, don’t fear the next step. On and on…
That’s when their questions began.
“Should I pick up and move everything?”
“The dream agency hasn’t called back. What should I do?”
“Who shot first, Greedo or Han?”
I thought before offering advice…and then it hit me.
“Don’t listen to me: I’m just a guy on the Internet.”
I was half joking, trying to add levity and hope to the future of each student. I gave that a sporting try but honestly, looking back, it was probably the most poignant advice I could have offered.
Not that I felt my words useless. It’s that I realized something deeper:
That which must be done for you, is best done by you.
I let that idea sit with me for a while. Days passed. I invited the notion to relax: “Put your feet up in my consciousness,” I suggested. I offered it a drink – Hendrick’s and cucumber – and even a place to crash if need be.
The advice we give is often how we like to believe we handle predicaments. It’s based on an ideal version of ourselves. Maybe that’s why so much advice starts with, “If I were you…”
Get this. The word “team” cannot be made from the letters:
There are plenty of rules that we are supposed to live our lives by. Most of them are norms – shaped by the culture and surroundings into which we were born, by which we have been conditioned, and in which we probably work.
These worn clichés and pat answers cloaked as advice round us like grey-flannelled salesmen, peddling the same wares from person to person, regardless of situation and relevance.
Most suggestions fit neatly into two sales kits, as it were:
Safety and risk.
Advice received is typically in response to perceived “risk”.
Advice acted upon almost exclusively leads toward imagined “safety”.
When push comes to shove, external and internal voices shift from a proactive stance to one of doubt.
It is easier to lead a life by maxims, but doing so creates a life led by proxy.
(If you etch that maxim into your memory, you’re really missing my point.)
We seat ourselves in a stasis between indecision and settlement. And where does that lead? Our dreams blur, our heart loses its fire, while we sip the cocktail that is one part Kool-Aid, one part nostalgia – with bitters.
As soon as you start leading someone else’s life – or catch yourself turning another person’s advice into The Commandments – just run. Run, run, run. As far and as quickly as your legs will humanly take you.
Or buy robot legs.
Or maybe just a plane ticket. Yeah…that seems easier.
You are the one on your journey. It’s your story – even if people only want to pick it up in the middle or at what they see as the good parts. Others may not want to read your story at all. And even so:
Nothing escapes your obligation to keep writing your own damn story.
Writing, in this case, is simple. Here’s what I mean:
1). Identify the areas in your life that need to be addressed.
What can you change today, tomorrow, in a year?
2). Ask people for advice.
Who, what, when, where, why questions only. People like simplicity.
3). Ignore Step 2.
If you are looking for someone to validate your feelings – keep moving. You are actually less likely to do something once you vocalize your intent.
4. Buy those robot legs…and that means: take action.
Do not fear this step, although it will be the hardest one. You won’t feel quite like you’re drowning in the Mariana Trench of your mind.
We try to be all things to all people, and end up becoming…
To no one.
It’s true of branding; it’s true of personal identity.
But hey, don’t listen to me. I really am just a guy on the Internet.