We’ve all been there: that spot where you feel a little stuck and need to hear some words of encouragement, maybe some direction, just to get you going again. And, we’ve all probably heard the same advice instead. It’s a piece of the worst advice ever. Not helpful. Self-serving. A waste of time. You might as well have never reached out to begin with. So frustrating!
What is one of the worst pieces of advice ever? Telling someone who is struggling to get their goals off the ground that they’re right where they need to be. Really? How is that helpful? That’s the equivalent of saying you’ll pray for disaster victims. Sure, many of you will disagree. You think that advice is great, because it is meant to cheer the receiver on. Besides, they need to get up and make a change for themselves. Sure, but let’s go over why saying this actually isn’t helpful.
For one thing, your intention of imparting a well-meaning idiom to cheer up a friend is about yourself, and not their situation (it both lets you off the hook and sounds good). Second, the person you’re saying this to knows that’s not true. They are uncomfortable and suffering for a very good reason: They Are Not Where They Need To Be. The discomfort one feels in such situations is a sign that things have stagnated and that they need to move on. But, how can you move on when you haven’t any ideas of where to move on to? That’s the whole reason for reaching out. This person is likely seeking a sounding board, or better ideas on which to find some traction.
Stagnation comes with a gamut of emotions, from apathy and anxiety to anger and fear. When we’re held back from our goals, the sense of unfairness becomes rather consuming. We look to others for clues, and there with these others we often see our goals manifesting in them, and often with the same exact efforts we had undertaken to no avail. It goes without saying that what works for one doesn’t always work for another. It’s an absolute that that doesn’t need to be said, and that doing so doesn’t help a person move forward. When someone is frustrated and their emotions are piqued, thinking clearly about next steps is very hard. What’s needed at the time is someone willing to listen, and someone willing to assist in the unpacking of possible reasons for a block. Maybe, thus, offer up some quick wins and manageable tasks for going again. And, I am not referring to canned ideas we’ve all heard a million times over, and feature in self-help seminars. Everyone’s situation is unique. Sound bites are platitudes.
Stagnation (holding patterns, or hovering around projects) can be a sign that the goal isn’t ready to be reached. But, please don’t say anything like: it’s not yet time, or, it will happen in its own course. (*Insert eye roll here.*) Instead, and this is an easy adjustment of words, suggest they look over the project to be sure it is in fact in order. Mistakes, incomplete/fragmented portions, better ideas (such as honing a plot), and insufficiency are always worth going back for. And, you know what? When you try again, your work will be that much stronger and you’ll be glad you had that block to help you get there.
I’ve watched authors accept the bad advice that you’re where you’re supposed to be, and then remain in a holding pattern for quite some time, awaiting a magical portal to open onto the next thing. When you suggest that someone is where they need to be, it implies that they don’t need to do anything, that the something that needs to change will do so of its own volition. Only then will they be thrust forward. Instead, they could have been given the amended advice suggested in the previous paragraphs, whereby the author becomes the actor in their success, and the necessary steps are taken. Hopefully those steps dredge up further steps still, and keeps the project moving forward. In other words, put tasks with quick goals in their hands, so they are certain to gain a win to counter the let down, propelling them out of their rut.
Bad advice creates nothing but a circle-jerk. It may provide a momentary lift, but essentially does nothing to resolve the issue. Although individuals are responsible for pursuing their own goals and happiness, when those you care about reach out, they deserve better than generic responses from. Being a help in these small moments could really be of service to someone. A great deal of anxiety and depression arises from the stagnation of goals and frustrations in accomplishing one’s goals, which have gone unresolved for years. Instead of reiterating another stale catch phrase, take a moment to think of something better. It might just be expanding on the idea at the heart of the idiom you want to offer, or going the next step.
Your effort is everything. Don’t be the purveyor of the worst advice.
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