5 Stupid Pieces Of Advice That People Need To Stop Sharing
If your life is anything like mine, I am so, so sorry. Between the general malaise and the fact that your many illegitimate children have tracked you down and launched a class-action suit for all the Christmas presents they missed out on, you're probably having a bit of a rough time. You also probably have a habit of consulting the internet for advice on how to handle your many failings and, in doing so, noticed that the vast majority of life advice being bandied about on social media alongside hassle-free cupcake recipes is total garbage. And a lot of that garbage falls into a few specific categories, such as ...
"Travel Or Your Life Is Wasted!"
Hey, have you been traveling lately? No? Well then, fuck you, you ignorant yokel.
St. Augustine never said that, but that's a subject for another time.
You've never backpacked across Nepal with nothing but a Lonely Planet book and your own soul to guide you, you self-centered jerk?
"Travel makes you modest, like me!"
And not only does traveling make you a better person, it's hard. It's like having a job!
"You have to trust foreigners! And, ugh, learn about them. What a sacrifice!"
I enjoy traveling. Stealing the hotel's nice towels, using the WiFi in a new and exotic Starbucks, asking the locals if they speak American -- it's a great experience. And I understand that these quotes are supposed to inspire us to see the world, which is indeed a great way to learn about humanity and grow as a person. But I'd estimate that approximately 100 percent of the time you try to distill the appeal of traveling into a single pithy quote, you come across as an arrogant braggart.
"Don't worry about the money" is not something people who have actually had to worry about money say.
That's a really inspirational thing to say for someone who can almost certainly ask their rich parents for rent money. Yes, you can travel on a shoestring budget. But you can't "just make it work" if taking two weeks off of your job to hitchhike across Peru means you don't make enough money that month to pay your bills.
I know plenty of people who haven't traveled much, if at all, and it's not because they have closed minds or bad priorities. It's because, when they were young, their parents were too busy working their asses off and saving every dollar so their children could go to school and, you know, eat. Then, when they grew up, they worked their asses off at school and a job so they could have a better life. A life where they could keep their ass. And I'm sure there's nothing someone who put in exhausting hours to pay their way through college loves more than seeing a rich friend post a fake Muhammad quote about how traveling the world is how someone really educates themselves. A quote about how education isn't that important, which, incidentally, has missing punctuation.
"Don't tell me how educated you are, because I can already figure it out."
Travel absolutely can make you a better person. But if your first instinct after a great trip is to rush home and talk about how you're superior to your friends because you've traveled to a developing country and met a bunch of locals who probably can't afford to travel themselves, then it hasn't.
So, by all means, tell people about what a great time you had on your trip. But don't share condescending images and articles on how to quit your job and travel the world and truly live, because if it was that easy to magically remove all responsibilities from your life, a lot more people would have already figured out how to do it. Try something like this instead:
Periods be damned!
"Just Choose To Be Happy!"
Are you happy with your life? Take a moment to read this if you're not:
Are you happy now, motherfucker? No? But those kayakers have it all figured it out, so why can't you get your shit together? Let's try again.
Don't tell me you're only feeling worse! It says right there on that wall that you can choose to be happy! It's even pointing you in the direction of happiness! Maybe there's some to your left? No? How about below?
Why is "BE HAPPY NOW" in bold caps? Is it a threat? An implied "or else"? It feels like I'm being yelled at. Goddammit, Simple Reminders, I'm doing the best that I can!
You've probably seen these kinds of images on social media, and they've probably been posted by someone who also shares yoga tips, gluten-free recipes despite having no issues eating gluten, and other reminders that they're insufferable. There are many variations on the theme, like "To be happy you only need to ____," where the blank is find love, remove all toxic relationships from your life, get some really sweet Destiny loot, or do anything else that's both challenging and not actually a magic bullet. Regardless of the exact theme, you can expect lots of pictures of nature and people being outdoorsy that say you can be happy just by choosing to be happy. Which is a nice thought, except that's not how the human brain works at all.
Genetics, chemical balance, whether or not your parents kept insisting that broccoli was just as delicious as ice cream ... there's a lot that goes into determining whether a person is happy, and a lot of it is out of a person's control. Now, people can overcome negative circumstances and live a happy life, but doing that means establishing healthy habits and working hard and doing other long-term and difficult things that can't be established overnight just because some dude flying a kite reminded you to enjoy the little things in life.
Vonnegut never actually said that, but so it goes.
If happiness was as easy as remembering to be happy, a lot more people would be happy. It's well-intentioned, but it comes across as smug. "I've got the trick to happiness all figured out, so why don't you have it down? What's wrong with you?"
That's right, happiness can reduce depression. Shit, why didn't any depressed people think of that?
Actually, if you're depressed or anxious, you probably have a mental illness that can't magically be fixed by pretending you don't understand what time and memory is. But by all means, let's reduce it down to a quote for a tween's Pinterest page, then inaccurately slap poor Laozi's name on it like he's going to teach us how to beat our bully with karate and win the local hot girl.
"So you really should have stopped that mugger, you pussy."
It's nice to think that the secret to happiness can be reduced to being told that good and bad is all in our heads, but it trivializes mental illness, it trivializes people's problems, and it trivializes what actually makes us happy. You can't choose to be magically happy. But figuring out what does make you happy can be a long and winding road, and that doesn't fit onto a humble brag disguised as profound life advice.
"Work Harder!" / "Don't Work So Hard!"
Hey, are you working hard to achieve your dreams? If you're finding it difficult to stay motivated, maybe this inspirational piece of advice will help you.
All right, now you're ready to buckle down for an all-nighter. Oh, but wait! Don't work too hard, or you'll regret your entire life!
Better duck out of the office early and go rowing so you'll die happy. But, oh shit, don't waste too much time having fun, or you'll never be successful.
OK, so you're back to working hard again so you can achieve all of your hopes and dreams? You fool, you're letting your life waste away!
The mouse probably should have done more cardio, though.
You've probably noticed the theme here, in that only casual life advice deals in absolutes. The internet is awash in images and essays about both the satisfaction that comes with working incredibly long hours and the regrets that accompany those incredibly long hours, and they're usually shared by people on your Facebook page who are trying to justify either not seeing their family for a week or mooching off all their friends while they take occasional shifts as a street mime.
Another running theme you've probably picked up on is the fact that complicated questions about humanity can't be summed up in a few photos no matter how cute the animals in them are. Yes, it's important to find a balance between work and personal life, and yes, the fact that so many people struggle with that balance is a great source of existential angst. But treating it like it's a question of extremes ignores the fact that everyone has different needs.
Someone might find tremendous satisfaction in working 80 hours a week running their animal-inspired dildo company, All Creatures Great And Small But Still Able To Get It Done Where It Counts, while others just want to clock out after they've put in their weekly 40 and spend some time enjoying the former's products with their friends and family. Neither person's approach to life is inherently wrong, but if someone feels the need to share lectures that talk down about the best way to live life, there might secretly be something deeply wrong with the way they're living theirs.
"Don't Waste Your Time With Frivolous Hobbies!"
You've probably watched countless hours of TV, but have you ever really thought about what all those hours represent? No? Well, then I hope your mind is disease-free, because I'm about to blow it.
Newsflash, suckers! Time is a resource, and resources are finite! And you're wasting yours away! What's that, you say? You're not just watching infomercials and old Jerry Springer reruns while you wait to die? You watch TV because you enjoy shows that make you think, laugh and cry, give you something to discuss with your friends, and help you stay in touch with the pop culture that influences so much of our daily lives? Well, you're still a loser, according to this piece of snobby, elitist advice!
Hope you don't play video games either, because you might as well be booking a ticket to Stupidville, where the population is you.
Because narcotics and literature just don't go together.
Oh, but don't read too many books, because then you'd be neglecting our old friend, travel.
Just make sure not to take too many photos while you're abroad!
Yeah, don't smell Instagram. Wait, what?
And, oh shit, don't spend too much time on Facebook bragging about how you don't spend too much time on Facebook!
"The fuck? Don't put my name on this." -Jung, it's safe to assume.
If you can name a hobby, you can find an image or essay about how it's a terrible waste of time that only poor and stupid people pursue. And sure, spending too much time watching TV or playing games or eating lions to gain their strength is problematic. But these little tidbits of advice rarely seem concerned that someone is doing too much of something -- they're almost always annoyed by the fact that you're not doing something else, something the person sharing the advice wants to feel smart about for enjoying. Or they're annoyed by the fact that you're doing anything else, in the case of the people who get upset if you have any hobbies at all.
Don't worry; Nate Diaz isn't mad at you. But if you see someone share this inspirational quote, they don't want you to work harder -- they want you to acknowledge that they work hard, that they're grinding away while you go for a weekend hike. Strangely enough, the hardest-working people I know don't take breaks to remind all their friends how hard they work, in part because they're too busy, you know, actually working. And drawing satisfaction from it, instead of thinly disguising a desire for approval of their lifestyle.
It's important to make sure you're spending your time in a way that makes you happy and productive. But if you see someone say they want to give you food for thought yet can't muster up more than the social media equivalent of a dusty Cheeto that's been on the floor for a week, maybe you're not the one who needs to be doing the questioning.
"It's OK To Be A Terrible Person!"
We've all seen someone share this Marilyn Monroe quote that, you guessed it, she didn't actually say. And then we've all shuddered and been grateful that we haven't had to hang out with them in years.
"If you can't handle me on my worst day of training, then you sure as hell
don't deserve me on my best day of training." -Nate Diaz
You "handle" wild animals or volatile chemicals, not people who can't get their shit together long enough to not be a selfish narcissist on a dinner date. And yet it's easy to find piece of advice after piece of advice that boils down to "Don't ever try to improve a single facet of yourself, because you're perfect being the terrible person that you are."
That's great advice, unless you're prone to bouts of anger, or drinking too much, or being late all the time, or blowing people off, or a hundred other possible flaws that you have at least one of and should try to address. And if that sounds like I'm assuming the worst in an otherwise innocuous message, behold the countless images that people share to justify their arrogance ...
"It also keeps the bitch-ass putty tats off my back."
... their passive-aggressive complaints ...
"But I'm real fun at parties."
... and whatever other flaws they clearly need to address.
There's an implicit piece of advice in every one of those images. And that advice is "It's OK to not try to address my obvious flaws as long as I acknowledge them with a snarky message." The first step in self-improvement is acknowledging the problem you want to fix, and letting Tweety Bird shout your personality flaw at the world is not an excuse to stop at the first step. Being comfortable with who you are is good advice. Being so comfortable that you think your bad tendencies can be summed up and waved away with some words thrown over a waterfall is borderline sociopathic.
Self-improvement, and life in general, is hard, and it's nice to think you look wise and are being helpful to your loved ones by sharing some advice. But problems aren't solved and people aren't improved with a couple of sweeping, reductive sentences that get slapped over pictures of some dudes parasailing. And if that's the best you can come up with to help your friends in their time of need, well ...
Mark is on Twitter and has a story collection, and his life advice to you is to check out both.
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