What’s Really Going On When I Tell You What To Do

Since I started this blog, I’ve been very self-conscious about not sounding like I’m giving advice. People who give advice often come across as judgmental, condescending, and self-important. Nobody likes a self-proclaimed expert. I don’t want to mislead anybody. I’m not an expert on anything except what it’s like to be me. I’m not qualified to give advice to anybody except myself. [And to clients, so long as that advice is confined to their legal issues, according to the Illinois State Bar Association, which is so weird.] The thing is, I can’t help but adopt a self-helpy tone.

In law school, I took a trial advocacy workshop where the professor encouraged us to identify and use our natural skills in the courtroom. For example, she was always telling one tall guy with a booming voice to use his commanding presence to control hostile witnesses, while being careful not to overwhelm and turn the jury against him. The day that I used a chalkboard during my opening statement, she told me that my style is teaching. I like to explain things to bring people around to my point of view. It’s how I approach all situations, not just disagreements and misunderstandings.

When I realized that I was inadvertently using my blog to teach and educate rather than just express, I told myself there had to be a few topics that were off-limits. For example, I try not to write about body image, even though it’s something I think about all the time and is hugely relevant to other topics on this blog, such as feminism and identity. I don’t have enough experience or knowledge in that area, so I try to leave it to people who do. [For example, I really enjoy what Meg has to say on the subject.] Same thing with mental health issues, like depression. It’s something that I know a fair bit about from personal experience, but it can be such a serious health problem that I don’t want anybody reading this to think what I say applies to them.

Realistically, at some point I will probably end up writing about both of these topics and more. And I will try to file my advice-y posts under the “How To Be Happy” category you see over on the right sidebar. That category could also be called “How To Be Happy If You Are A Recently Married Liberal Mormon Woman Working Full Time At A Corporate Gig And Your Name Also Happens To Be Sandy.”

While perusing another blog today (authored by Penelope Trunk, an advice-giver who also writes insanely openly about her life and fully acknowledges the strangeness that arises when a reader is presented with counsel from a person whose life is a mess and then points out that everyone’s life is a mess and that most advisors just keep that dirty little truth a secret) and I read a comment (authored by a person I don’t know) that sums up my feelings about advice perfectly: “the only thing that drives people to give advice is their desire to overcome their own struggles.” So when I tell you how to be happy, just know that I’m the one who is trying to figure it out.

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