I think we are all a little bit like Pocahontas in our own ways.
Now and then we need Grandmother Willow to help guide us, and other times we need to figure it out ourselves.
Sometimes I like advice. For instance, once when I was on a ski trip and thought I had frostbitten fingers and took a break from snowboarding, I welcomed the advice of a local mountain yeti (some of us have different definitions of what a yeti is). He gave me some great pointers as to why mittens are better than gloves and why you should not run your hands in hot water when they’re frozen (trust me—it is such a bad idea). His wisdom has proven to be very valuable to me over the years.
But there are others times when advice is not what we need—at all.
People often simply need others to listen to them. They don’t need opinions or trite expressions or advice of any kind. They just need you to be there and let them talk. It can be challenging, though, because we love chipping in our thoughts. We tend to think that people come to us with their problems so that we can help them solve them.
But we aren’t all Vanilla Ice.
One thing I’ve learned in life is that I don’t know everything there is to know about everything—or really anything, for that matter. My expertise is limited, especially when it comes to other people’s unique situations. I don’t always know what’s going through people’s minds or their hearts, and by no means do I always know what the best thing to do is in each instance. If I’m asked for my advice, I’ll certainly do my best to provide something solid, but I’ve learned that it’s often better to lend my time and my ear rather than my opinion.
Over the years, people have seemed to enjoy offering me advice on how to escape feeling pride each time Beyoncé sings “Single Ladies.” I’ve been told to do the online thing, go to more bars and clubs, put myself out there more, stop being so picky, be set up, date around—the list could keep going, but I’m tired. I haven’t always been as receptive to this as I was to what I heard from the mountain yeti. The truth is that I’m not going to go out seeking someone simply so I can find someone, and I don’t think other people should be concerned about it.
There’s a quote from the John Wayne movie Big Jake that says, “You’re short on ears and long on mouth.” Been there, bro. There are, of course, times when we all need advice. There are also situations in which other people need our advice. But there are so many other moments when we simply need to be long on ears and short on mouth.
When I quit my teaching job a little more than a year ago and wasn’t quite sure where I was going to end up next, I remember having conversations with people in which they questioned why I did what I did without having something else already lined up. Or why I didn’t have a backup plan. Or what I was going to do if I didn’t get a job in the next few months. I was given countless bits of advice on paths I needed to take, and there were times I really didn’t want to hear any of it. All I needed was support in my decision and people believing in me that I knew what I was doing.
Because sometimes you simply know in your heart that you’re doing the right thing, regardless of what anyone around you says.
There will be times when people give us advice we don’t want to hear, and we don’t take it, and things don’t exactly work out the way we hoped they would. But I think that’s all part of the journey we have to go through to be the people we’re supposed to be. If I had listened to people telling me where to go to college years ago, I probably wouldn’t have gone to four different schools, and who knows where I would be now? I needed to make those decisions on my own and learn things about life—and myself—that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned if I done what others told me to do.
When people are throwing viewpoints your way when you know in your heart what you really need to do, I think it’s best to let a more general piece of advice from the brilliant tree Grandmother Willow guide you.
Listen with your heart. You will understand.