My mother gave me the best advice that I have ever received (are you surprised?) right after I got engaged. She said, “When people give you unsolicited, even insulting advice, smile. Thank them for their thoughts. Remind yourself that they love you. And go and do exactly what you want to do.” She taught me to hear even the most intrusive “helpful” comments as someone saying, “I love you, and I really want to be a part of your life.” She taught me that I didn’t have to respond or justify myself or explain why their advice wouldn’t work in my situation. I could just smile, say thank you, and go and do exactly as I pleased.
This advice only works when you know who you are and who is in charge.
If you are the parent, you are in charge. If you are married, you and your spouse are in charge. And even within an employment situation, unless your boss is telling you what to do, you are likely in charge. I can remember hearing a CEO complain that a shareholder had “made” him make decisions that ultimately wrecked the company. The problem was that the CEO forgot who was in charge. He was responsible, and he couldn’t outsource his decisions or judgment or brain to anyone, even an important stakeholder. And neither can you. The buck doesn’t shift when people give you advice. It still stops here.
Taking responsibility for our lives instead of blaming the poor advice of others is difficult. It involves forgiveness and repentance. And it is a brave response to life. Taking responsibility will mean that I see the advice of others differently, that I am less afraid of displeasing them than I am betraying myself. If someone gives you advice that would make you someone you don’t want to live with, don’t take it. At the end of the day, as they say, wherever you go, there you are. You have to live with the consequences of your choices, words, and attitudes. So don’t subcontract your future to the loudest voice.
Why not just tell people to be quiet and mind their business? Why listen at all? Because there is safety in the midst of counselors. And because even with unsolicited advice, every ten times “they” might give you a good insight or idea. Don’t be offended. Don’t alter your course just because someone else thought it was a good idea. Don’t allow those who you wouldn’t trade places with to determine the place you are sitting next week, next month, next year. Listen with your head, but don’t let it go to your heart.
Oh, and don’t forget to smile.
Note: By the way, when I say smile, I’m not just talking to women. Women are told to smile more often than men. Women are even forced to smile and laugh off insults that men would literally take outside. We often comply to seem approachable, harmless, feminine. I’m not suggesting that type of smile. I’m talking about a smile that genuinely appreciates the person speaking and is secretly happy to know who is in charge of this situation (YOU!).