When I was about seven, I told my mother that I wanted to join the Girl Scouts.
“No you don’t,” she said.
“All you do is learn how to fold hospital corners and sell cookies. You wouldn’t like it,” my mother replied.
Ultimately, not joining the Girl Scouts was for the best. I had no desire to sell cookies, earn good citizenship patches, man a post in front of the local Shoprite, or go to camp meetings officiated by other girls’ moms. My mom guessed—correctly—that all I really wanted was some friends.
So I went to non-Girl Scout summer day camp, and that was that.
That type of “You don’t really want that,” isn’t what I’m talking about here.
What Ogden Nash refers to in the quote above is a more insidious kind of “You don’t want that,” usually spooned out as bitter-yet-helpful medicine from some nice-seeming person who, honestly, doesn’t really know you that well.
Do any of these phrases sound familiar?
“You don’t want to bother trying to publish traditionally. Your work won’t get respected and you’ll get scalped in your contracts.”
“Why did you self-publish this? Don’t you want your work to be taken seriously?”
“Are you sure you want to query your short story collection? Why don’t you turn one into a novel so it actually sells?”
[To a poet] “Have you ever wanted to write fiction? I think you’d be much happier with how your work would sell if you added a novel to your publishing credits.”
[To a memoirist] “Your life isn’t interesting enough to write about as a memoir. Why don’t you fictionalize it instead, and punch it up a bit?”
If you’re not pissed off by now, I don’t know what to tell you. Because I think there’s a difference between sage advice given by a peer who knows you and your goals, and most of the random fly-by-night advice-givers on the Internet, at parties, at family reunions, or in the cubicle next to yours.
Spot the Bad Advice
Good advice offers you options or recommendations for how the best path to take to achieve your goal. Bad advice offers you another goal, and tells you to go after that one instead. (Bonus points for not telling you how to achieve this alternative goal.)
This is just a PSA, folks. Don’t let other people talk you out of your goals just because “don’t you think it’d be better if…” is something you’re unhappily used to hearing.
When was the last time you got this kind of advice? Did you follow it? Share in the comments.