As I explained last week, “Get out of your comfort zone!” is my pet peeve and the piece of thoughtless, bad advice that I dislike the most (read why here). But there are a few more pieces of advice and conventional wisdom that I’d like to talk about, because they are regularly and liberally thrown about, but can be terribly harmful. They tend to be especially bad advice for introverts, high sensitives or anxious people, but really, some of these “gems” are shitty advice no matter who you’re talking to, and they’re worth thinking about for everyone – the advisors and the advised.
“You’ll regret only the things you didn’t do!”
Uh, right. Raise your hands if you’ve ever broken a bone doing some stupid stunt, or hooked up with someone who turned out to be an awful person, or simply woken up with a terrible hangover. I think I’m making my point pretty clear – everyone will regret some of the things they do. The interesting question is: which ones? I’d say you are most likely to regret choices that fit one or several of these criteria:
- You had too little knowledge about the topic to make an informed decision (“That person seems great!”)
- You kind of wanted to do something even though you knew it was probably a bad idea (“Just one more drink!”)
- You did something because you thought you should, even though you were uncomfortable or unsure about it (“You definitely need an extended stay in a foreign country on your CV!”)
Of course, it could also be all of the above. (“That person is SO hot! I should totally try that sex practise they suggested even though I’m not quite sure what exactly it entails and whether I’m okay with that. It’ll be fiiiine!”)
Now, especially the last point – thinking you have to do something – is a big problem for many introverts, HSPs and people with anxiety issues. We are a significant segment of society; the exact estimate depends on which study you’re looking at, but about 20% of all people are HSPs alone. However, we are still a minority, so social norms and expectations tend to be tailored to extroverted, non-anxious non-HSPs, for whom things may be okay, comfortable or even pleasant that are absolutely awful for some of us.
My advice is this: trust your gut. Unless there are direct, unacceptable consequences, do not do something that hurts you just for the vague and uncertain benefit of fitting in. If you feel really, really, unambiguously decided to not go live abroad even though everyone in your line of business does, then don’t. If you don’t want another drink, order water for the next round. Let them tease you – it’ll probably be a lot less awful than the feeling of being pressured into doing something you don’t want to.
What if you’re usure if you want to? Find out of you are plain scared, or if the idea of, say, living abroad, scares but also excites you. If you feel genuine, positive excitement, it might be worth taking that leap and swallowing your fear. Don’t let your anxieties hold you back from things you really want. But if you don’t want them, be brave and say so. If all you can feel is dread and you don’t see how any good could come of it for you, then don’t do it.
“You need to fulfill your potential!”
Geez. Put on the pressure, much? That sentence may be a cheery, motivating thought for some people, but for us anxious, self-doubting overthinkers, it’s one of the most paralysing sentiments out there. I know it’s an idea that has haunted me since I was 10. So I’m fully aware of how difficult it is, but: try to let go. Don’t listen to that kind of advice if you can feel it poisoning your life, your dreams, your happiness. Let it go. (Hit it, Elsa.)
Don’t go down that road, because that way lie dragons. They’ll devour any scraps of achievement, happiness or contentedness that you’ve worked hard to attain. They’ll take a long, hard stare at all your talents and twist them from a joy and a privilege into a burden. Don’t let them.
My suggestion, and my strategy (at least on good days) is to replace that shitty ideology of potential with something else. Don’t think about all the things you ought to accomplish at some point in the future, the things without which you’ll be a failure. Instead, think about the things you want – and accept that these may change. It’s okay to let go of old wants and dreams if they don’t work out, or if your priorities change.
And, even more importantly, think about the things you already have that make you happy. Maybe it’s your family, circle of friends, your job, or a hobby – whichever it may be, remember to be grateful for these things, and to nuture them. That’s so important, and it’s what the hungry potential dragons try to make you forget – that you need to take care of the blessings in your life, or you might lose them. If your family makes you happy, don’t spend all your time working like crazy because you think there’s a gift you need to give to the world. Maybe there is – but don’t let it blind you to the gifts others have already contributed to your world. Don’t throw these away for a vague future possibility. Appreciate and cherish them the way they deserve.
“Never give up!”
My 8-year-old nephew threw that one at me a few days ago, and it made me think. Sure, being persistent and working hard is good advice and can help you achieve your dreams. But never is a big word. I think we all know that feeling when, somewhere down the road, we realise that it is time to give up on something. Maybe it’s your ex. Maybe it’s your dream job from when you were five, but at twentyfive, you’re pretty sure that you’re neither flexible enough to be a circus artist, nor would it make you happy. Maybe it’s accepting that someone you love is very, very ill and there is nothing you can do.
In some cases, after you have tried your best and failed, giving up is the only thing you can do to preserve your sanity and your soul. Everyone needs to give up sometimes, but with such a well-established social prejudice against “quitters”, it can be hard to protect your boundaries, to say “it’s enough”. That’s true for everyone, but especially for introverted, highly sensitive or anxious people – who spend so much time trying to fit in, trying to not be overwhelmed by things that other people take in stride – it can be very difficult to draw the line between”doing your best” and “working yourself too hard”.
“Never give up” may be a snappy phrase and easy to remember, but, as so often in life, I think we should accept that easy, definite statements are usually just shorthand for “in most cases” or “on average”, and that the truth is more complicated. In this case, I think we need to replace the simple “Never give up” with the more complicated “Try your best, but if there’s really nothing more you can do, let it go.”
What do you think?
Are you regularly told something that you consider terrible advice? Stay for a cup of tea, leave a comment and share your thoughts.