That one thing you should not do...please

Local half-marathon @ Club Mykonos Aug 2016
Photograph (c) Lizette de Vries-Venter
I recently completed my course as a life coach, and one of the first things they taught me was to never give advice. I thought that is the best 'advice' they could have given me since I hate it when people tell me what to do. I have always resented that since it feels to me like I am being treated like a child. Something I assure you I have not been for many years.

Too scared to ask...?

So why do people send me book recommendations? I must be displaying some inability to decide for myself. Of course, I know what they want me to do - review the damn thing. Why not be upfront and ask me? Again, I must be some kind of ogre that they fear for some reason. I am a nice person (really...most of the time) so the worst thing that can happen? I will say no. Very scary, I know.

Then there is a problem...

Recently a very nice guy (I subscribe to his newsletter) sent out an email to tell his followers that he needs time away from his online life, to reconnect with his real life. While I suspect that loads of people sent him a reply, I too replied to that email.
When he answered me back, not only was I surprised (purely because I did not expect him to, I suppose) I had the immediate urge to hit reply again. I did not. I decided instead to think about it for a few days before replying. My hesitation was not because I did not know what to say, quite the opposite. This impulse created an awareness of something else: I wondered how my words came across the first time.
I intended to be supportive, but I had to wonder if I indeed was supportive. Or did I blast ahead like many of us often do when someone mentions a problem or writes an email as mentioned before, with advice on what they should or shouldn't do?
How can I advise someone I have never met in person, no matter how well intended? Our online personas are but a fraction of who we are, so the well-intended advice could end up creating more problems, instead of helping to solve them.

Those famous people...

People often compare themselves to the glitz and glamour of the rich and famous, and yet we know nothing about them. We only know what they project themselves to be, and that could be true, but it could also be fake. Unless you know someone in person, you cannot advise that person.
We all have our social masks, often created in uniformity to others' to suppress fear of non-acceptance, but we are not all the same. We do not have the same interests, the same histories, the same personalities, or the same problems. Even if it looks the same from the outside, it is invariably coloured by our own perceptions and ideas.

A new awareness...

Back to my email reply. So when this man mentioned that he needed time away from his online life, how many people presumed things that may or may not true and yet were quick to offer a solution? How many of us truly listen, or act supportive, when that is what the person mentioning the problem wanted in the first place?
This email made me stop and think about the impact my words (from my first reply) might have had on him. He did reply to my email, so I can safely assume I did not insult him, talked down to him, or heaven forbid, gave him advice and made him feel inadequate or worse, made him feel like a child.
By the time of writing the first draft of this post I have not yet sent my reply, but I am going to have a look at the tone of my words because as a mature adult (and life coach) it is not my place to provide unsolicited advice. Even if asked, I am often hesitant to do so without truly understanding the extent of the need of the person asking. While it is true that they are free to ignore such advice, but why waste everyone's time, when the true need was a sympathetic ear and nothing more.
As guilty as I still am of trying to be an advice giver, I am working on being a better listener and sounding board instead. The interesting thing is that someone coming to you with a problem, often know what the answer or the solution is already. They do not need you to solve their problem; they might only need a sympathetic ear to know that their problem is not that unique or unsolvable as they first thought.

PS: If you want me to read and review your book, please ask. The worst I can do is tell you no, which I can do without being an ogre.

Wishing you health and happiness. Until next time!

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