Why does advice make us feel bad?

My college kid’s electric kettle started leaking.  I offered to buy them a new one but they said it was okay using a pot on the stove.  When I went to stay with them for a few days I found I quite liked using the pot as well and started doing it at home because my own kettle has an awkward lid – not pointing any fingers Betty Crocker – and takes a lot of space on the counter, but I can’t delude myself that it’s retro and cool to use a pot on the stove. It’s like I’m so poor that I can’t afford a kettle with a lid that closes, or I’m so lazy and disorganized that I don’t get to buying one that works properly.  I’m not a college student so it just looks like I don’t have my shit together and it makes me feel bad.


People who give advice seem to have it all together. Whether it’s real estate, getting things done, low carbs,  decluttering, it’s always the same. They tell their sad story about how they started out poor, adrift, overweight, a hoarder, and found that the only way to get their life together was to do a whole bunch of things that if they had been able to do them in the first place they wouldn’t have ended up the way they did. They start out worse than us and end up better, like J.K. Rowling – that makes us feel bad.

They talk confidently and pace up and down on the stage and tell corny jokes, often with a southern accent, and they’re just reg’lar folk. They’re just like you and me, so if they could do it, we can do it.  That makes us feel bad.

They tell us all these stupidly hard things we should do – ask 10 people we know to come to a meeting, make time to buy a new kettle, give up cookies, throw out our TY’s. It’s not that we can’t do those things, but we won’t do those things. Someone is telling us we should and that makes us feel bad.

We’re supposed to do the difficult things because we should want those other things – financial freedom, a new stainless-steel kettle, weight loss, a bamboo shower caddy, and a seemingly minimalist lifestyle. We aim to be the kind of people who decorate our living rooms with floating shelves that have vases on them, maybe we have a laundry room that looks like a spa or something. And yeah, we would like those things – but do we want them enough to do something about it?  Meh.

So we won’t do what other people say we should do to get what they say we should want, and that makes us feel bad.

The thing about J.K. Rowling is that she didn’t start out with the goal of being worldwide success. She wanted to tell her stories and the success was a lucky spin-off. The trick is figuring out what you want to do, rather than what you should have. But you may not want to write 11 books, so don’t get confused. You may prefer to read 11 books, or just watch the movies, or not. It’s kind of a zen thing – if you think about it too much you’ll get off track but then getting off track isn’t a bad thing, as long as you’re not trying to do something you really don’t want to do. I don’t know – I’m only here to tell you what not to do, so you don’t feel bad about not doing it.

Norm on Cheers had many opportunities to upgrade his life, but consistently chose not to, because he was doing every day the thing he really wanted to do – sit around drinking beer with his friends.  Norm wasn’t worse or better than us; he just was. Yes he had to make a living and he was married, but he was very clear with himself about what he wanted to do.  Imagine a life where you get to do every day what you really want to do.  It’s not what you want to have, but what you want to do. Or not want to do.

Disclaimer: You probably won’t end up a multi-millionaire writer. You may end up with a smaller place to live, boiling water on the stove, a paunch, and a pile of shoeboxes in your closet, but it won’t make you feel bad

Next Stop – The Budget Will Look After Itself



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