When Mainstream Advice Doesn’t Do It for You

I have a love-hate relationship with social media and blogging that fluctuates daily.  On the one hand, this community of 24-hour connection–whether you’re in a dense city packed to the gills with crowds, or in a Midwest office surrounded by prairies–can be a true gift.  It spreads ideas, it encourages opinionated discussions, and it allows for people to “stay” in your life, long after you’ve started hiking down a different path.  All good stuff.  Hooray interwebs.

It can also be incredibly alienating at times.  For the past several months in particular, I’ve been finding that the inspirational “go-get-’em-champ” part of the internet has been causing me to squish my face into a bitter twisted scowl, paired with an annoyed eye roll.

Photo on 2-18-16 at 1.38 PM
A bit like this.

Stock photos of women standing on cliffs doing yoga with a superimposed text misusing Joseph Campbell’s “Follow Your Bliss” quote, don’t really do it for me.  It never has.  Honestly, they just make me nervous because I’m not particularly fond of heights.


In pursuing an artistic career, the idea of chasing after your passion is not foreign or novel. I have never been doing it for the money, clearly, so all this talk about throwing logic to the wind is old news.  The other side of things is that these lofty platitudes exclude tactical advice.  Not only can this cause the feeling of helplessness after months of “believing really hard in something” without seeing any results, but it may also create a false image of luck (and therefore envy) when looking others who have achieved difficult goals.  It goes back to the whole “that actor never trained, they just got discovered in a coffee shop” myth, that always leaves out the years of work and other circumstances that allowed the artist to seize that rare opportunity.

So for those who are tired of the superficial wanderlust mindset, I suggest we begin seeking a higher quality of advice, the same way we seek out reliable news sources.  This is not to say that those motivational posters are not uplifting for someone else, but I am a little past these clichéd or purely illogical statements.  My favorite one is “do one thing every day that scares you.”  Soooo..I should go play with snakes?  Confront creepy guys on the street?  And what about people with anxiety?  If feeling panicked when I get on the subway or route 80 during rush hour counts, then I am way ahead of the game.  Essentially, someone needs to elaborate before it gets lost in a meme.

Here are some basic suggestions for swapping out our old internet advice:

Financial Health:

Discovering financial websites like Learnvest and The Financial Diet have been invaluable to me, but I still come across plenty of “budget fixes” that make me tilt my head.  I’ve become pretty frustrated opening articles about turning your money around only to find the sentence, “I finally realized I didn’t need a designer handbag each month, and everything got better!”  I usually stop right there and close the tab.  Girl, when I was cutting my budget down to nothing, I was figuring out how to keep my Trader Joe’s grocery shop under $20 each week in order to keep up with the electricity bill from two months ago.  I would love to know what the rest of the world does once they’ve squeezed every penny from their budget already.

The Financial Diet is a site I’ve mentioned a few times, and have written for on occasion, that writes about a very wide ranges of financial topics, primarily for millennials.  Yes, there are occasional articles like the one I listed above, but if those help someone else, I have no place to judge.  However, their overall voice and a majority of their articles dive into topics that I normally wouldn’t have even know to seek out online.  Here is a good one about financial podcasts.

7 Financial Podcasts That Are Actually Helpful


Artistic Motivation/Creative Health

It’s one thing to tell yourself over and over to stop comparing yourself to people (Lord knows I’ve ranted about it on this blog plenty).  But sometimes, you just need Martha MotherF’in Graham to tell you to cool it.  I recently posted this site online and have been attached to its message like a mantra.

Martha Graham on the Hidden Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others



Another good one, if you just need a breath of fresh air about your art/life/general wellbeing, here is “The Actors Vow” by Elia Kazan.  Never gets old.

Goals and Reaching for the Stars

The article below sums up everything I’m saying.  It explains commonly and perhaps overly used phrase by Joseph Campbell and breaks down why there was more than the little part of the quote.  And remember, I LOVE Joseph Campbell.  So it’s totally not his fault if someone slapped it on a rainbow stock photo.

“And yet, I realize that follow your bliss can disintegrate easily into the most banal forms of encouragement. Joseph Campbell was not a superficial person, but his signature line is tailor made for every soon-to-be-forgotten commencement speech, from junior high to graduate school.

Furthermore, let’s acknowledge that many of us who might encourage others to follow their bliss are among those for whom that philosophy has more or less worked. In the meantime, there are other folks who have tried to follow Campbell’s advice and encountered frustration and disappointment, despite their best efforts.” –David Yamada

“Follow your bliss”? Parsing Joseph Campbell’s famous advice

The purpose of my blog has always been to encourage anyone, and myself in the process, to perhaps see some aspect of their day in a new and more positive way–whatever that means for them.  I know there are no magical answers to make everything in life super easy, nor would we want them there to be.  We would all be pretty boring and weak without our struggles.  But I do think that we can look further past the one-lined banalities that we throw around to pump ourselves up.  Mantras are one thing, but without understanding their full meaning, how effective can they be?

I always come back to Buddhist writers, since they are pretty darn good at reminding you that the metaphor behind the saying is the key to the phrase.  Without the story behind “life is suffering,”  Buddhism sounds like a miserable form of spirituality.  But once you get the whole story, that “suffering” comes from clinging to our desires and the misguided belief that anything in life is permanent, you realize that “life is suffering” is only the tip of the misunderstood iceberg.  You have to get to whole story to truly benefit from the words themselves.

I’ll finish up with one of my favorite quotes from Pema Chordron which really wraps everything up all nicely.  If you have philosophers, writers, or just generally wise people you turn to for practical advice, please let me know!  I would love to add to the list.

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”― Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World

Creative Commons/Alexandre Huang...quote added by me.
Creative Commons/Alexandre Huang…quote added by me.

2 responses to “When Mainstream Advice Doesn’t Do It for You”

  1. You touched on one of my biggest problems with platitudes like this – it’s all fine and good to say “follow your bliss” or “forge your own path,” but that doesn’t really give me anything to go on. Ok fine, yes, I’ll follow my bliss – how? I need some concrete action steps. Phrases like that don’t really have any meaning for me.

    Also, doing one thing every day that scares you sounds like a good way to hurt yourself. There is a reason we are afraid of many things. I get what they’re saying, but there has to be a better way to phrase that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! They’re not wrong in any way, but where does it leave you? I understand that some people do really need a push to pursue their passions, but that does discount other very legitimate factors in life.


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