Weeks ago, when I was struggling with a decision whether to quit school, I faced a situation I’ve faced countless times: people everywhere offering me advice, although I almost never ask for it. Or, maybe in my sheepish subtext, I’m secretly beckoning to people to tell me what I should do. But really, no, I almost never ask people for advice — I ask for a listening ear, yes, a shoulder to cry on, yes, a friend to pig out with, yes, but never for what I should do, because I know I will do what I want to do in the end. As for more practical advice, I usually go to my friend Google or Wikipedia or web forums. So, while I was at the train station waiting for the MRT one day, I got to thinking about advice and jotted down some notes in my notebook. Why are we so good with dispensing advice but never good at heeding them? Could it be that they don’t work? What is the point of advice then?
I’m guilty of being the most uncontrollable spontaneous advice dispenser of us all. I vomit advice to everyone, even people I don’t know, especially on relationship, money, school, work and writing, those same topics I currently suck at — big time. But I don’t know, I just can’t help myself… these nuggets of advice keep creeping out of my mouth everytime I hear a problem. And I’m probably the worst advice vomiter of all… because I take offence when people don’t heed my advice, which I always consider at the time of vomitting them out great, practical advice that will somehow change your lives for the better. And shame on you, pooh, for not heeding it. :p
When the tables are turned, and advice is being thrown at me, I go into a self-induced daze and wait for someone to stop rambling “golden means” at my face. Seriously, nobody wants to hear our advice. Why don’t we stop giving them out? I realised that even the most screwed up human beings like myself can’t wait to give advice to someone else. Is it because it makes us feel superior to the other person somehow? Or, in a more positive vein, does it make us feel like we’re somehow helping that person and being a friend means you have to somehow say something appropriate to solve a problem?
The worst thing is, we often tell each other the same type of advice we ourselves ignore — taken from some life advice template. For example, earlier I was talking about quitting school, graduate school that is, I wouldn’t advise anyone who is doing their Bachelor’s or anything lower to quit as the piece of paper is really quite essential to looking for a job or having a societal-established self-worth, much like having a certain number of hits or followers or comments on your blog make your blog a “Power Blogger”. I’ve always wanted to go to graduate school in the U.S., but because my husband is here, I had to refuse a fellowship there to stay here in this godforsaken wasteland. (Yes, a big sense of unhappiness there).
I decided to attend graduate school here, but it turns out I had to drag myself to school every week and I hated the classes. There were just full of two types of people: people who snooze during class and people who talk cock during class. There was no real discussion; I didn’t learn anything new after one whole fucking semester… only that some people’s uncles or aunties felt like this or like that. And I learnt a lot of new “big names” and “big words” such as “essentialism” and “Foucault”, which I still had no understanding for. And all the professor did when you asked him something was throw another question back at you or someone else, “So what did you think/feel about that?” So, a couple of weeks ago, I pondered whether I should quit since I absolutely hated class.
Then, the expected happened. My friends, husband and non-friends all rushed to weigh in. Guess what? They all said the same thing.
They said, just stick with it until you get the piece of paper that says MA. Don’t quit now. You’ll see that it’s worth it when you’re done with it. Ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. But my problem was, what if I stick with it for another 2 years and I still feel that it’s a fucking waste of my time and that I’ve wasted all this time studying with people I disliked and professors who don’t give a fuck about you? What if I’m not doing this because of some useless piece of paper? I already have one pretty useful piece of paper (my BA) and one that I truly enjoyed getting and am totally proud of. This one is for purely recreational purposes. Why should I continue if I feel like I’m crawling with barb wire pricks every time I sit through class? Why should I pay to get a degree that’s being taught by posers? Well, I decided not to and hence decided to quit three weeks into this semester. If I were going to be miserable studying (and being penniless), I would much rather be miserable and working and with money.
So, you see. Most people (although they mean well) give poor advice, not attuned to the specifics of the problem. Because only the immediate people facing the problem know what is best for them in that situation. Like my friends, for example, the kneejerk reaction to wanting to quit is to immediately denounce it, to think of it as a bad decision. But why should quitting something automatically be considered a bad decision? Relationship experts tell you that you should get rid of toxic influences and relations in order to move on. In many instances, quitting means the same thing — getting out of bad situations where you find you’re stagnant, not improving at all or getting more frustrated. It takes courage to admit it when something is not right for you, and moving on to something else until you find yourself in a better place. It’s certainly not the same thing as giving up because you just don’t have the perseverance to go on.
The word “advice” comes from latin roots, mihi visum est, meaning “it seemed so to me, I decided”. For me, it’s best to break the word into its roots, the prefix “ad” and “vice”. “Vice” can either mean foibles and faults, or using it as a prefix, as in “vice-president”, it can be taken to mean second-in-command or assistant to another. For advice to truly be useful, I think one has to realise the intent with which one dispenses the advice. Do you want to help someone? Then, dispense advice with care and always realise that the purpose of being a friend is to stand by someone as he or she makes a decision, not to make it for them. Because, as we know, what’s good for us isn’t always what’s good for others.