Unsolicited advice is just the best, said no-one ever. Yet it’s par for the course; people who haven’t taken the time to understand our problems (or even, oddly, if there even IS a problem to begin with) piling on with advice, often that we’ve either considered and discarded for good reason, or that was irrelevant to our circumstances to begin with.
A few minutes before writing this blog, I was out walking Jasper. For those who haven’t met him yet, get to Bristol immediately. Jasper is a crossbreed dog; he’s clearly a mix of alsatian and collie, we think a bit of husky too. But he’s a big dog. He’s the kind of big dog that people cross the street to avoid, unless they’re dog people, who can take one look at his loving dopey face and know, he’s good for some love and fussing.
As we’re walking down the street, an older gent stops us to say hello to Jasper. All good.
Except, in the process of the three minute exchange whilst he patted my dog, he told me my dog was fat (the liberty! He is not!), that I should go to a butcher to get off-cuts of marrow bones (thanks, I get Jasper’s food individually mixed to his exact requirements and delivered to my door) that I should give him cod liver oil once a week to help with his joints (J has no issues with his joints at all, it was actually a whole part of the my-dog-has-an-autoimmune-condition lead in and the reason why we discovered he had Addison’s at such an early stage), that he wasn’t the age I told but that I should multiply by 7 for dog years (does anyone not know this theory?) and to make sure I was careful with such a big dog (he’s lived with us for nearly 5 years and was my mum’s before that, I’ve known him since he was a spindly legged and poorly house trained 6 month old).
Not kidding, 3 minutes. Maybe less.
Now, I am fairly used to people telling me what to do for absolutely no reason. I may be hitting 35 next week, with two degrees, more than a decade as a highly experienced professional, a mortgage and more like experience than most 60 years old under my belt, but it’s often not appreciated at early glance. I don’t necessarily look my age, with long hair, schlepping around in flip lops, leggings and an Assassin’s Creed tshirt.
People like to, how shall I put this…. educate me. Even when I used to wear black skirt suits and four inch heels, there was this propensity to talk over me, down to me, to anywhere but my face. To assume that my laugh or my upbeat demeanour or my glittery nails meant I was, whatever people thought.
I don’t really know what they thought because it’s none of my damned business.
In just the same way as their assumptions about me bore no relationship to who I was and wasn’t going to change the way I spoke, handled their case or charged them.
The particular issue with unsolicited advice though, is that’s kindly meant. It’s so difficult to know the line to walk between nodding along whilst mentally disregarding everything someone says that doesn’t work, or gently trying to guide them back to why they think we need their unsolicited advice.
It got me to thinking about my clients and the work I do.
I never profess to have all the answers. I’m not a psychology researcher like Brene Brown, Angela Duckworth or Kelly McGonigal. I’m not an investigative journalist-writer like Jon Ronson or Emma Gannon. I’m not a multi-millionaire like my own mentor Katrina Ruth.
I’m just Leah. A former lawyer who has worked in some of the most demanding areas of law, with some of the most distressing experiences that can happen arising whilst desperately clawing your way to the top, who grew up with a fairly dysfunctional and different childhood. I’ve spent years working in mental health in varying capacities and am fascinated by the parallels between lawyers, medical professionals and other professionals and our clients.
I don’t have all the answers, I have some answers and plenty of experience.
The magic solutions aren’t in the ‘this is how you do it, draw the dots and do exactly as I do’ solutions. Seriously. Don’t do what I do. I’m always late, frequently get told off for swearing and have some seriously questionable dietary habits. No, the magic is in my ability to get you to see things a new way, in helping you carve out time to care for yourself and to ask the question, again and again, what would you be doing if you were fully supported?
I treat my clients as grown ups, gasp, shock horror, clutching of pearls etc.
Recently one of my 1:1 clients took a 6 week break from working with me. Why? Because she had other things to focus on where I wouldn’t necessarily add value. I didn’t chase her up or nudge, I just waited until she was ready to pick up where we left off.
I am extraordinarily resistant to telling people what to do, despite being one of the bossiest people you will ever meet, and am constantly walking a balance between ‘this what I’ve done’ ‘what are the options’ ‘have you considered X’ and ‘what would you do if you weren’t freaking out right now’.
That’s how I reconcile writing a book filled with advice and guidance about burnout, with absolutely hating when someone jumps into the comments to tell me ‘what you should do is’.
My style of advice can be summed up thus; pay close attention. Give it a try. Keep what works. Ignore the rest. Ask for help if something doesn’t quite work, but never shoe horn anything in. Don’t copy me, but by all means be inspired. Don’t take it all so seriously, none of us are getting out of here alive.
And to the guy who stopped me in the street tonight, thanks for your advice but bugger off, my dog is perfect just as he is.
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