Classic Life Advice That’s Actually Useless
Getting life advice from someone is a lot like being gifted a bottle of wine. While some people might bring you specialty, vintage wine that you’ll cherish forever, others will snag a bottle for $2.49 at the grocery store on the way over. Life advice works the same way — while we will occasionally hear a piece of invaluable wisdom, we also hear a lot of the same recycled cliches masquerading as insightful counsel.
As someone who’s been hearing a lot of those same, exhausted cliches lately, I’m tired of it — and I’m ready to explain why these cliches aren’t applicable to the real world.
This particular phrase has picked up a lot of speed within devout religious circles — mainly because these folks tend to believe that everything happening around us is a part of God’s master plan. I can’t count how many middle-aged, Christian women have looked at me with big toothy smiles and tried to tell me there was a reason for all of my hardships.
This cliche is intended to be a comfort, but believing that all of my tragedies are intentional acts of God does not make me feel better. If anything, it makes me lose faith — not gain it.
There’s a reason why you should steer clear of this cliche — and it has to do with your locus of control. According to psychologists, people act with either an internal or external locus of control. An internal locus of control means you believe you have power over your own life and its outcomes. You attribute your success, accomplishments, and failures to your own choices.
Someone with an external locus of control, on the other hand, believes that the outcome of their life is not up to them, but something or someone bigger holds the cards — whether it be God, fate, karma or luck.
A person that spouts, “everything happens for a reason” would generally be operating with an external locus of control, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
When you believe that something else is responsible for your success or failures, you aren’t taking responsibility for yourself. Any bad decision you make would be happening regardless of your choices. You have no control.
My other issue with this cliche is that it only raises more questions. All it does is beg the question, “What was the reason this happened?” How do you look at someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, or someone who just lost a child, and tell them their agony has an explanation — that it’s supposed to yield some sort of potential benefit somehow?
You can’t — and you shouldn’t.
Ah, the basketball reference that ends up on every dollar-store graduation card. We’ve all been urged to “go for it” or “take the shot” — most often in our careers or in our love lives. To be fair, it is a truthful concept, and it does work sometimes. However, this piece of wisdom fails to consider the benefit of logic or critical thinking.
Just because you can take a shot doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
Living in fear that risky choices will end in failure is not a good idea. But, we should also recognize that sometimes it’s okay to miss a few shots. When opportunities do arise, it’s important to examine how beneficial they’ll actually be.
Let’s say I’m at a bar, and I spot a good-looking guy across the room that I’d like to approach. The only potential obstacle is that he’s here with his girlfriend. If I’m living by the “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” philosophy, I would approach and flirt with him anyway because it’s better to take the risk than not to.
Critical thinking, on the other hand, would warn me that the costs outweigh the benefits. At the very least, hitting on this guy would probably make him and his partner uncomfortable. Worst case scenario, his girlfriend is violent and confrontational and I end up getting stitches in the ER later on.
Instead of telling people to always take the shot, encourage them to use logic and critical thinking so that they may determine whether the shot is worth taking.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a motivational poster of someone climbing a mountain with this tagline, I’d be rich enough to make my own brand of inspiring posters.
For decades, our culture has been obsessed with the idea that the human body and mind has no limit or restrictions. We tell our kids they can be anything they want to be — which often leaves them unprepared for a world full of inequality and hardship. As much as it may pain us to hear it, we can’t always do everything we set our minds to.
Every day, hundreds — if not thousands — of hopeful twenty-somethings move to LA for the opportunity to become A-list actors and actresses. Although most of these people will work tirelessly for this goal, only a small portion of them will actually make it to the elite ranks of Brad Pitt or Meryl Streep.
It isn’t because they didn’t work hard enough or they’re just not committed to making it happen — it’s because success is a complicated formula that can’t be bottled and capped with such a simplistic notion. Your background, luck, and timing are also key ingredients to success that may matter more than hard work.
Some dreams, no matter how hard you work to achieve them, will never happen (and that’s okay). It’s okay to accept that, while our human capabilities are wide, they aren’t infinite. We do have limits, and we must choose the paths we take wisely.
When we’re wronged by someone, especially when we feel powerless to stop it, the idea that our rivals will reap what they sow sounds good — but it’s not always true. We live in a harsh reality where bad people do bad things and walk away unscathed.
If we lived in a world like Law & Order or NCIS, where justice is always served, this quote might be a comfort. However, we live in the real world — where trauma, injustice, and inequality sometimes run rampant. The bad guys don’t always get their due.
On the opposing side, not every good person is rewarded for their good behavior. At times, making the right choice might mean subjecting yourself to the inherent unfairness of our society.
This might be a hard pill to swallow, but it does have an interesting upside. If we did live in a world where everyone reaped what they sowed all the time, our behavior would be defined by reward and punishment. We’d do what’s right out of fear of punishment — not because we genuinely wanted to be decent people.
Bottom-line: we’d all love to see the people we don’t like get what’s coming to them, but we can’t count on it — and we’d drive ourselves crazy if we tried.
These vague cliches tend to generalize a complex world, and they rarely provide anybody with fresh perspectives on their lives. We fall back on them because we don’t know what else to say, not because they come from a genuine place of self-reflection.
The upside is that there’s still plenty of insightful, valuable wisdom you can pass on to others — and the recipient of this advice will probably thank you for not using one of these phrases. I know I would.
Classic Life Advice That’s Actually Useless
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