Here at Honestly YA we decide on blog topics well in advance, so I’ve had a while to ponder the question of what divides bad advice from the worst advice. My conclusion is one that is mine alone. It’s not the result of a scientific study, a Gallup poll or even a survey monkey questionnaire. Like I said, it’s MINE. And this is what I figure: the worst advice ever is the advice that changes who you are deep inside. Advice that creates a dent in your personality that defines the rest of your life. Naturally, this advice comes from your mother.
Okay, not your mother -- because this isn’t your story. This is my story. Hence, my mother.
Mom had a repertoire of favored phrases she liked to employ as I grew up. There were a lot of things classified as “the last thing I need,” the constant admonition “you’d better marry rich,” and the perennial “this place is a pig sty”. But they weren’t necessarily advice. No. Mom’s advice, delivered sternly and with a scowl, was “Don’t get up on your high horse.”
As a kid - I mean, a real and true kid in the single digits of her life- this was the image her advice created:
|photo credit: Pickersgill Reff|
well of course I wasn’t going to get up on any high horse. Duh. They were way too big for me. But eventually the understanding kicked in, the realization that she wasn’t advising me to select a size-appropriate steed but was instead telling me my complaints, concerns and feelings of offense made me conceited.
My most vivid recollection of the high horse speech - so you have a nice example - took place late high school, when I’d been approved for a vacation at my job and then told the approval may be revoked. I made the mistake (in retrospect) of telling my mother that having my vacation revoked wasn’t fair. I was told (sternly) not to get up on my high horse.
All right, so in the retelling the episode even makes me shrug and say “yeah, and? big deal.” But remember, I’d been living my whole life with that advice. It’s a message drilled into my brain over and over and over. And this is what it taught me:
I am not worthy. I am not of value enough to deserve fair treatment. I am lesser.
I learned it was better to keep quiet than speak up for myself. And that was a bad, dangerous lesson to learn. It has made me a person who is by turns humble and arrogant - which I know sounds pretty contradictory. But what happens is I take a lot of crap, I make excuses for the people around me, and I keep a lot to myself, and all those moments that I swallow back my desire to stand up for myself build and build until I blow. And that, my friends, is a terrible ugly thing.
Sadly, knowing these things about myself does not help change anything. Being able to identify where the problem stems from does not suddenly give me the skill to judge when I should speak up and when I should remain quiet.
In retrospect, I think a great number of events in my life would have gone much better if my lifelong view of a “high” horse was more like this:
a horse with the ability to navigate obstacles with ease and elegance. Or, you know, at least to make it look easy and elegant. But that would have required a far different admonition than "don't get up on your high horse," wouldn't it?
I can’t change my entire past. I can’t change the words I grew up with. I can’t even afford therapy to recover. Frankly, I don’t know if I can ever change all those ingrained lessons in silence. But I have, at least, come to realize that it was more than bad advice. It was the worst.
So I'm thinking if there's a take away idea to be had from this story it's this: sometimes bad advice is easy to spot, sometimes it comes disguised as good advice, sometimes it comes disguised as a reprimand. But under no circumstances are you required to follow it -- especially if the advice in question erodes your self confidence or makes you think you don't deserve to be treated fairly or nicely or with respect.
Oh! But there is a plus side to all this! My daughters? yeah, they've never been warned about high horses, for which I am exceedingly proud (even if such emotion does indeed put me on a super-size steed; in this case, it's worth it).