I am bicycle impaired. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with bicycles since I first got on one. I’m not talking about the light blue bike with training wheels, ribbons flowing out the ends of the handlebars, and a sweet little basket to carry my toys; I’m talking about my black Huffy that I imagined was Kitt from Knight Rider. Sleek, cool looking with a lot of power. The bike that would give me the freedom to leave the neighborhood for an afternoon with my friends. The bike that would give me autonomy over my boyhood life. Reality was never as exciting as my imagination.
I was never an athletic kid. My brother had that label; I was the smart and sensitive one. Everyone in my family, and all of my friends, knew that riding a two-wheeled bike would be an easy endeavor for the smart kid. That is how I approached this newest undertaking with a desire for knowledge. After understanding the components—handlebars, pedals, wheels, chain, seat, and bell—I had to figure out how to pedal, balance, and steer all at once. It was easy with the training wheels, but harder to execute without my concrete-balancing floaties. Luckily, I had an expert on my side; I had my maternal grandfather, a man who flew planes during three wars, told me stories about how he single-handedly won the wars by himself, and a former college quarterback of some notoriety—smart, inventive and athletic. “Get on the bike, put your feet on the pedals and GO,” he directed.
As instructed, I heaved myself onto the mechanical beast, put my feet on the pedals and “went.” I fell over like an uprooted tree during a tornado. After some chuckling (for 5 minutes), my sweet grandfather would kindly say, “Wrong way.”
Eventually, after a lot of instruction, some blood and much frustration by both of us, I was moving forward, well, more like hurtling towards immovable obstacles like cars, street curbs, and trees. You get the idea. “Brake. Brake! BRAKE!!” would be frantically bellowed in my direction, but it didn’t work. The brakes, unlike Kitt, were not voice-controlled, and I stopped when physics informed me I would be unable to go any further. After several hours, my grandfather said to my mom, “Daughter, your son, well, stopping is apparently difficult on him. Can I get some more bandages and another beer?”
You see, I was told about the mechanics of the bike. I endured to discover balance, but everyone forgot to tell me how to brake; it was just something that was expected. With my light blue bike with training wheels, I braked by dragging my feet. However, back then, there were no brakes on the handlebar for “big-kid” bikes. Apparently, you “peddled” backwards; I, on the other hand, stopped by running into things.
While the story gets funnier for those who watched me “stop” at crowded intersections over the years, I was always left frustrated because the advice I was given sucked. “You need to do this.” “You need to do that.” “Why don’t you do this?” After a while, I discovered that walking was the least painful mode of transportation—both physically and emotionally. As you can imagine, when I started driving a car, my father insisted that the driving school focus on braking for all 10 lessons. Smart, very smart.
If we look at all things in life as either a lesson or a blessing or both, we can see that there is a teachable moment in this experience.
The biggest lesson I learned from my pain, my struggle and my blood shedding was not perseverance or patience or balance or laughing with myself. Nope! The life lesson that I learned was that getting advice sucked. It was demoralizing being told what to do without an understanding of how. Telling me NOT to run into something to stop was not useful; it was an obvious reality. Telling me to brake when I don’t know how and when I couldn’t drag my feet was not actionable. Yes, my grandfather and mom and dad and friends were well intentioned. Yes, to me they seemed to know what they were talking about, but they weren’t very good at communicating important and necessary information. Why? Because they had a different perspective and approach. They had a different experience and couldn’t understand mine.
If we are to take this learned lesson out a bit further into other areas of life, we can see it is applicable all over the place. As a social species, we are great at giving advice. Actually, it is very easy for us to give advice; it may even be part of our survival instinct. In our modern world, we give advice freely on social media whether sitting on our couch or our toilet.
A “friend” throws out some random bit of tragedy and we jump up and down giving the person advice on what to do in their situation; how to run their life. And, while this may be well intentioned on our part, it is not always very useful for the “friend.” In fact, telling someone what to do is insulting and demeaning. Want evidence? What kind of hissy fit did you throw when your parents told you what to do? Huge, yep. Epic, darn right. We hate being told what to do, but we tell others what to do all the time. There is a bit of a caveat, by offering insights on how you handled something similar is different, but to make it meaningful for the receiver of the insight, you need to share your story. You need to apply what you learned and offer the information so that your “friend” can digest the lessons that make sense for them.
Please do not feel bad. We, including me, give advice all the time.
Heck, I even get paid to give advice. It is great! But not all advice is created equal. If you know someone who freely gives advice and gets upset when you don’t follow it, well, I have some possible reasons for you. I have an aunt like this. She loves to tell people what they need to do. (Surprisingly, she was not around to tell me now to brake.) Currently, she tells my mom how to decorate, clean, organize, park, walk, etc. She is very intrusive, and she gets very upset when “no one listens” to her. Does this make her a bad person? Not at all. Annoying? Absolutely. But here’s the thing, her reason for giving so much advice isn’t to control my mom or the people around her, which is what most people assume. Advice-givers like her are trying to control their environment so the people around them do not see their low self-esteem and feelings of low self-worth. If you fall into this category, please do me a favor. Look in the mirror and see what is happening for you. If you are giving lots of advice and getting upset that no one is listening, ask yourself what you are hiding from. If you need a bear hug, let me know.
In my relationship coaching practice, I am often asked—well, always asked—why men tell women what to do. Men like to fix things; we are tinkerers. We like buttons and we like to avoid emotional conversations. Guys, here is some insight for you. If your girlfriend, wife, lover, partner, spouse, live-in friend or significant other tells you about their shitty day and you tell them how to fix it, you are insulting them. Do you not think they have the capability to figure out their own solution to their life’s hurdles? Just listen. If they want some insights, they will ask.
Finally, whether you are a giver or receiver of advice, remember three important things.
First, it is worth whatever you paid for it. Take it or leave it.
Second, you are resilient, intelligent, curious, smart, aware, capable, creative and amazing. If you need some insights, ask. But if you are giving advice to someone who has not asked for it, remember that you are injecting your life story onto them; you are applying your own filters onto their world. Advice is only valuable when you include your story into the conversation. This shows them how to apply the lesson learned.
Third, our lives are like riding bikes. Some things are on autopilot. Some things take effort, and when you can’t stop yourself, fall with some grace.