by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW
In honor of the end of the year I wanted to write a blog that encapsulated my favorite mental health maxims, but I’m fighting a cold and between the hacking cough and the frequent nose-blowing I’m adjusting my expectations downward, so you’ll have to make do with just one (but it’s a good one).
Alfred Adler said there are just three tasks of adulthood: love, work and friendship. To know how true this is, reflect upon a time in your life when one or more of these areas were not flowing for you. Even if you are lucky enough to have other attributes that society applauds, a high IQ or lots of money or great athletic ability or a beautiful body or heck all of them, if you don’t feel secure in your love relationships your career or your social connections you aint got nothin’.
One of the primary differences I see between people who succeed in love and labor and friendships and those who do not is the capacity to humbly solicit and incorporate feedback. We live in a planet positively teeming with life. There are seven billion people out there (and counting!). And every one of us has a slightly different perspective. Perspectives that round out our own blind spots and intellectual and emotional shortcomings.
Do not be so arrogant as to believe that you alone have the wisdom to navigate the complexity of life. None of us do. And thank goodness! It would seem a terrible waste to crowd this many people on a planet (overpopulation concerns aside) with no upshot to the story. And so the upshot is: we grow our capacity to do anything and everything in direct proportion to our capacity to ask for feedback.
While we all have that still, small voice inside that we can turn to for guidance, we also have a big honking world all around us teeming with folks who have figured out stuff we didn’t even know was possible. Not to mention that plenty of folks have an inner voice that’s a total asshole and not capable of contributing productively towards overcoming one’s struggles.
So my New Years wish for you is this: ask for advice about anything that is important to you, particularly in the realms of love, work and friendship. And listen to advice that comes your way, even if it’s unsolicited. Be willing to listen to people you don’t consider overall examples of success. A homeless man in Minneapolis once told me “Disrespect will get you killed” which is mighty good advice.
Occasionally we will be the recipients of cruelty couched as advice and then we get to do the hard, good work of differentiating between the two. There is the pain of hearing something that is embarrassing to our egos but useful to our social functioning (my friend Kate once told me that the paint-splattered pants I wore out to dinner with her when I was on a painting jag “gave her trauma”—ouch!) which is different than a negative summary judgment of who we are (i.e. someone telling us “You are such an idiot”) which is not advice but insult.
Happy, advice-filled New Years to you all!