Earlier this week I mentioned that I collect advice. Not all of it sticks with me – but some things have worked so well for me that they almost become mantras.
1. Nobody else cares. Picture the last time someone said something dumb in front of you. Chances were you just rolled your eyes, then got on with your life and didn’t give it another thought. Similarly, If you said something that made you look dumb, nobody else is sitting at home thinking about it – only you. So you might as well stop.
2. “Let me check my schedule – I’ll send you an e-mail.” It took me years to figure out that just because somebody has asked me to commit to something on the spot, I don’t actually have to say “yes” or “no” on the spot. In fact, there’s almost never a situation important enough to warrant committing that quickly.
Besides, if you say “No, I can’t” with only a gut feeling backing it up and no well-reasoned thought process, then either a) you are making a mistake, or b) you’re not, but the other person will tell you “Oh, but it’s a really small time commitment!”, etc. until you do. Then you end up feeling resentful and trapped. (Or at least, I used to. I don’t commit to things on the spot anymore, so the world is much more awesome.)
3. Don’t be a doormat, don’t be a jackass. I used to tend towards the former. Now sometimes I think the pendulum has swung too far and I’m heading towards the latter – so all I can do is try to keep a balance between agreeing to do things for other people and making sure I have time for my own goals.
4. If you’ll be speaking to a group, always grab something (non-alcoholic) to drink. An undergrad classmate who was involved in Toastmasters told me this was the best piece of advice he’d ever received for public-speaking, and although it sounded stupid, it was filled with secret genius for the following reasons:
1) Nobody ever knows what to do with their hands while speaking. It happens all the time – a perfectly normal person capable of holding a conversation stands up to say something in front of a group and suddenly looks super awkward. But it’s amazing how just holding a latte or a bottle of water can fix it.
2) It gives you a built-in pause button. I used to teach MCAT classes for a popular test-prep company. After talking to that student, I never went to a class without a bottle of water or a smoothie – every so often I would forget where I was going with an explanation, or need an extra second to answer a question. When 30 people are staring at you, it’s hard to just pause and think. Taking a drink builds in a natural beat.
5. You can solve 99% of all the problems you’ll ever have by writing a mental “Dear Abby” letter about it and predicting the reply. Most problems sound excruciatingly complex in our heads, but when simplified down into advice-letter format, actually just sound blindingly obvious. Chances are, the advice we’d give to someone else in the same situation is not what we want to hear – but it’s what we need to do anyway.