ON GIVING AND GETTING ADVICE: Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish For...
Be Careful What You Wish For…

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Being listened to, and being a good listener, is powerful!

 (7 minute read)

Awhile back, I went through two unusual (not in a good way) experiences.

The first one, I asked for advice/input on social media. It was one of my most popular posts ever. (Which should tell you something about the power of appealing to other people’s expertise!)

How much of it was useful?

Almost none.

It was interesting on so many levels. So many people didn’t even read the actual post. They thought they knew what I asking for, but they got it wrong. So their answers were not helpful. Good intentions, but a waste of time.

More than half the responders didn’t read the comments. They read the post, but did not take 20 seconds to see if someone had already suggested a solution. I got the same solution many times over. (None of which applied, anyway.)

And when some people neither read the post, nor the previous comments, it made me want to scream.

Which goes to show, if people don’t even know what we’re asking for, there’s no way their advice will be useful, nor applicable.

There was one person (ironically, the person I knew had the most expertise in the first place) who read my post, and added a unique opinion. And surprisingly (or not), their response was the best one. It didn’t solve my problem, but it made me realize I’ve was barking up the wrong tree to begin with.

In the second situation, I was sharing some really hard “places” in my life with friends. That in itself was helpful. Sometimes we just need to speak our truth, with compassionate ears listening. My premise is, we almost always know what we have to do. It’s truly surprising how much insight we can gain from ourselves, when people simply listen to us, deeply.

In this case, I was met with a tsunami of advice, most of which did not land well.

I’m grateful I have people who want the best for me. But it was frustrating to look back at my notes and realize how devastating the advice was. (I won’t go into details, except that it was all about doing the exact opposite of what makes my work unique, personal, and powerful.)

I’m now in a position where a loved one literally hounds me for advice in every conversation. I try to focus on what THEY want, to support them in any way I can. But they insist they just want me to tell them what they should do.

And then they reject every single thing I say. They are frustrated that I don’t “get it”. They insist my own experiences have no relevance. Well…yes….and no.)

It’s really really hard. But I have to simply not fall into the pit of thinking I can help. No. More. Advice. (Which I offered again, fifteen minutes after typing this. WHEN WILL I LEARN?!)

Am I an idiot? (Please don’t answer that!) Yes and no. For me, it proves how desperately we want to help others, even when we can’t. Which is not evil. Just annoying for that other person.

Ironically, in my email box this morning was this Ask Polly question. Near the end of the long article (she writes more than I do!), this paragraph stuck out for me:

“I had to be humbled for years in order to recognize that I was just another human on this earth, just as bad and just as good as anyone else. I couldn’t be vulnerable with myself or anyone else until I was at peace with being ordinary. I couldn’t feel right until I was okay with being wrong. And once I was finally comfortable with being a regular mortal human, I could recognize that my needs weren’t immoral. What I wanted and needed and loved mattered, even when it seemed frivolous or shameful or it was more enormous than I could stand.”

 At peace with being ordinary….

This sounds at odds with most of the advice we seek in life, and the advice we give to others. Except that, what’s wrong with being ordinary??

Of course we want to do good work.

Of course we want to find our audience.

Of course we all hope to make money with the work of our heart.

Of course we want to be a force for good.

And of course we want others to love us for being…..well, ourselves!

We believe that if we get to a point where our work is amazing, we’ll surely feel better about our work. The truth? Sometimes I think people are just being nice. Sometimes I think I am fantastic. And then I do something that messes it all up. Respond badly to a situation or a toxic person, retreating in fear because I said something idiotic, embarrassed because a line of work I was so sure would sell, languishes in a place of honor in my studio.

We believe if we make decent money from our art/creative work, we’ll feel “more authentic.” Truth? We have more money. Deep down, we know that financial success is not the authenticity “proof” we’re looking for. How does winning an award, making more money than someone else, make us “better than” them?

We believe if our work serves a powerful purpose, we will be truly “real”. Reality? The more people praise how my work makes them feel, the more humble I feel. After all, I haven’t discovered a cure for cancer, nor have I done anything meaningful about hardship, trauma, war, famine, disease, terrorism, and all the other evil in the world. I simply make these little horses.

Am I loved for myself? I have family members who have made it clear how little they respect me and the work I do. I mean, they should know, right?

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s kind of about monitoring advice, the advice we give (even mine!), and the advice we get.

When we get advice, if someone says something that resonates in a good way, pay attention. It’s a reflection of what we’re leaning towards, yearning for. It may take a while to uncover the gold. But it’s worth waiting for, and worth working towards.

When the advice we get lands badly, let it go. Either they meant well, or they didn’t. It doesn’t have to matter either way. As long as we recognize it’s not “our thing”, we’re still good.

When someone asks for advice, and we have expertise in that area–we’ve experienced it, we recognize it, we know what worked for us—yes, share it. But don’t push it. It’s based on OUR experience, and circumstances might be similar, but are never exactly the same. “Your mileage may vary” as the car commercials go.

If someone just can’t hear you, let that go, too. “Let me know how that works out for you” is a good “release line”.

Understand that sometimes, we just need to “blort”. (My long-standing word that combines “blurt” and maybe “storm”. Can’t remember!)

Sometimes, we just need to listen. Someone just posted on social media, and when I commented, they said I had helped them hugely in dealing with a major life issue years ago. Wha…..? I didn’t remember, so I asked them what I’d said.

They replied, and ended with, “….and after I was finished sharing with all my fears and anxiety, you said, ‘So if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying….’ And that was so powerful!”

All I did was listen. And echo/reflect back. So simple. And yet I still forget to do that, even now!

So, as always, if everything is working out for you, don’t change anything.

And if things aren’t working out for you…..

But if you need advice, remember:

We are a human being. We are no better, and probably no worse, than millions of other people. It’s okay for us to want what we want from our sales, from our art, from your life. It’s okay to do something different, (or not), it’s okay to take a step forward (or back), it’s okay to stay the course we’ve chosen, or to choose something completely different. It’s okay to be confused about our next step, and it’s okay to be sure of where we’re going. It doesn’t matter how “big” our work is, nor how “small”.

You have a story only you can tell.

Don’t miss that opportunity to share it.

Because even the tiny, seemingly insignificant things we choose, can be powerful.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

Don't miss Luann Udell's next topic "Rules" in her series, "The Four Questions".
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s next topic “Rules” in her series, “The Four Questions”.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Safety, and privacy, first!

 (5 minute read)

The biggest rule for your artist support group is, what happens in group, stays in group. So….

 Rule #1Safety and privacy.

They are “one rule” because they so closely relate to each other.

What people share in your group, especially during these sessions, it’s personal. Sometimes painful. It may feel embarrassing to share what holds you back, what we’re afraid of, sharing our failures or set-backs.

Hard enough to share, without worrying about it being shared with others.

It should remain private.

This means you must ask permission from that person to ask a question. You need permission to comment. You even need permission to talk with them about what they’ve shared, while you’re together. (“May I get more information on that situation you brought up earlier?”) And even when you’re not in the group! (“So, what you shared last week—may I talk with you about that?”)

And it means you should not be discussing it lightly with anyone else in your group, and definitely not with anyone outside your group.

Most of the time, people won’t mind giving you permission, especially if you’ve shown that you’re a good listener who consistently asks good questions and offers sound feedback.

But don’t assume. Ask.

Safety and privacy also mean, closed meetings. The only time our first group had a guest was, we hired Deborah to do a mini-observation of one of our sessions, to ensure we were doing it right. Her small but important course corrections were invaluable! But we all had to agree to that beforehand.

Rule #2: Smile!

Body language and eye contact are important for creating an atmosphere of comradery. When my adult son was very, very young, I noticed he often had a frowny face. I actually said out loud, “Why does Doug always have a frowny face when he’s thinking about something?” I happened to be near a mirror, and looked over.

Gulp. I had that same frowny look on my face! 

He was imitating how I looked when I was thinking. 

When we’re listening, deeply, many of us have the habit of the frowning, thoughtful face. Some of us have “resting bitch face.” (Look it up!) (Okay, never mind. Some people’s relaxed faces just look….grumpy. It’s just a thing.)

But when the speaker/person in the hot seat is talking, when they look around the group, the last thing they want to see is frowning faces. Especially if we’ve been raised to be highly attentive to signs we’re “doing it wrong”. A frowning face, a bored face, a face looking out the window, are all subtle signs that others are not interested in what we’re saying. Not exactly conducive to doing this work!

In fact, Deborah Kruger urged the speaker and the questioner to stand at the front of the group, facing each other. Holding hands. And the questioner’s goal was to keep their face open and welcoming, smiling. Not a big fake grin. Just a smile as if you were welcoming someone into your home.

 Which, if your home is a safe place, a haven, is actually a good metaphor for your group! All should feel “at home”, and welcome.

For the questioner, it also helps to nod in agreement as someone describes their perfect studio, their ideal customer, their markers of success, their professional goals, etc. Yes. Yes! Yes!!

I still treasure these beautifully formed little pit-fired pots from a member of my very first artist support group! Thank you, Bobbye! 

Rule #3Don’t rush to comfort.

This doesn’t mean no empathy or sympathy.

It simply means, when things get hard, when someone gets overwhelmed, when they cry, don’t rush to soothe them. Don’t try to stop them.

Just let the tears come. Let them cry.

I learned this in hospice, too. When people cry, WE get uncomfortable. We feel we need to do something. We rush to get them to stop crying.

But that simply puts pressure on THEM to make US feel better. We are asking THEM to take care of US.

So sit with the discomfort. Don’t rush to action.

Be a witness.

And from last week:

Rule #4: Listen

The premise of peer support groups is to empower each member to solve their own issues. We achieve that by learning to believe in ourselves, and by learning to listen to –and trust–our own heart.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (See Rule #1)

Above all:

Don’t tell the speaker their reality.

Don’t tell them what you think they should do.

Don’t tell them what YOU would do.

Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that. An assumption they’re making that could be tweaked.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay?

Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

Rule #5: Focus, and be present! 

You chose this. You chose to try this, you chose to show up.

Embody that decision.

Heaving bored sighs, acting distracted, staring out the window, checking your phone, etc., etc., all indicate you’d rather be anywhere but here. This isn’t fair to the others in your group.

Cross-talk refers to carrying on a conversation on the side. So easy to slip into! So distracting to the rest of the group! Take notes of what’s on your mind, and share it later.

Beyond being unkind and disrespectful, you are missing a chance to learn something.

Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience, their assumptions, and their mistakes–and discover their insights and solutions!

If you are truly bored to distraction, then this group is not for you.

Do yourself, and your fellow group members a favor. Let them know they should find someone else who will be more engaged.

Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in any kind of peer support group, you’ll recognize the playlist.

Feel free to suggest additional thoughts I may have overlooked!

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