When I got my first proper journalism job at Bliss magazine, I was incredibly excited about working for a magazine with a proper problem page. I was (and am) obsessed with agony aunts and advice columns, partly because of a lingering prurience - problem pages always had the best sex stuff - and partly because they taught me so much about the way we think and what we fear.
***Some of the letters were about having hairy nipples, but lots were about relationship issues, family problems, difficult friends and confidence crises. Everything you’d expect to hear from teen readers, but also everything I wanted the answer to for myself, as a woman in her twenties. I don’t think we ever grow out of problem pages, and at 30 I still have more questions than answers. However, I learned a few things from the wise experts and readers back at Bliss, and I’m looking forward to passing them on. ***
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received - and did you take it?
Daisy (Possibly a different Daisy wearing a false moustache)
Happily, most of the advice that I’ve received has been BRILLIANT. My Mum has given me too much, the main bit being that a couple of shallots in the butter make the most brilliant bechamel sauce. The writer India Knight’s column about getting a Clarisonic, while not written for me personally, was life changing. My friend Adey gave me some great advice about running, which is “No matter how experienced or good you are, you’re always a bit out of breath, so the thing to remember is not to worry when you do get out of breath.” And in 2012 pretty much everyone I knew told me to quit my job and go freelance. They had far more confidence in me than I had in myself - it’s one of the best things I ever did.
To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think anyone has ever deliberately given me bad advice. Everyone who has ever been kind enough to suggest thoughts and ideas has, I think, done so based on their experience, beliefs and practises that have really worked for them. With all that in mind, I say NO THANKS to my friend Leigh’s Mum, who told me that I must never use a skincare product that contained oil. Happily I ignored her and now baste myself in things that contain only oil. I reckon that slathering myself with coconut keeps me nourished, hydrated and safe from kidnappers because I’m too oily for anyone to get a good grip on me.
The really bad advice, the stuff that I’ve taken to heart and has held me back, has been said a thousand ways by a million people. I’m not the first person to hear it, and I’m definitely guilty of passing it on. It goes like this. “Just keep trying. No-one loves a quitter. Stick with it.”
I have never, ever regretted quitting something that made me unhappy. But I’ve gained nothing from staying in situations that I knew were bad for me, and hoping they would improve over time.
When I was thinking about breaking up with my very first boyfriend, my friends said “But you’ve been going out for a year! It would be such a waste to throw all that time away!” The real waste was sticking around for another five years while I constantly second guessed my own feelings and tried to ignore all my instincts and growing sense of doom. I knew that my very first job was wrong for me before I’d jammed the photocopier, but I bumbled away at it for eight more months and allowed my self esteem to shrink down to nothing until I got sacked.
“Follow your heart” sounds like the sort of bollocks you hear from people who think wind chimes make good Christmas gifts, but it’s a vital counterpoint to all the stuff we hear about not quitting. If anything, be it a job, a relationship or a tank of sea monkeys is making you feel desperately unhappy for at least half the time you spend tending to it, it’s time to go. There is nothing noble about sticking around. You’re not going to learn about anything more than your own surprisingly large capacity for misery.
Forcing an ending is brave. It means you have to take action. Sometimes you’ll have to quit without a plan, and you’ll have no idea what’s going to come next. The people who tell you to keep trying are the ones who want to keep you safe. Pursuing your own happiness is risky, but I promise it’s the greatest risk you’ll ever take.