Portfolio > Art & Life Blog

Bad Advice, taking stock of what you should let in- artists, parents and everyone else

Lately I've been noticing, and taking stock, of bad advice. When you are trying really hard to do something, improve, or accomplish things, or better oneself in some way, you naturally wonder if there might be better means to improving a situation, so at one point or another, we may seek out advice. For me there are a few areas of my life where I'm really striving, or struggling, and so time to time, I'm on the lookout; and here and there recently, via my own failures and struggles, I've been starting to register, what I think is lousy advice.

To begin with, I think one of the most honest realizations we have to contend with, is, that people don't all work effectively, in the same ways. And all the advice in the world is useless without motivation and will. We have to find our own way, our own path, our own methods. What works so well for one can be completely wrong for others. More and more as I get older I see this. Also, timing is so critical. Only life experience can allow you to see this with perspective.

I'm going to give two different examples of where I find regular, lousy advice. (And if I've ever given anyone bad advice, I am so very sorry!)

One of the major pieces of bad advice I see often, given mostly to artists, but extends to a lot different pursuits, is "if you want to be an artist (or do x,y or z creatively), don't get a normal / day job". So here's how this one jars for me- if you are a successful creative person who can support yourself without doing other work, that is amazing, you are very fortunate, and you probably made a lot of great choices, found what worked, and did it. What I say to everyone else, who has something creative they are trying to do, they love, whatever it is: supporting yourself, especially as you are getting going in a field or pursuit, is NOT always going to be possible, and also, that does NOT make it an invalid pursuit. Adding to the first portion of this is another piece of advice which is repeated, over and over, and over, and over: "follow your passions" "do what you love".... Here's what I'll say about that. Yes, follow your passions, yes do what you love, but do not assume you will be able to financially support your life that way. I'm sorry to say this but I think the evidence supports me. Breaking this down, to a very simple summary... America is a Capitalist country. Very, very much so. It is saturated down into every aspect of our life, and only by spending time in foreign countries and different cultures, can you start to see how much this infiltrates our thinking. Why am I bringing this up? Because there are many pursuits, abilities, skills, talents, etc.... that are not valued in, for example, the American marketplace. While sometimes very esoteric pursuits can be supported by funding and grants- the reality is this is an art (and job) in itself, which requires a certain development of writing skills, knowledge of grant seeking, time to write grants, during which one must live. If one gets to the point where they are receiving grants that is great- but there's a history up until that point. There are lots of in between points for people, and we have to live, eat, etc...

Having lived and traveled abroad, even just recently, I have been struck by how much more respect artists, writers, musicians, are treated with, in many other countries. Especially cultures with longer unbroken cultural traditions. The bottom line in many other places in the world, is not always the almighty dollar. Culture, community, traditions, skills, apprenticeship, are appreciated more, by and large abroad. Therefore, if you love some obscure foreign instrument, work hard to develop your skills, and live in a midwestern American city, and cannot support yourself this way, good lord you are not a failure. There needs to be some common sense around expectations. You may become famous for your rare skills, but still not able to pay a 1/4 of your rent a month doing it. This is yet another problem with the advice I describe....

When I see this advice, I also am aware of how anyone who has dependents, has that to factor in. If you have young mouths to feed or disabled family members or elderly to care for, should you not work a day job in the name of pursuing your passion, so your family is homeless and starving? It's nonsense. Therefore people dispensing the advice are not thinking about the bias they infer...the people they speak to must be single, untethered, and probably young. The young are not the only ones who wish to pursue their interests....

The second category of lousy advice, which I could probably write a book about, is in parenting, and specifically to mothers (who it is assumed are bearing the brunt of the responsibility in whatever advice is given), and just to name one category, getting babies to sleep. This also stings now when I think back, to my child.

When my child was a baby there was a popular method for getting babies to sleep through the night- I have no idea if people are still following it. It was basically a cry it out method. The idea was you'd have a few nights of lots of crying, and then they'd be sleeping through the night, forever. All I have to say is thank god my wits kicked in. My child is adopted. Adopted children by and large suffer from attachment issues, even in the best of circumstances. This method does not only not work for them, (or maybe it does for some?) but can actually be very damaging. I think I tried it for 30 minutes maximum. My child was SO difficult to get to sleep initially after her adoption. To get her to sleep, I would have to cradle her, move her back and forth, and sing to her,until she fell asleep. It took a long time and I was so very exhausted, every night. Even after she started falling asleep (always with me next to her) my reality was I was getting up every night to attend to her until she was close to 5 years old. She needed me. So now when I see moms and dads struggling to listen to this or that, part of me cringes. People may mean well but parenting methods are changing on a daily basis and kids have different needs. I really feel for struggling parents who are looking for help, but might be misguided, doing things that really aren't right for them, or their kids.

I'm not intending to make this about whining or complaining. But there is something important about registering that there is a lot of "bad advice" out there. One important thing is that it is a reminder that only we can really define what our values are. When a little flag goes off for you, of "wow that's lousy advice", it can be a sign to take stock and to pause and reflect on, what is important to you, as an individual, in terms or aspirations, goals, and definitions of success, or in how you live your life in the most basic ways. I suspect that with the onslaught of social media and all the illusion of what people are projecting, that a false measuring up is causing a lot of turmoil for especially younger people, who haven't had the distance that prior generations have from the internet as it is now. People look at illusions and feel they are not measuring up, and that's just not true or fair. You have to ground yourself in the real world, set your own standards, goals, values, and only then should you measure where you are. Failure means you're trying. When I was younger my fear of failure held me back so much more than now, so that in a sense I feel I am doing better the more I screw up.

On that note, I'd love to hear what you think has been great, and lousy advice for you. Feel free to reach out- janel@janelhouton.com, and thanks for reading.

Bad Advice: Taking Stock of what works for you- artists, parents, and everyone else