Don’t Take Advice (Because You Already Know What You Want To Do and You Have to Live Your Life)

This post is loosely based off of the book I just finished titled The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha. (I’ll give the link to it at the bottom of the post.)

Before I get into this post, I want to say that this book is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s definitely going on my “keeper shelf”, and I’m going to take it out and periodically re-read it. If you’re struggling with finding happiness, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Okay, now to the post…

go your own way

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What? Don’t take advice? Isn’t that a terrible thing to do?

One of the things mentioned in the book is “Don’t take advice”. Upon first reading that, I thought, “That is crazy. Isn’t advice useful?” But then I thought over the portion of the book where the author mentions people often regretting not following their own path. They get so caught up in living other people’s dreams that they neglect their own. Also, they don’t want to upset others, and as a result, they go along in order to get along with them. At the end of their lives, a lot of people end up wishing they’d had the courage to do their own thing.

For example, I was stuck in this zone for some time. I get feedback on a regular basis from people telling me what I should or shouldn’t write. And up to now, I’ve been following it. This is what is called “writing to market”. I stopped asking myself what I wanted to write. Instead, I took advice on what I should write. What happened? I got to the point where I hated writing. This didn’t happen immediately. It took time. I think it took a total of three years. I was playing it safe. I was doing what would please the most people. And it slowly sucked the joy out of writing for me. The alarming thing is that the process was so slow that I didn’t realize what was going on. That’s the danger of taking advice.

People in our lives mean well. They are looking out for us. I get that. But there are four main problems I see with taking their advice.

  • 1. They aren’t us. They don’t have our unique blend of personalities and experiences.
  • 2. They don’t usually share our goals. What’s important to us might not be important to them.
  • 3. They might be thinking primarily of themselves when giving out advice. A quick example is a parent who wants their kid to live close to home when the kid might be better off taking a job on the other side of the country. The parent is thinking of the convenience of having the kid nearby while the kid might need to be independent. Plus, the kid might love that new job in ways they could never love the job that is nearby.
  • 4. They don’t have to live with the consequences of their advice. No matter what happens, they aren’t on the hook for living with what happens next. They remain observers. They don’t have to pay the price.

There will be critics.

Deep down inside, I think we know what we really want to do. Sometimes we ask for advice because we’re looking for someone to agree with us. This agreement leads to security. As long as you have someone backing up your thoughts, you can better justify what you want to do. It takes courage to go out alone and do something that is contrary to what others are saying. We risk failure. We risk the dreaded, “I told you so” from others. We risk disapproval. We risk ending a relationship that is important to us. There are many things we could lose. That’s why it’s not easy to travel our own path. That’s why it’s easier to follow someone else’s instructions for our lives.

But in the end, will that advice make us happy? If we’re not true to our own selves, can we really be content? Or will we just tell ourselves that we’re happy so that we can cope with the box we trapped ourselves in? Will we ultimately be slowly dying inside because we let fear hold us back?

Life is a series of choices. You have to decide if you’re going to let other people make those choices for you, or if you’re going to make those choices for yourself. Obviously, if you’re married, you will have to take your spouse into consideration with the choices you make. Single people have an advantage in this area. But even if you are married, there are areas of your life where you have freedom to make your own choices. There’s always something you can do to make yourself happier.

Going back to the example I gave above, early this year I made a decision to write my books the way I want to write them. But it’s only in this month (with the help of the material in The Happiness Equation book) that I started actually writing what I wanted. It has not been easy to dig my way out of the “writing to market” mindset. For every step I took forward, it felt like I ended up two steps back. It didn’t help that I suddenly got an onslaught of people expressing how unhappy they were with some aspect of my writing. It was weird how this feedback came all at once, but it did, and these people came from all over the place. I hadn’t ever heard from most of them before.

So when you decide to travel your own path, expect resistance. I think it’s to be expected when we change what we’re doing. I’m sure this will mean that some people will stop reading my books, and I’m okay with that. I see the reviews. I read the emails. I read the blog comments. I read the Facebook comments. I know what advice people are giving me. And I have decided to ignore all of that advice. It wasn’t easy. I’ve had to remove myself from social media quite a bit. I had to sit alone with the stories I’m currently working on. The more I focused on writing what I wanted, the easier it got. Last Friday, for the first time since 2014, I woke up excited about writing. I was having fun. I was happy. I didn’t even want to quit even though I’d been writing for five days straight. I made myself quit because I need to take care of non-writing things in my life. And to be honest, it felt good to quit writing because I HAD to. It’s a major difference from quitting the day’s writing because you finally got a certain word count in after “pulling teeth” all day.

Only we know what’s best for us..and doing that will make us better people to be around.

Sometimes you have to be selfish. I know that’s a hard concept to grasp because from an early age, we’re taught to put other people’s needs before our own. But I think sometimes we have to do what is best for us. Now, I do believe we should be nice to other people. That’s very important. I do believe in the “treat others as you’d have them treat you” motto. It’s just that you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. You need to pick when to say yes and when to say no. It takes wisdom to figure out the balance. If we get away from the noise going on around us, it’s easier to get to that balance. In the end, if we’re doing what we want to do, we’ll be better people to be around. We’ll be empowering ourselves to reach our full potential. When we are fulfilled in what we’re doing, we’ll naturally be pleasant to be around. So really, we’ll be doing our loved ones a favor, even if they don’t realize it. It’s a win-win.

Here’s the book I mentioned above.

The Happiness Equation

Click the book to go the author’s website.

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People Are People No Matter the Time Or the Place

your only limit is you

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One thing I’ve learned as I’ve studied various aspects of United States and English history is that human nature has not changed. Sure, the superficial stuff has changed. We drive cars instead of riding a horse to get from point A to point B. We use a toilet inside our home instead of chamber pots or outhouses. And so on.

Modern conveniences have changed the landscape in which we function in society, but the fact of the matter is this: modern conveniences doesn’t wipe out any aspect of human nature. Humans are the same. You can look at any time period and any country, and you’ll find this to be true.

Sure, the society would have its own set of rules. There are certain laws, customs, clothing, music, etc that separates one society (and its specific time period) from another. But if you remove all of those things, you are left with human nature.

And this is why I advise authors who are new to historical writing to embrace the fact that historical time periods are only wallpaper. (Rose Gordon was the first person I heard the term “wallpaper” from when describing how to write historical fiction. I want to give credit where credit is due. I don’t know if she heard it from another place or came up with the term herself.)

Most authors new to historical fiction get caught up in the wallpaper. They want to make sure they’re “historically authentic”. So they focus on what people wore, what type of transportation existed back then, furniture, etc. Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing research and finding out what things were like back then. I do that, and I think you should do it, too. But you don’t want to get stuck there. There’s a temptation to treat historical romance like a history lesson when it’s not supposed to be a lesson. The purpose of historical romance is to tell a good story about the characters. It’s not to impress people with your historical-know-how.

The characters should always be front and center stage of every scene. And I don’t care what we “think” life was like “back then”. The truth is, people were not different from how they are today. Thinking that everyone in the 1800s United States were all church going people who helped others out at a moment’s notice and told the truth at all times just isn’t true. Not everyone went to church, and those who did, didn’t always go to worship God. Thinking that all women waited until their wedding night to have sex isn’t true, either. There are records of men and women marrying in order to avoid out-of-wedlock births (we call these shotgun weddings), and there were women who raised children by themselves. Thinking that women never worked outside the home is also false. The idea that people stay married forever is another myth. Laura Ingalls Wilder had a sister who owned a homestead for a short period of time, and Laura’s daughter got a divorce. Laura also worked at a paper (after her marriage). Her daughter was also a journalist. I learned this when I took a tour of De Smet, South Dakota (which was one of the towns she grew up in). Laura was born in 1867, but people have told me, “No one did X, Y, and Z back then”.

I could go into more examples, but the post is already getting long. Suffice it to say that human nature is not restricted to a neat little box of “this NEVER happened back then” or “this ALWAYS happened back then”. Society might not have approved of certain thing, so those things weren’t common (or at least they weren’t discussed in public). But they did happen.

Regardless of your time period and your location, the human condition is complex. You have your heroes. You have your villains. And to be honest, picking out who the heroes and the villains are is subjective. You can’t be objective if you’re writing fiction because fiction demands you have a hero and a villain (even if that villain is nature, another person, or the hero himself). Every story must have conflict, and conflict depends on villains. Therefore, writers have to pinpoint a good guy and a bad guy.

So while it’s good to some research into the time period you’re doing, I wouldn’t suggest getting so wrapped up in it that you miss what really makes a story compelling, and that element is your main character (or main characters). While you will have an element of readers who obsess over historical details, most readers want an emotional connection with the hero. Therefore, it is my conclusion that the best thing you can do while writing historical fiction is to focus on the characters and the story they have to tell. If you can master the complexities of human nature, the wallpaper will fade away. The wallpaper won’t matter. What will matter is that the story resonated on an emotional level with the reader. And that is what good fiction is supposed to do.

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Letting Go of Busy Work does A Lot of Good

I have now officially dissolved the LLC in every way except in one area. This morning, as I filed the final paperwork for closing the LLC in the state I live in, I realized I felt wonderful. I had no idea that carrying around the LLC (something I felt obligated to have since it was the thing “smart” authors did) was weighing me down. Suddenly, writing wasn’t fun. It was a business. And because it was a business, there was the burden of making a certain income to justify what I was doing.

This morning, it occurred to me all of that nonsense is gone. Removing the LLC has been the best thing I could have done to save my creativity. And I decided that from this point forward, if I don’t want to do something, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to do stuff I want to do.

And that brings me to the actual topic of this post:

Sometimes you have to let things go.

dont be busy be productive image

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I realize there are some areas in a person’s life that they can’t remove. Obviously, you have to work to put food on the table, you have to pay taxes, you have to take care of a sick child in the middle of the night, you have to keep your house clean, etc. This is just part of the human experience.

But there are things you can remove from your life to make things easier. I don’t know if it’s because I’m now in my forties (so I have some experience under my belt), but a lot of stuff people often do are things they feel obligated to do. They aren’t things they have to do. They’re things others have imposed upon them.

I think we’ve all been there. You know the task ahead of you is optional, but you can’t bring yourself to say no because someone else expects you to do it, and you’re afraid if you don’t do it, then the person will get upset with you. Sometimes you do things to keep the peace. The older I get, the less inclined I am to keep doing those activities. I think as you get older, you realize your time is getting more and more precious because people only live for so long. The older you get, the less years you’re likely to have. So you start to choose your activities more carefully.

This is why I decided to only write stories I’m most excited about writing. This is why I’m cutting back on how many books I write at a time so I have time to do other things I love (such as walking 45-60 minutes 5 days a week) and spending time with my husband and kids. This is why I cut the email list. This is why I cut the LLC. I no longer have time for the hamster wheel that is a “successful” author’s life. I’m tired of chasing after marketing schemes that usually don’t yield more sales. Most of the time, they only end up wasting time.

Remember in school when your teacher handed you assignments to fill out that was busy work? You knew there wasn’t a point to the assignments. You could tell the difference between working on something that advanced your education and something that didn’t. In real life, we end up filling our days with the same kind of busy work. They’re really distractions. They don’t move you toward your goals. But they seem so urgent at the moment that we put stuff that do advance our goals further down the list. Then by the time we can get to those activities that get us closer to our goals, we’re usually too exhausted for the day. We tell ourselves, we’ll do those things tomorrow. If we’re not careful, tomorrow gets sucked up in busy work, too.

I’m looking at everything I’m doing and asking myself, “Is this busy work? Or is this going to get me closer to my goals?”

The email list, to be honest, was busy work. I was spending one week working on a special epilogue to go with each new release, and I was making this exclusive to my email list or people in my closed Facebook group. Well, after having this email list since 2015, I realized that over the years, more people were unsubscribing than they were subscribing. Also, less and less people were even opening the email to read the 1500-2500 words I spent agonizing over for a week. The reason is was so hard for me to write those scenes is because the book was done. When the book is done, I can’t think of anything to add to it. It was busy work. Very few people were interested. So why was I spending so much time doing something I dreaded?

This is the kind of busy work that needs to be removed from our lives. Life is short. Why make yourself miserable doing something because you feel like you have to do it? If the activity is optional, let it go. Spend that time doing something you enjoy.

In case you think letting go of this stuff is easy, it’s not. It’s hard. I’ve been wanting to get rid of the email list and my LLC for two years, but I was afraid to do it because I was going to let someone down. So I kept pushing myself to go on, and in the end, I started to dread what was coming. I was frustrated. Sometimes I was angry at myself for not having the courage to say no, but mostly, I was frustrated.

By letting go of things that aren’t working, I found a new sense of freedom. And in the freedom is a huge sense of relief. I’m no longer on the hook to do busy work. I can spend that time doing something I love instead. It’s amazing what a difference this has been making.

Now, I don’t know what your “busy work” is, but I know it won’t be easy to give it up. It’s taking me two years to finally give mine up. The first step is the realizing this thing isn’t working for you. Then you have to let the process work itself out because I do believe this is a process. I don’t think anyone can snap their fingers and just walk away from something that has become a habit. I heard once that success is not a straight line. It’s a lot of twists and turns. It’s a process.

I also think the more tuned into other people’s feelings you are, the harder it is to do. I’m very conscious of other people’s emotions. I hate to upset anyone. And this has made it harder to make certain decisions along the way. You have to fight the urge to feel guilty for not meeting someone’s expectations. But I guess you have to look at it this way: if you can’t give 100% of yourself to something, then are you really doing other people a favor? I mean, I could keep writing those special scenes, but if I hate doing them, that will reflect in the work. And in the end, the lack of quality is going to disappoint people anyway.

For a personal experience, my deaf kid wanted to stay after school to do some activities with his peers, but that would require me to drive down to pick him up every day. That totaled about one hour five days a week, and I would have to pick him up around 5:30. I get up at 4 in the morning so that I can get ready for the day. I like having an hour in the morning to be shower and then spend time in silence to get mentally ready for the day. After that, it’s hectic around the house. I have four kids and a husband. Getting everyone ready for school and work is a lot of work. I like to wind down at night, and I like to be in bed between 5:30-6. I don’t go to sleep right away, but I have found this wind down time goes a long way to renewing my energy and getting a solid, good night’s sleep. I’m an introvert, and introverts lose energy when they’re around people. They need time alone to build the energy back up. This makes me much more productive during the day. I’m also a much happier person to be around. So I had to say no to picking up the kid after school every day. Instead, I compromised on picking him up two days a week. I can manage that. But doing it five days would have exhausted me.

So that’s what I mean by busy work and cutting it from your life. Obviously, you can’t get rid of everything you don’t like doing, but there are some areas that you can release. Letting those things go has a surprising way of making life more positive. I don’t know if anyone found this motivational, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to write the post. 🙂

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