An (un-)wellspring of advice

Giving advice to people has always been my strong point, giving good advice never has.

As far back as junior high, I can remember dispensing my idiocracy with all the conviction of a criminal.  I was convinced of my own rightness and only too happy to tell others about it regardless of how quickly they were trying to run away.  Either they were too polite to say otherwise or I was too dense to know better, but I just kept on pushing and pursuing wondering why people weren’t calling me back or coming around.  In hindsight, it’s easy to see.  At the time, it wasn’t.  At the time, I knew there were important things to say and if others were talking they weren’t being said.  Such is the height (and stupidity) of my pride.  When I first entered the rooms of recovery, I remember hating speaker meetings because I honestly felt if there were anything important to be said, I would be the one saying it, so why bother listening?

Since childhood, it has been my dream to be listened to.  At home, I did as my dad did, I yelled.  And when that worked, I yelled even louder until there was so much yelling no one except my mom paid any attention.  The yelling is what I remember most about my childhood.  My home was filled with anger, hostility and loneliness but what it was filled most with was yelling.  My entire family, with the exception of my mother, communicated this way.  For me it was comfortable.  Sometimes, it still is.

I have to be very careful to avoid slipping back into my old loud and vocal ways.  I’ve tried hard to get away from verbal violence because I’m one of its worst offenders.  It’s not the kind of person that I like to be.  Instead, these days, I often like to be quiet and like to listen, especially with people I don’t really know.  Watching and listening as they open up and empty themselves out about their recent news or current affairs can be mesmerizing.  It’s amazing how much people will say if I give them half the chance.  I have a long history of never doing just that because I was too busy talking and handing out my unheralded wisdom.  I was too busy listening to the sound of my own voice (I still love it, just less) that I couldn’t be bothered with listening to them.  “They” were usually my audience or my patient and I was preaching or prescribing.

Lately, some things have been different.  Some things have been VERY different.  So different, I’ll tell you…about them and not me.  They have been writing or calling me talking and then asking, asking for input.   They’ve actually been asking for my input.  I don’t quite remember when this first happened but it seems to be happening more and more and with greater frequency this past year.  In fact, within the past six months, I’ve heard from two old friends from my days in Madrid, a friend who is often traveling the world and appearing on stage, another friend close to home who has more than I could ever hope to (more women, more cars, more cigars and more money in a month than I have in a year), another not quite yet friend who saw fit to ask for my input this past week and finally, a student, to name just a few.  In each instance, I must admit, I’ve done my fair share of talking but what’s different about these cases to ones previous, dating back to junior high, is that these people were asking for my input.  I wasn’t just offering.

Just as I have to be careful of raising my voice, I also have to be careful about giving my opinion when others aren’t asking for it.  It’s arrogance, plain and simple and this form of arrogance has been with me since childhood.  I had an opinion and you needed to know it.  I had an answer and you had a question even if you never asked it.  I was only too happy to tell you what it should be, could be and was.  What wasn’t was you wanting to know what I wanted to say…until, like I said, a few years or really, a few months, ago.

While I’m still arrogant, I try to do a better job of hiding it.  Proud?  I’m that too.  A moment ago I mentioned two accomplished and one famous friend.  Why? Two reasons, one my pride and two, more importantly, to demonstrate to me that others who do a far better job than I do or have done in being successful at money matters or more “global” successes, humble me and trust me with presenting me their problems.  Rarely, do I have solutions.  Sometimes, I have suggestions.  And yet, they come to me for a reason.

I’ll share a couple that have been shared with me because what’s been said has been beautiful (and because I have such a hard time believing it):

“I’ve never moved before.  I’ve never thought about moving before.  I’ve traveled and been to a ton of countries but I’ve never moved to a new country the way you have, the way you’ve picked up and moved to a new continent twice.  And I want to and maybe I will but I want to talk to you about it first because you’ve done it and if you can do it, maybe I can too.”

She did.

“Peter, you’ve become one of my closest friends.  Who would have known that when I ran into you in Madrid when I was there working that I’d come to know you as well as I do?  Our twice a week phone calls have helped keep me sane and centered.  You have a remarkable clarity and insight.  You’re able to cut right through my bullshit and go to the core of the matter and give sound, sensible and practical advice. I told my wife about this the other day, you’re a blessing to have around and I wanted you to know it.”

“I like hanging out with you.  You don’t judge me.”

Guys, if I am anything besides a patter of my own back, I am a ceaseless source and an (un-)wellspring of judgment and I’m only sometimes able to keep it to myself long enough to listen to and care about another person.  For you, listening and giving sound advice is business as usual.  You have friends and family members and husbands and children and wives who turn to you for comfort, correction and encouragement.  I never have.  What I’ve had is people running.  Strangely, lately, instead of running away they’re running to me.  That’s the good news.  That’s my dream coming to fruition.  The bad is my new nightmare and it’s plenty…

Two weeks ago, I read a comment on someone’s else blog.  It read: “You’re such an amazing story teller!  Your words draw me right in!”  A moment later, I read a comment on one of my blogs.  It read:  “You’re so wise.”  I was envious.  I wanted to be more like Dr. Seuss and less like Solomon.  That’s scary.  What’s also scary is that when I hear the kind words people share with me like those I shared above, I usually cry but a moment later, after the call or company comes to an end, my very next thought is “Where’s mine?”

What do I mean?  Money, success, career, esteem, fame, family, you name it.  What should I mean?  Growth.  Though I may have improved since junior high, mostly I’m still waiting for that to happen.   And right as I reach one of my dreams and become closer to the kind of man I’d like to be, I’m quickly reminded how much more there is to be done, not on the outside fixing others, but on the inside allowing others to fix me.

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