As I sit down to write this post, my white, middle class suburban neighbours are playing some pretty cheesy dance music while they cook their barbecue. It’s not the kind of music I ever pictured them listening to, but then again, I never imagined that the young family on the opposite side of the fence would be so fond of rap music, as they revealed at last week’s barbecue. But if either of these families knocked on our door and asked what style of music I preferred, would they guess that the first word out my mouth would be “metal”? Me, who hangs up my laundry with pastel pegs and sits outside in flowery dresses, reading from my pink Kindle?
No matter how well you think you know someone, you can’t always predict what their preferences are—whether we’re talking about music, career paths or parenting styles. Even if you’ve grown up next door to someone, attended the same school or university, or been part of the same family, there will still be plenty of differences.
This all sounds pretty obvious, but I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a lot of advice over the past few years. It’s inevitable when you’re attending university, getting married, choosing a career, relocating or thinking about starting a family—and I’ve done all of these things within the space of a few short years. Those around you want you succeed, and for you to avoid making the same mistakes they did. People are desperate to share tips from their own experiences. And this is where an all too common problem arises.
No matter how much you have in common with someone, your life experiences are not going to mirror theirs exactly. And even if you do have similar families, careers or interests, their preferences might be entirely different. You’re vegetarian? Perhaps they prefer to eat meat. You want to send your children to private school? Maybe they’re thinking about homeschooling. You might simply have completely different thoughts on the best type of cleaning product to use for getting mould off the bath. Having different preferences and life experiences doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with someone. But it does mean that your advice might not be at all relevant to them.
I married young. I read romance novels. I want to be a stay-at-home-mother. I don’t buy premade pasta sauce. I like to air-dry my washing. I don’t wear make-up. I love red wine. I fail miserably at trying to keep a diary. Perhaps we have some of these things in common. Or maybe none at all.
I could link you to half a dozen articles telling you why all of the above are things that you should be doing, explaining the benefits of making your own pasta sauce and not wearing make-up. But all those articles would succeed in doing is cementing my own belief that I’m doing the right thing for me. And that’s who these things are best for: Me. If you want to buy your own pasta sauce and wait until you’ve established your career before you marry, and you’re happy with those decisions, then good for you. I’m not going to try to convince you to do things my way because I know all too well that doing something simply because it’s what others recommend often doesn’t yield the best results.
If you want advice on getting married or writing a novel or even the best laundry detergent to use, I can tell you what works best for me, but that doesn’t mean that following my example will guarantee happiness for anyone else.
This semester I’ve been endeavouring not to push my opinions on anyone or offer advice before someone asks for it. I’m still learning, so please be patient with me. But if you need someone to be a non-judgemental sounding board, I hope this is a role I can fulfil.
I’m not going to be offering advice in this blog. Just because I ramble on about why I love linseed or air-drying doesn’t mean that I think anyone else should take up my habits—unless they want to, of course. I’d just like to talk about the things that are important to me, and let people know what’s been going on in my life. And if we happen to have something in common, isn’t that fantastic? But if you offer me advice on how to do a certain activity better—whether it’s novel-writing or deciding when to start a family—please don’t be offended if I don’t follow your advice. As much as I appreciate everyone’s desire to help each other be the best that they can be, sometimes your best is very different from someone else’s. And that’s perfectly okay.