The Age of Peak Advice
“As I read the column, I felt disappointed for my friend, who had been through so much and was now being told to enjoy garnishes more. And yet she was extremely satisfied with this response. Because Rick Moody also told her that she was brave, that her letter was itself a moving act of literature, that she was, even through terrible suffering and the stasis of illness, still a writer. Rick Moody was, in other words, a surprisingly good advice columnist.”
“We are living in the age of peak advice”
“Columns have been swamped with questions about the best way to leave your partner during a pandemic, the etiquette for masks on hiking trails, and, heartbreakingly, how to deal with your husband’s alcoholism quietly spinning out of control in the background during your remote work meetings. Cheryl Strayed, the patron saint of the late-two-thousands advice renaissance, even came out of retirement, reviving her “Sugar” persona as if summoned by thousands of mask-muffled screams.”
“You didn’t write in to “Dear Sugar” for advice. Instead, Strayed would transform your existential problem into swooning, bespoke essays that exposed as much of the advice-giver as they did of the petitioner. Her tone may or may not have been your thing—“Be brave enough to break your own heart” was born Insta-ready—but her approach proved revolutionary”
“Sugar replied sidelong, with stories: the time she smothered a baby bird, her friend who was disfigured by a gas explosion and killed himself from loneliness, her grandfather forcing her to “jack him off” when she was a young child. Other people lived on Planet Earth, she told a reader who had miscarried, but “You live on Planet My Baby Died. . . . I know because I’ve lived on a few planets that aren’t Planet Earth myself.””
“She opened the way for such spiritual heirs as Heather Havrilesky, who was billed as an “existential advice columnist” in “Ask Polly,” and Kristin Dombek, who unspooled highbrow advice-essays in n+1’s “The Help Desk.” Sugar suggested, in the mold of Montaigne—or perhaps psychotherapy—that the solution to your problems lay within you, provided you confront them with honest introspection and brutal clarity, if not the force of revelation. The goal wasn’t proper napkin etiquette or resolving a dispute with your mother-in-law. It was saving your soul.”
“nonjudgmental permissiveness that has steadily opened up a new vocabulary for how we express ourselves, personally and politically”
“At one point, she advised a bisexual woman who planned on remaining in her monogamous, heterosexual marriage to stay in the closet, much to the Internet’s chagrin. “You are confusing your personal sexual exploration with a social imperative”
“But under the current Prudence, Daniel M. Lavery, the column and its accompanying podcast have become a public square for gleefully debating social norms and dispensing justice with a crew of guest advisers that has included his exes, labor activists, a self-described “creative technologist,” registered nurses, other advice columnists, a violinist studying for her M.B.A., and Jennifer Egan. Guests debate Lavery on ethical norms, and he parries with off-the-cuff riffs on Pope Boniface VIII and Samuel Pepys.”
“I do think universal free child care is, in fact, the solution to many of these problems, but I don’t know that we can offer that to the letter writer.”
“His advice, considered in the aggregate, is so decisive as to be unactionable: in the battle between the righteous individual and the broken system, Lavery almost always roots for the individual to go on strike. “I realize if I add all these things together,” he riffed on one podcast, “my general life advice is, like, ‘Don’t sleep with your partner, don’t talk to your roommates, don’t talk to your co-workers, leave everyone and walk into the sea.’ ””
“A husband who refuses to use enough soap on the dishes is committing “an insult to your dignity and your personhood,”
“crazed DVD reviewer is “behaving like the majordomo of a small European country on the precipice of World War I.””
“At the beginning of her career, Green told me, she was more willing to warn letter writers that their offices had got totally out of hand, that they should seek sanity and flee. But, after fourteen years, she’s become soberingly realistic about how uncomfortable and generally not-sane the workplace can be. “You can’t leave every time something is frustrating,” she said. “It’s about system interaction. What can we do to get you happy within the system?””
“Ask a Manager” is one of the most popular advice forums around, drawing more than thirty-three million visitors last year”
Absolutely insane media asset values
“columns that go viral tend to have a villain and a sense of dramatic irony. One man wrote in after the ex he’d ghosted was hired as his boss.”
“(The former employee, who survived homelessness and several dozen foster homes, had quit after being told that she could not come to work two hours late to attend her own college graduation.) “Ask a Manager” launched in 2007; it is a close contemporary of “Dear Sugar.” But “Sugar” was for boutique existential rescue, whereas “Ask a Manager” is unapologetic about providing the fundamentals, even suggesting language you can imagine real humans deploying. “I want people to actually use the advice,” Green said. “I don’t want to be right theoretically.”
“Your boss has been stealing your lunch out of the staff fridge, or has asked you to donate your liver—you write, “What do I do?,” but what you really want to know is “Why is this happening to me?””
“Trouble is the common denominator of living,” Ann Landers declared in her memoir, “Since You Ask Me,” boasting that her letter writers have included bank presidents, coal miners, sex workers, and nuclear scientists.”
“more than forty per cent of men have never or rarely even asked friends for advice.”
“It’s as if you have to sort of trick dudes into asking for advice by talking to them about their lives in ways that bypass the discomfort of too many feelings or the explicit sense that they’re looking for help about something or being vulnerable.” In a striking episode of “Death, Sex & Money,” one man confessed that he found comfort in the Reddit forum r/TheRedPill, known for its misogynistic rants. It wasn’t that he necessarily believed in that stuff, the man explained; it just made him feel less alone.”
“Racism is broad-reaching but also daily, its ordinariness often leading columnists to treat questions about race as questions of etiquette—no different from another faux pas at the Thanksgiving table. In reality, these questions are a manifestation of a broken system, one that will be terribly hard to fix.”
I find Flo from State Farm so innteresting
“her tenure had been “long enough to watch the culture change from the vantage of my inbox.” Much as Ann Landers started her column barely mentioning the existence of sex and ended it advising mutual masturbation, Yoffe was part of the first generation of columnists to field questions about the etiquette of friend requests and witness the gradual mainstream acceptance of queer identity”
Fascinating take on manufacturing consent and culture, trandirnstuin
“It may be possible, however, to aim for more. The most ambitious American advice columnist worked for less than two years. In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr., began writing “Advice for Living,” a monthly column in Ebony. Readers asked him whether playing rock and roll for a living was a sin, whether birth control was immoral, how he felt about nuclear weapons, and whether to fight in the army of a racist country. Installments poignantly aligned the mundane with the spiritual. He speculated on the nature of enduring love, bookended by ads for Lustrasilk hair straightener.”
“He asked a neglected wife to study the woman her husband was having an affair with “and see what she does for your husband that you might not be doing. . . . Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag?” And yet some of his answers still feel entirely revolutionary. Ads encouraged readers to “let the man that led the Montgomery boycott lead you into happier living,” but happiness was not King’s point. He often reminded readers that they were more than individuals; they were, in fact, pieces of a society. He wrote that the individual must change her soul but that the world must change “so that the soul can have a chance once it is changed.” He asked a disgruntled parishioner to “stay with the church and continue to sting its conscience.” He told a woman who had just lost her five-year-old son to avoid self-pity. Perhaps most shockingly, he told a preacher in small-town Mississippi to risk martyrdom fighting Jim Crow, “as a Christian minister and a symbol of the new Negro.””
“His words are hard to read and reconcile with the canonical advice column, which asks its readers to do what is feasible. King asks instead for the barely possible. He was either the best advice columnist or the very worst”
“tiny fixes wrapped up in lush language. If the contemporary flood of advice writing teaches us anything, it might be that we’ve learned, somewhere along the way, to stop asking for big, absurd, revelatory things—we’ll settle for something small, something now, something that can patch the wound until tomorrow. We’ll settle for electability, for hand sanitizer, for something less than violence in the streets. For Rick Moody, if he’ll write back.”
the feedback sieve: critically applying feedback
“One of the best decisions I’ve made this past year was investing in Mindy Zhang as an executive coach. Mindy was an early employee at Dropbox and experienced the thrill and growing pains of scaling to 2,000+ employees. Most recently, she was Head of Product Growth at Oscar Health during the company’s IPO.
We’ve been meeting biweekly for the past four months to discuss opportunities and frameworks to grow as a creator and investor, improve my communication skills, and make better decisions. I met Mindy through another one of her clients, a founder I met at the Forbes Under 30 summit. Although she mainly works with product leaders, I felt Mindy was an excellent fit given I view building BGV much like building a startup and we focus deeply on product in our investing practice.”
“Through Mindy, I’ve learned that my greatest strengths are also my greatest weaknesses. You cannot be asymmetrically strong in one area without having a tradeoff in another.”
“This past year, I went from a new college grad working at a 12-person startup to running a venture firm with 120 investors and 20+ portfolio founders and creating content for a community of 28k+ Twitter followers. With such a sudden & drastic shift of information, I’ve struggled to take a systemized critical lens to evaluate the raw data coming in and often feel underwater.
When I unpacked my strength of incorporating feedback a bit more with Mindy, we found that I am uniquely receptive to all feedback, and that I would benefit from having a stronger filter on the feedback I receive.”
“Mindy taught me that “feedback is strategic information you’re learning about how the other person views the world.”
Feedback is the other person telling you “If you changed this, my experience with or view of you would be improved.” Another way to think about this is from a product perspective:”
“You want to prioritize and review the source of this feedback. You’ll often receive strong feedback from non-target customers about their feelings for the product, which should not be incorporated. It’s much easier to take this approach getting feedback on a product vs. as a person, because a product doesn’t have an emotional reaction.”
“The feedback you receive as an adult, especially in the workplace, is much more nuanced.
You develop a higher sense of agency, which allows you a broader scope of action when introduced to feedback.”
“Sieves are utensils used for sorting finer grained molecules from coarser-grained ones, which I found to be a tight analogy for this framework. The steps of the Feedback Sieve I’m now applying are:
Note your instinctual emotional reaction & do not judge yourself for it. Meditation can be a great addition as a daily practice – but the key in Step 1 is not judging your initial response.
Find the ounce of truth in the feedback. This ounce of truth may be about you or it may be about the other person. Going back to the section above, ask yourself “how does this feedback reflect how the other person views the world?”
Decide what, if any, changes you’d like to make based on the ounce of truth.”
“Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate it. Just to clarify, is this
something that is an urgent or pressing need for you?
something I should consider incorporating longer term when I have more resources?”
“Don’t rush to react.
Get more data from a small circle of “loving critics”.
Find a harbinger – a very visible action that symbolizes how serious you are about changing.
Don’t be a lonely martyr – don’t avoid the people who provided you with critical feedback.
Remember that change is just one option – you can also acknowledge and own your shortcomings that are deeply woven into the fabric of you.”
“Ask the person if now is a good time to provide feedback. If it’s a particularly emotionally charged situation, you often want to separate your reaction from your feedback.
“Are you open to receiving feedback?”
If so, deliver what you noticed & how it made you feel.
“I noticed you [took this action] and it made me feel [this way]”.
“In the future, I would appreciate it if you would do the following…””
“Figuring out how to negotiate the dynamic between our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses in our professional and personal lives is a constant struggle. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk – balancing between keeping that asymmetrical trait that makes you special and tempering the weaknesses that come along with it.
By identifying what weakness my asymmetric strength manifests as, comparing and contrasting different methods of coping, and enlisting the help of my support system, I was able to feel better prepared for facing my passions and responsibilities and keep my spark of being receptive to feedback while not feeling burned out. I hope sharing this story inspires others to explore their weaknesses through fresh eyes & reflect on their experiences with feedback.”
“But the main thing to remember is, nobody’s going to see it until you let them. So you need not be inhibited when you’re actually writing. It’s just between you and the page. And if you don’t like what you wrote that day, the wastepaper basket is there for you.”