Popular Advice That’s Impossible to Follow



After I shook off the unfounded confidence I embodied at age 20 (knowing everything was fun while it lasted), I slipped into a statis of low-humming anxiety that lasted for years. A large portion (maybe all?) of that anxiety could be attributed to, quite simply, confusion. It’s not that I was lacking ideas on the direction I thought my life should take, it’s that I had, um, several million. And they all contradicted each other. I was one more person telling me to “listen to my gut” away from burrowing into my bed forever. At least in there things were simple.

For years I was a vacuum for advice, turned onto the highest setting. But using the experiences of other people as a blueprint for my own life felt just as fraught as consulting my own basket case of a brain. So many of the world’s commonly accepted truths — the dictionary of cliches people use to shape their stories — literally contradict each other. No, really, they are at practical odds with each other. This was, in a word, unhelpful. The lack of clarity haunted me for years.

I have realized that a lot of advice ought not to be considered universal, rendering much of it useless until you know which is meant for you. I still find myself resenting how much contradictory advice pops up over the course of my day, particularly because it still has the power to confuse the shit out of me. So, in honor of Contradictions Month, here are some of the paradoxical cliches I’ve been wading through for years.


YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE! Live in the moment, do what feels good, follow your heart and don’t question it! Oh, oh, but by the way, LIFE IS LONG! So best not to make your decisions in the heat of the moment. Keep in mind that there is a lot of life ahead of you.


FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS! Never, ever, ever give up on your dreams, guys. Dedicate your nights and weekends to them if you have to. Listen to Justin Bieber and all the people for whom pursuing their dreams worked out. But also it’s better to WORK TO LIVE, NOT LIVE TO WORK. Cultivate your life outside of work! Invest in relationships — those are what will last. Family and friends should always come first.


KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE! Keep your goals in mind at all times, lest you become unfocused. This is only way you can actually reach them. But also IT’S THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION. Enjoy where you are, the present is a present (!!!). Stop constantly thinking of the future. Doing so will rob your life of joy.


TRUST YOURSELF. No one knows what you need better than you do. If you — to your core — don’t want to do something, listen to that voice. It’s the only truth you can know. But also DO WHAT SCARES YOU!!! Seriously. Figure out exactly what it is that goes against your instincts and just do it. You never know until you try.


YOU DO YOU. It’s important that you always be yourself. Don’t second-guess your instincts and desires. If something doesn’t feel right? Don’t do it! But also THINK OF OTHERS BEFORE YOURSELF. As much as it sounds nice to stop thinking so much of others, you should definitely think so much of others. Be a good person please.


LOVE IS HARD WORK! Don’t go in thinking all you need is love. Good relationships require constant care, consideration and effort. But remember that LOVE SHOULD BE EASY. If it’s really that hard, it’s probably not right. A relationship that takes all your energy isn’t worth it.


PEOPLE CHANGE. We were all young and dumb once, give people a chance. It’s unfair to assume that they are the same as they once were. And also PEOPLE NEVER CHANGE. Don’t forget that people don’t really change at their core. Believe someone when they show you who they are.

GOOD LUCK! Just kidding. There’s no such thing as luck.

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; follow her on Instagram @heysuperstar.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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