Earlier this week I researched female education in the late 17th — early 18th centuries in Massachusetts for an essay I’m writing for my local historical society and I can honestly say that I really, really love research. I love finding little snippets that seem like gold, the piecing together of bits to make a story. I love the quiet and the books in the reading room of the research library. I love the sheer amount of potential that surrounds me–the potential of learning, of discovering, of finding interests, of creating.
On the drive home my friend and I were discussing our new life changes—a new career for me and retirement for her and she said how the funny thing about retirement is that people tell you what it is like, but what they really mean is what it is like for them. That resonated, because that’s how I feel about this nascent career of mine in writing children’s books. People tell me how hard it is to get published and make a living and then ask me what I’m working on. If I say a picture book, they tell me I should really be writing a chapter book because that’s what’s popular now. If I say a young adult novel in verse, they say verse doesn’t sell.
But, as with my friend’s experience with retirement, these people are telling me what it is like in their sphere of knowledge, based on their experience, in their own life. Which is, when you pick it down to its bones like that, a pretty limited viewpoint.
All of our viewpoints are limited. They can’t be anything but because they are necessarily based solely on our own experience. Which is not going to be someone else’s experience or the next person’s experience either.
So here’s my idea–instead of giving people advice “for their own good” (which is almost never why it is given) how about we all just encourage the heck out of each other. Let’s all admit that we don’t know the first thing about someone else’s potential and so the best thing we can do for them is to trust that they are onto something and tell them to go for if that’s what they feel like doing.
What we are really doing when we encourage another person is telling them that we believe in their belief in themselves. We are supporting their belief in their own potential–and that, to my mind, is the truest ‘advice’ we can give.