Not for Thee — What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received that you wouldn’t give to anyone else? Why don’t you think it would apply to others?


I’ve gotten some really great advice over the years. From professors at college, from people I worked with or for. From a husband or two. From friends. Advice that changed my life, career, and destiny.

I suppose, in theory, it could apply to someone else. But I doubt it because important advice is not pithy or necessarily quotable. It’s specific to an individual. Not aphorisms or “rote” messages. Not the kind of thing you toss around in casual conversation.

I remember the very first piece of life-changing advice. It came from a professor who’d become a friend and mentor. I was a music major, a pianist. Doing pretty well. I aced most of my classes. The only bothersome worry nibbling at my mind was what in the world I could do with this education? My talent as a pianist was limited. To a non-professional, I sounded great. To a professional, not so great. In short, not good enough. In classical music, not good enough is a million miles from good. Either you can compete — or not.

Dr. Deutsch accosted me as I was leaving a practice room one afternoon. “We should talk,” he said. I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. And I knew I should listen.

“You’re good at this. You do well in your courses. Your grade point average is high. Very high. But your heart isn’t in it, not like it needs to be. Music is a hard road. If you aren’t fully committed, you won’t survive. Make a decision to get into it … or get out.”

It was a critical turning point. I was a single credit short of completing the major, but here was time to start a new major without delaying graduation. My choice of music had been based more on loving music than where it might take me professionally. To my surprise, I was more relieved than upset by what he said.

Practical young woman who I was, I selected Comparative Religion for my new major. As we all know, there are so many jobs opportunities in that field. I hedged my bet. I was already involved at the college radio station, so I majored in communications too, though I had no interest in working in radio, television, or theater. I just enjoyed messing around.

By then, it was obvious I would be a writer. I wrote. Always had. Even when I did it with a pencil on lined paper. It was obvious I had talent for words. I had fantasy visions of a Stephen King-like career living in a solitary retreat on a cliff overlooking the ocean. There, alone with my grand piano and a typewriter, great novels would emerge and take the world by storm.

Not exactly the way it all came down. While taking long hours of psychology, philosophy, and history of religion courses, I gained discipline. I had a wonderful, wise, perceptive professor who not only read what I wrote, but could tell the difference between when I’d done the work, and when I was glib and faking it. He was the only professor to ever give me a grade of A+/D on a paper. A+ for style, D for content.

Under his tutelage, I learned research methodology. How to write so others could follow my reasoning. Although I would later be surprised when technical writing became my career, it wasn’t as out-of-the-blue as it seemed. All those papers in college had paved the way.

Could either of these pieces of advice have been given to anyone but me? Would they have made sense to anyone else?

Later, there would be a husband who suggested I stop moaning about the past and move on. Pointing out there was little future in the past, he combined this with keeping my father out of my life to give me a chance to grow up in peace and safety. I will always be grateful.

Sometimes, a relationship lasts exactly as long as it is supposed to. That first marriage let me become an adult, with a husband who supported me, friends who cared. When I was ready to move on, he didn’t stop me. It was a good marriage that ended in divorce.

There was more. A lot more. I wonder, often, if the advice givers knew how much they were influencing me. How much their advice rocked my world, changed the direction of my life and career. Sometimes, a single sentence at the right moment was enough to illuminate the darkness. Perhaps one of my gifts has been knowing when to listen and who to trust.

These days, non-interference is the social gold-standard, but that’s part of the whole “me, me, me” mentality of the 21st century. Thoughtful, intelligent advice is never a bad thing. Whether or not it is appreciated or taken to heart is another issue.

Silence will never offer anything of value — while one important moment of truth can mean everything.

Take a chance. Save a life.

Categories: Daily Prompt, Education, Life, Paths

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. Beautiful picture at the beginning! I just thought it beared saying, I always like a bit of free advice, solicited or not. And you, my friend, give great advice!


    • Thank you. I try to be very careful to not give any suggestions or advice without serious thought. I’ve had a couple of occasions where someone took a suggestion and ran with it and it ended really badly. I no longer do ANY matchmaking!


  2. Funny how we wind up where we should be, isn’t it? I wasn’t good enough a pianist to even think about competing … and I didn’t want to be a piano teacher, even though I loved mine. In the course of time, I did get to document several music programs for computers — Macs, actually — back in the 1980s, so nothing we learn or know is ever wasted.

    We just watched … for the first time in many years — “Hard Day’s Night,” the Beatles movie from the 60s? Garry was dancing with Bonnie who looked puzzled but whatever Dad wants is okay with her.

    We are ALL music lovers and not so disguised 🙂


  3. This is a great post, beautiful picture, and rings home in more ways that you can imagine. I too pursued a career in music, but approached it from a completely different angle. I was , by the advice of parents and others, encouraged to follow a profession in engineering. That’s what everyone was doing in those days. Because of my interest in the way things worked everyone thought that was what I should do. My real passion was music but i couldn’t quite get this across to people, I spent hours listening to anything and everything I could get hold of. I pecked away at the piano until my mom insisted I take lessons. My friend took me to an orchestral concert up at the High School and I decided I wanted to do that.., but they only need one pianist in an orchestra and not that often either so I studied String Bass which they needed several of all the time.

    In college I enrolled in pre- engineering classes and hated it, so I quit and went on the road for my first music gig. I did this for almost 10 years while, eventually,going back to school for broadcast engineering. I had discovered that there were too many bass players out there far better than I would ever be, and life as a musician was harder than I thought possible. Being the best meant hours of practice and a motivating aptitude. I didn’t have the patience nor the will.., but I did have a talent for how things musically fit together. Recording engineering satisfied both of my passions.., one for music, the other for playing with electro/mechanical toys. They call us “engineers” but I’m just a music lover in disguise.


  4. Wonderful post Marilyn. Loved how you ended off.


  5. I followed the advice of a friend and I abandoned my project to become a biologist and studied Journalism. I’ve been passionate about journalism all my life and I can’t imagine myself without my agitated years in the profession, so I guess she was right. But sometimes I ask myself if my life would have been easier as a biologist than as a journalist.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of the best pieces of advice came from you, Mrs. A. When I was shown the door after 31 years as a “TV News Legend”, I was very depressed. That’s an understatement. You essentially convinced me it wasn’t my fault and that I should move on with life. It took awhile but you were right. I’m forever grateful.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. True. The worst that can happen is they won’t listen. I got weird advice in college. I was about to get married. My poli sci prof, learning this at the beginning of class one night, cancelled class then and there. He took me and my friend Susie outside and advised me. “Don’t get married. You could really DO something.” I wished then (and wonder now) what exactly he thought I could do. Since he didn’t tell me, I got married. It was good advice, on the mark and kindly — if intensely — given, but…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I wish someone had advised me to do this or that, I was just moved on to the next level with no great memorable comments. I wish someone had taken interest in what I really wanted to do and listened. School classes with 40-50 pupils and later in a high school where the only encouragement was to pass your exams. I remember I was not even allowed to take english literature, because my mock exam did not meet to the requirements of someone. We were not treated as individuals, just the mass. I was lucky to meet Mr. Swiss who often points me in the right direction, although I do not always immediately agree, but I think about it and he is usually right. I am not yet a butterfly, but I think I am getting there.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I think you might be a butterfly, Mrs. Anglo-Swiss. I mean, does a butterfly know what it is? 🙂


    • Speaking of great advice, my second mother-in-law was a writer. I said I wanted to write a book, a novel, but it looked like it was never going to happen. She said “Most authors only have one really great book in them and it doesn’t matter whether you write it when you’re 30 or 75.” I don’t know if she was right, but it made me feel a lot better. And we seem to have found our “thing” … a bit late in life, but MUCH better than never!


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