The train of corroboration

21 January 2020 | Columns

Justicia Shipena

When I recently told a group of people I was writing an advice column, most laughed and, honestly, I laughed too. Somehow, I have convinced myself I know enough about life to hand out suggestions how other people should live.

However, in my 20 years of life, I can confidently say I have been floundering just as much as, if not more than, the next person. Usually I am the one receiving advice on the most minor of things - “They didn’t text me back! Is sending a snapchat too clingy?” - and the biggest of questions: “Why I am here and what am I doing?”

I am incredibly lucky to have wise friends and family who usually tell me what I should do. The problem comes when I have to actually do the thing; I’m not very good at heeding advice, probably because everyone has slightly different ideas of what it is exactly I should do.

The version of me that follows all the advice given to her is probably somewhere out there going for a run every day, staying hydrated, holding doors open for strangers and eating a not-messed-up diet. I sincerely hope she has learned to love that life, but I think she’s missing out.

Windhoek too, is screaming at me to do certain things and be a certain way, with its atmosphere of business casual outfits, the handshakes exchanged at a party and the pleas from individuals to “go to the gym for goodness sake” - not a direct quote, but I imagine the person writing the newsletters screaming these words at me as I scroll through Pinterest.

Buying into that culture can be fun and seem like a simple road to success; stepping off this road can be intimidating and make you feel as if you just can’t keep up. No one likes to be a failure. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. In a world in which everybody has opinions on how to live, it takes incredible gumption and grit to choose to do it differently. Different does not equal failure, contrary to what many people believe.

One of my teachers was an instructor at a leadership programme and she was soft-spoken, extraordinarily kind and a total badass. I remember sitting with her on the stairs at the school, when she told me the best advice is to take no advice. I thought about it for a while, remembering all the advice I had received, all the advice I had ignored and how I ended up in this beautifully complicated life in which I currently reside.

Advice is, typically, an anecdotal recommendation to someone else. But, as many of us learned in grade nine English class, an anecdote-based argument is hardly persuasive. Advice should be treated with similar caution. In the great debate of what to do and who to be, anecdotal evidence, like advice, is not going to cut it.

Each person reading this column has had a completely different collection of experiences that make up their life. As much as I love to get to know people and ask a billion questions about them, it would be naive to pretend I could even begin to understand every facet of their identity. Inversely, no one person can truly understand my life in its entirety. I honestly can’t understand it fully, either. This train of thought can be isolating at times, but it is also liberating. This life is mine, with all of its mistakes and successes and everything in between. That’s pretty incredible.

If I accept that no one will fully know my life or my situation, why should I trust them to make decisions for me? Since I could communicate, I have been bombarded with advice, both solicited and unsolicited, on what to do. Yes, I can learn from others, but my life is my own to lead and my own to get messy. I get to pick which advice I heed, if any.

So, I take all advice with a grain of salt. Obviously, I will still text my closest friends when I’m in a dilemma to hear their opinions or, in my case, their pleas for me to calm down. In the end, though, it’s my call. I hope what I have said has resonated with someone. If it doesn’t resonate with you, ignore me! Please! Still, if you take one piece of paradoxical advice, let it be this: Do your thing, do no harm and take no advice.

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