Whenever friends ask me for advice, I often find myself giving them wonderfully canned responses, like “Hang in there,” and “You’ll get ‘em next time.” Even though I actively try to resist repeating things like “Keep at it,” I inevitably end up reciting the same cheery platitudes over and over again. Some of my most-used phrases are entirely meaningless, although they look great when written in big, capital letters against a starry banner: “Make it Happen!” “Life is Good!” “Happy Face!” It’s like I’ve been infected by Oprah’s word diarrhea, and I can’t get these nuggets of forced inspiration out of my head.
I’ve never stopped to realize just how ridiculous some of our motivational sayings are. Take, for instance, “Make a Difference!” It can sound really upbeat and positive (make a difference, change a life!), but you can also take it the wrong way. If I shot my friend Tony in the leg, I’d be making a difference and changing his life… But I doubt that one-legged Tony would thank me for my contribution. In fact, he’d probably want to make a difference in my life, and shoot me back. (I am pretty confident that this is how wars are started.)
The worst part is, we’re inundated with clichés mostly when we’re young, when our brains are still gooey. Therefore, these platitudes become entrenched in our impressionable, developing minds. In my elementary school, our class slogan was “Reach for the Stars.” Now, besides being a mediocre S Club 7 song, “reach for the stars” is a terrible message for kids. Hey kids, aspire to do something that is utterly out of your grasp. Yeah, try to reach for a giant ball of fire in the sky. Real smart. So, not only are we setting kids up for failure, we don’t even want them to succeed. If they ever did succeed, well, it’s “Hey Mommy, I reached for a star and caught it! Now I’m an exploding mass of plasma orbiting the sun. See you in a billion years!”
So, for all my friends, if you ever come to me again for advice, I will save you the trouble of listening to my babble of thoughtless idioms. Instead, I will hand you a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and hopefully you can figure it out for yourself.