This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there!
We were crammed into a hospital room when I finally spilled my guts to my dad.
I’d been wanting to talk to him for a long time now—my husband and I were in the process of making a big decision and it didn’t feel right to do it without asking his opinion first. But he’d just had open heart surgery and I had barely come up for air, after sinking to the deep end of my fear of losing him.
This felt right. This felt good. I needed his advice and I was so thankful I could ask for it.
So I told him the story. Beginning to end. My husband sat next to me, filling in any details I left out. I felt so safe, even crammed into that stuffy white-washed room; even with the faint smell of chicken and fluorescent lights burning overhead.
My dad listened. He’s a psychologist. That’s what he does.
photo: Lei ♥ [foto SOOC], Creative Commons
When we both finished, we paused and took a breath, and looked at him. This was the good part. He was going to tell us exactly what to do. I just knew it.
“It sounds like you’re in a really tough situation,” my dad said. “But I’m sorry, I’m not going to tell you what to do.”
“I know you want my advice,” he told us. “But you don’t need it.”
My heart sank. I wanted so desperately for someone to tell me the “right” thing to do so that I could be sure I was doing it. I wanted him to point out something we had missed, whatever it was that made this whole thing seem so murky and confusing. I wanted him to take what was gray to me and make it black and white.
Instead he told us that, sometimes, with difficult circumstances, there are only difficult answers. And that no matter what he supported us. He believed in us.
And yet, at the same time I felt sad my dad wasn’t giving me the answers I was looking for, I also felt empowered and honored. It was like he was saying, “Sure, I’ve lived more years than you, and if I saw any major red flags, I’d tell you.
But the truth is—your wisdom comes from the same place as my wisdom. You need to learn to trust yourself.”
Here’s the crazy part: When I took his advice—when I did what I felt in my gut was right—things didn’t fall apart like I was worried they would. In fact, they turned out pretty good. They weren’t perfect, by any means, but they’re still unfolding and I’m still learning and growing and I’ll know even better next time.
Ever since, I can’t help but wonder if this advice—the non-advice—is the best advice my dad ever gave me. It makes me want to give the same gift when others come to me asking for direction or input; and it makes me want to think twice before I ask someone to make a decision for me I should be making for myself.
“Should I quit my job?”
“Am I ready to get married?”
“Should I get a masters degree?”
“Where should I go to college?”
Because there is no better gift than learning to trust yourself, and that gift can only come with time and practice; and because I wouldn’t have gotten that practice without that little push from my dad. I just want to keep reminding myself: “Difficult circumstances only have difficult answers, but…”
So if you’re facing a difficult decision right now and you aren’t sure what to do, let me give you some advice:
What I think isn’t nearly as important as what you think. The “right” answer isn’t nearly as important as learning to trust yourself. Listen to yourself. Make the best decision you know how. Get feedback, definitely, but also lean into your choices and to your consequences, trusting that the outcome is not a fixed point in history. It’s slowly unfolding over time.
If you’ll stop for just a minute, you probably know the right thing to do, don’t you?
Now you just have to do it.