post written by: Marc Chernoff
When Less Advice is the Best Advice
The subject of her email reads “CRISIS.” I could tell she hastily wrote it in a state of desperation, since it’s filled with misspellings, flighty run-on sentences, and profanity. A premise of self-doubt bleeds from every single line. All of which caught me off-guard, because it isn’t like her to be so pessimistic.
Lost at 25
Like most college freshman, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. But during our sophomore year, she developed a love for mathematics and chose her major accordingly. She scored so well in her undergraduate math classes that the university offered her a full scholarship to their master’s degree program. She gladly accepted. And just last year, while working as an assistant math professor, she decided to pursue her Ph.D.
She told me she loved her work. She actually used the phrase “life is good” last time I saw her. I remember this because it made me smile. But that was 4 months ago… and apparently things have changed since then.
Now she says she wasted 6 years of her life. Because she doesn’t want to be a mathematician anymore. But she doesn’t know what she wants. She just says she feels alone, confused, and lost at 25.
I Stay Silent
I meet her at a local pub. There’s already an empty cocktail glass on the bar in front of her. And she has dark bags under her glassy eyes. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days. But when she sees me, she smirks and gives me a hug.
Without delay, she spills her heart, and some tears, about everything. Emotions pour out of her for nearly 30 minutes. And I listen. She says she’s lonely and unhappy. She says her and her boyfriend just broke up. And she’s sure she ruined it, because she didn’t spend enough time with him. Because she was busy with mathematics… teaching it, grading it, and studying for more of it. She pleads for some advice.
I tell her to slow down, to breathe, and to listen to herself and find herself. Not the self that’s in a panic, or emotionally absorbed in a failed relationship. But the self that loves mathematics, and her students, and is proud to be an independent woman… free to seek new directions. She asks me how. “How do I find that self again? How do I reestablish my direction?”
And there’s so much I want to say. Because I want to give her real, logical advice that will enable her to find what she so desperately seeks. But I stay silent. And she stares into my eyes, patiently waiting and anticipating the advice I’m about to dispense.
Instead, I reach for her hand and maintain my silence. As I’ve lived long enough to know that, other than telling her to slow down and breathe, there’s no logical advice to give. Because sometimes life defies logic, especially in delicate personal situations like the one she’s dealing with now.
I’ve seen young, rocky relationships develop into wonderful marriages, and fleeting inspirations ignite a lifetime of passion and happiness. Our life stories, like the answers we give to long essay questions, are uniquely ours. What she wants to know is already somewhere inside of her. She just needs time to think, and be, and breathe… And continue to explore the undirected journeys that will eventually help her find her direction.
Photo by: Light Knight