Just out of college, my friends and I went out on weekends, because there were no girls in our apartments. There were at the bars, even if none of them talked to us.
To change that, my friend, Ryan, proposed an unconventional tactic: What if we sat at an empty table, and on top of it placed a sign that said, "Advice"? If we couldn't approach girls, maybe we could get girls to approach us.
More than a decade later, I can't decide if this was a good idea or not. Like most concepts, I'd assume it'd be judged by its results -- results we'll never know, because we never tried it. Instead, we mocked Ryan and kept leaning against the wall.
But I never have forgotten that idea, and I wonder what might've been. Then I wonder if I can still find out. Not so I can meet girls, because I'm happily married, but so I can actually help people. Is there a way I could try it without being the old dude at the bar?
What if I wrote an advice column?
I started college as a psychology major. A semester of biopsychology ended that endeavor. Journalism, it was.
Still, human behavior never stopped fascinating me. Why do we feel the way we feel? What drives our thoughts and actions? How do we affect change in ourselves?
In hopes of answering these questions and others, I'm now summoning the courage that evaded me years ago in that bar.
This is my "Advice" sign, in the form of a weekly column.
How is this going to work? It'll be an experimental process to be sure, but ideally we'll cover everything from relationships and romance to social etiquettes and Seinfeldian conundrums. My goal will be to publish it each Friday, answering as many questions as possible.
So... if you're interested, please submit any question on any topic -- unless its solution requires a microscope or toolbox -- by clicking on this very basic Google form.
Submissions are anonymous, even to me. Go nuts concocting your screen name.
Full disclosure: Outside of two semesters of intro psych classes, I have no formal training or advanced pedigree. My brother is a rabbi, though, and my mom has referred to me as an "old soul."
Not convinced I'm worthy? (And why would you be?) To prove what I can offer, below is a sample question I asked of myself, about myself.
I'm not only this column's author, I'm also a client...
Q: I'm a writer, and while I have a satisfying day job, I'd like to use my spare time to progress my personal work -- to expand my portfolio, maybe write a book. But whenever I try to get going, I get sidetracked by anxiety (and random Kardashian shows). Suggestions for breaking this pattern?
-- Sy Sperling, Houston, TX
A: I won't touch the medical aspects of anxiety and its disorders. That's for the pros. What I will do is give my elementary interpretation of it.
I live with low-level angst that readily accelerates into something more. The sweating, the tensed-up shoulders, the somersaulting stomach -- these symptoms have led me to view anxiety as an adversary.
But in time I've come to realize that, at its core, anxiety has altruistic intentions. Its purpose isn't to attack but to protect, like your own Defense Department. You get anxious in a dark alley. Why? Because you sense danger. That's good.
The problem, though, is that anxiety has an unsophisticated definition of danger. Getting in the ring with 1988 Mike Tyson can elicit the same anxious reaction as having nothing to say to someone at a party -- meaning it's up to you to discern its meaning. Are these alarm bells in response to an exterior threat or an internal idiosyncrasy?
When I was contemplating caddying at Bandon Dunes, there was plenty to be anxious about -- quitting my job, giving up my health insurance, renting a basement with taxidermic decor. I was terrified, and my anxiety forced me to evaluate the opportunity to ensure I could handle it.
Once I determined I could is when things got tricky. I began questioning if I even wanted to pursue the experience. This was out of left field. I'd dreamt of caddying for seven years, yet here I was on the brink, and suddenly I'd lost interest? I was confused.
Until I realized it was the anxiety. The anxiety had failed stopping me with taunts of unemployment and stuffed deer, so it recast itself as a lack of interest. If airstrikes aren't working, send in ground troops.
Thankfully I kept pushing, which resulted in my incredible experience in Oregon. I was able to do this because I was able to diagnose the anxiety. It wasn't warning me of a harmful situation; it was illuminating a fear that needed overcoming. The best thing I could do was run toward the anxiety, not away.
For better or worse, anxiety is alway going to be there. The key is learning to identify and manage it. For that, three suggestions:
First, if an anxiety-inducing situation keeps surfacing (i.e. caddying at Bandon Dunes), it's surfacing for a reason -- it's something you need to pursue/solve/learn from. You've repeatedly thought of writing more; that likely means you need to write more, not DVR DASH Dolls.
How do you write more? Structure. Structure can be anxiety's kryptonite. It sets boundaries, demands discipline and promotes consistency, breaking down the overwhelming into the manageable. For a writer, it can be anything from writing at a specific time each day to imposing attainable deadlines.
Once that structure's in place, start. You want to write more? Start writing more. That's not patronizing, that's the only way it's going to happen. That's also the hardest thing to do, because if you're like I am, the starting gates are where the anxiety is its strongest. Lean on your structure -- "I write every day at 6 p.m." -- and soon you'll have a new habit.
A writer's success is tied to his exposure and audience, and the way to grow both is to identify a void, then fill that void consistently so readers know when and where to find you. I browsed some of your articles. The turmoil, the discussions, the insights -- they read like the transcript of my last therapy session.
Have you considered writing an advice column?
To submit a question for this column, please complete this Google form.