I Know How To Swim: On Unsolicited Advice + Other People’s Opinions

I Know How To Swim: On Unsolicited Advice + Other People’s Opinions

Community Love Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration Shift Of Power Work


I don’t usually write these kinds of things, but I’m staring at my computer screen blankly in the middle of a Maison Kayser with a too-pretty-to-drink splurge coffee in front of me while I wait for my laundry to be done at the local laundromat and this seems like a good place to start. It usually is.

When I started WANT, I made it very clear that this was not my personal blog. WANT isn’t even a blog at all – it’s a brand, a platform, part of which includes my work as a writer and activist when it comes to what it means to be a fully self-actualized woman in this world. I present personal work, I never work through personal work. It’s irresponsible of me to use this space as a venting ground or pretend like I’ve got answers about things that I don’t. It’s not my job to drag you down into the muck of my struggles. It IS my job to be fiercely honest and use my personal experiences to help lift you up into the you you know you’re meant to be.

And yet. And yet. Sometimes something comes along that is so grating, so disrespectful, and so widespread that I can’t just sit here quietly and watch it happen to literally every single woman I know. Because choosing to be a writer, artist, activist, and truth-teller means that you also choose to be someone who stands up.

I turned 30 this year. I’ve been living with my boyfriend for almost three years now. I’ve made my reflex (writing) my career (writer). I’ve moved across the country. I’m closer to 50 than I am to 5. I found six grey hairs this October.

Apparently, when you hit certain milestones in life – whether an age or life stage – it’s deemed acceptable (dare I say obligatory?) for others to grill you about your life choices. You know the questions. So when are you getting married? So do you want to have kids? Where do you see yourself in five years? And then, there are the questions you get as a creative: Have you thought about monetizing your “blog” yet? How do you make a living? Aren’t you worried about financial security? But what else do you do? Isn’t it time you joined the real world already? You know, I know a guy…

It’s not just the questions that start to roll in, it’s the opinions and advice along with them. You’re not getting any younger. You’re going to regret it. You don’t know what you’re saying. You should try this other thing. I’ve got a friend of a friend who does this and says that, so maybe you should make that happen. Have you thought about making that happen?

On behalf of all women everywhere (because it also seems as if women get this wonderful privilege of their lives being publicly owned property to own stock in) I’d like to say:





I’ve had to learn the hard way (is there any easy way?) that knowing thyself doth not make you immune to others assuming that they doth know better. Marriage, kids, career, location, LIFE. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought the key to living a life free of worry and judgement was to know myself so well that being anyone else was out of the question. But as I grew older – especially as I started to inch toward the big three-zero – I realized something bizarre: for as much as we tout self-knowledge and fulfillment in theory, our society still views the individual opinion as a threat. After all the books and memes and self-help podcasts, we’re still out there judging our women for not following a path that looks familiar to our own. Just like recognizing one woman’s beauty does not lessen yours, one woman following her own path does not invalidate you following yours.

And yet. And yet. We preach the self-love gospel and urge each other to follow the beat of our own drum while at the same time judging the way we do it. We tell our kids from a very young age to trust their gut and “be themselves,” but with no guidebook to do so, we’re left with the daunting task of becoming human and becoming whole. It’s no wonder the quarter life crisis, mid-life crisis, Saturn Return, et al have become so widely embraced by our culture. We’re trying to teach ourselves to swim, while simultaneously trying to follow the directions of the people who aren’t in the water, yelling at us from the shore. We’re drowning in opinion.


The most baffling thing is how at ease others are at asking the questions or forcing the discussion of topics that are usually saved as “serious conversation” topics between the people they directly affect.

Before this relationship, I was single for five years. Five years. Contrary to what others might tell you about singledom, they were some of the best five years of my life. I got to know myself in a way I never had before. I honed my passions and found new ones. I became, for the most part, the person I am now. I think everyone should spend a good deal of time single, because it is the very best way to learn who you are at the end of the day. I loved that process.

And yet. And yet. My inbox was flooded with messages from extended-extended-extended family members trying to set me up with their rich friend’s son. While I was finding my way in the editorial world, the number one question I got was whether I was dating or not. And when I began teaching fitness classes and was really, truly figuring out what I was meant to do and give, I will never forget the family friend who instead of asking questions about why I loved it or what I was learning, grilled me about what I wanted to do with my life and made a disapproving comment about how I “wasn’t going to be an ‘exercise girl’ for the rest of” my life. During a time when I was becoming increasingly self-confident and self-expressed, that comment shot through me and sent me sinking back into my own ocean of self-doubt.

Now, the comments and questions look different. Questions about marriage. Questions about kids. Career “advice.”

Oh, the career “advice.”

On one hand, there are people who confuse my professional writing with a personal blog and like to make all kinds of assumptions/ask very intrusive and personal questions because of it. I think this happens across the board on the internet, whether it be a website, blog, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever: whereas the people I’ve met through the internet have become some of my closest, most treasured relationships, there are people who know me in real life who use what I share online to make assumptions about who I am offline.

On the other hand, there are people who think that running my own business and career is “cute.” They see it as an opportunity to crowd source how to run it best, a chance to tell me about their friend who does such-and-such and about how I should really try doing that instead. I guess that, for some people, it’s unthinkable that I’ve actually put deep thought and hard work into this. For some people, it’s laughable that I’m doing something real, that I’m making real change, and most of all – that I am in charge.

Amongst the female freelancers and entrepreneurs I’ve talked to (and I’ve talked to a lot), there is this common thread of not being taken seriously. Our professions are seen as hobbies, our work viewed as wishy-washy. And then, of course, when people don’t understand or exhaust their advice options, they jump straight to the questions that let you know they see your life as partially empty. So when you getting married? So when you having kids? The cycle repeats and repeats. So much energy wasted on convincing others we’re right where we need to be and we’ve got this.

The thing is, most people don’t believe they’re being judgy. They believe they’re sharing their knowledge, they believe they’re being supportive even. They believe they’re offering solutions, and they believe they’re letting you know they want the best for you. They believe they’re making conversation, sometimes. They believe they’re not imposing, and they believe they know where you are and where you’ve been. They believe they know.

But to the people who ask these questions: How much do YOU know? How much do you know, really?

That’s right.

You don’t.

When you ask a woman if she thinks her parter is “The One,” you have no idea if they’re floating on air or if they’re struggling to make each other a priority. When you ask a woman if she’s going to have kids, or worse, ask a married woman if “she’s trying” (which is basically just asking if she and her SO are doing it constantly, or going through the difficult and costly process of IVF or a surrogate – and don’t even get me started on all the questions and judgements that I’ve heard go along with adoption process), you have zero clue as to what kind of emotional baggage that brings up, or if she’s going through a miscarriage, or if she’s feeling distraught because she doesn’t really know if she wants kids yet and that sense of uncertainty scares the crap out of her. When you ask a woman where she wants to be in five years or tell her she should really turn her talent into her profession or comment about how she should be doing things differently, you might not realize she lays awake at night struggling to make ends meet or is busting her ass trying to make money at the thing she loves. You have NO CLUE how much work is or is not going on behind the scenes.

Here’s what I would love to say to these people:

Look. I know you care. I think you care. At least, I’d like to think you care. In an ideal world, we’d all care greatly about one another and support each others’ rise up into our own unquestionably unique life story. But the thing is, I know it’s not really that you care about me. It’s that you care about your relationship to the construct of me. I also know it’s easier to live vicariously through someone else’s experiences than completely own up to and focus on your own. I also know that you not treating these topics with the weight that I do – as in, they’re mine and mine alone – signals you do not respect my answer either way. You do not respect my answer, period. You’re simply hungry for information, hungry for ammo, craving the excitement of being “in the know” or in some cases “knowing better.” You want an in with me that I do not consent to giving to you.

How do you think asking about marriage makes us feel about this very personal, very private decision that WE have only discussed in a series of “serious conversations”? How do you think your attempts to get me paired off with your coworker’s nephew makes me feel about my ability to find love on my own? Do you know how much pressure I feel when you ask if I’m going to have kids, and when I say I’m unsure and you immediately try and “sway” my uterus and I into impending childbirth? Do you have any idea how many nos or non-responses I’ve received during the course of my career, or the late nights I’ve worked to push something out because I’m running a business, not a hobby?

Moreover, do you realize what a slight this is to me? Prying into how I live my life tells me you do not care about the decades I’ve spent getting to know myself and the person I strive to be. Prying into how I live my life tells me my self-knowledge does not matter. Imagine how it feels, after years and years of learning how to “be myself” and “trust my gut,” to be the subject of your prying questions, your assumptions, your unsolicited advice, and the subtext of it all telling me that I can be myself as long as I okay it with you first.


If you’re one of those people who cannot stop speculating or has this great idea or has “just got to ask” – DON’T. And no, “not asking” is not tiptoeing around anything or walking on eggshells. Just. Don’t.

Here’s what you can do: Ask other questions. Ask someone how they are in their head and heart. How are they physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

I promise you, if there’s information they want you to know, they’ll offer it up. But if they don’t, you’ve got to be comfortable with not knowing. And if you’re not comfortable NOT being what you consider to be in-the-know? You might do better by asking yourself why you DO need to be.

As a writer, I make my living (or at least a portion of it, for now) by sitting still and letting the entirety of me hit me like a tidal wave. I love nothing more than to sit alone, still and quiet, on a cloudy afternoon or late at night and use my HSPness to its fullest capacity. I’ve come to be such close sisterfriends with vulnerability that I simply call her Sheer Honest Living. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s me.

I will never stop exposing myself, my truths, and the truths of the world around me I so painstakingly explore and tune into. And yet…and yet. I will always share what is personal and never what is intimate. I will fiercely live my life the way I know how, because I’ve spent a lifetime learning how I function, and my public Sheer Honest Living in the personal realm gives no one permission to use my openness as their “in” to the intimate realm. I allow myself to be hit with the tidal wave because I know how to swim.

And to you reading this? You know how to, too. I know you do. You are a badass. You are a superstar. Whatever you are doing with your life, wherever you are in life, whoever you’re doing it with. I support you a zillion percent.


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The WANTcast, Episode 008: On Lessons From Rock Bottom + Listening As Service with Benjamin Mathes

The WANTcast, Episode 008: On Lessons From Rock Bottom + Listening As Service with Benjamin Mathes

Community the WANTcast

Yes, you read/saw that right.

Today’s WANTcast guest is...a dude.


Having men as a part of WANT has been in the gameplan from the beginning. But of course, I wanted to do it right. Not just anyone. Not just any time.

It’s a new year. The time is now.

Sometimes the person who needs to be heard the most is sitting right next to you -@bcmathes Click To Tweet

Ben is, without question, a dream guest and the perfect man to kick off this new year of brilliant WANT Women and Men. Not only were we able to kick off jamming about one of my favorite topics – gender and the beauty/strength in our innate differences – but we really went there when it comes to what happens when you hit what feels like rock bottom and where you go from there.
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We also talk service, judgement, how to forgive yourself when forgiveness feels hardest – and, as we get into his AMAZING organization Urban Confessional – why it is that listening is key to changing the world. I’ll just leave this here:

Heads up! We’re giving you a challenge at the end of this pod – comment below or hit us up on social media to add your voice to the mix.

You are going to love this. I am so proud of this conversation.


Play in new window | Download | Support the pod by shopping Amazon like normal (for real!)
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The difference between a boy and a man is accountability. -@bcmathes Click To Tweet

Show Notes:
Benjamin Mathes – website
Urban Confessional – website
Crash Acting – website
Thought Lozenges For Artists

CRASH Journal
Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds
Listen First Project


Like this episode? Shoot me a comment below, leave a review on iTunes (the more reviews, the more Ben’s message is spread), share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it on Instagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!
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Woman Against Negative Talk: What We Can All Learn From Miley

Woman Against Negative Talk: What We Can All Learn From Miley

Community Motivation + Inspiration WANT Women

My new M.O. is officially following my heart in every single decision I make, from what I write to how I act to where I go and what I do. Life is too short for choices that don’t compel you on a soul level (especially when there’s proof that your heart has always known best. Take a few minutes and think back – you’ll find your heart was always right).

So yeah. This week’s WANT Woman spotlight is a little different.

Today’s post is about Miley Cyrus.

photo credit: the happy hippie foundation

Last week, like most everyone else on the internet, I learned about the Happy Hippie Foundation (in case you don’t know, HHF is Miley’s new non-profit, which aims to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations. The official launch happened just last month, on May 5th, with the release of THIS video with Joan Freaking Jett.)

I don’t know her personally, but I do know a handful of people who have worked with her. And the general consensus is that Miley Cyrus is a rad human being. But there are photos; there are quotes. And after the six-degrees-of-separation that is the media, all the rest of us really know – or latch onto, at least – are images and heresay. In the good times and the bad. Around August 2013 was a “bad time.” This one’s a “good time.”

This young woman is a phenomenal example of our ability to not only make snap judgements, but change our opinions just as quickly.

What does this say about us?

Why are we so quick to judge?

Organizations like The Happy Hippie Foundation fill me with hope, and not necessarily for the reasons you’d expect. The HHF is making a difference by partnering with other organizations to ensure their mission is not only heard, but it comes to fruition. That’s AMAZING. But for me, organizations like Miley’s are proof that someone else notices. Their followers show me that people care. Celebrity philanthropists are proof that if you’re passionate enough about something, you can spin your visibility to work for something bigger than yourself. As Miley said to Ryan Seacrest after THIS, “If I’m going to be given this loud of a voice and this big of an image and this big of a platform and this huge of an opportunity to talk to young people in America right now, what am I really trying to say?”


Two things come to mind when I think about Miley’s phenomenal new non-prof:

DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER. As a pop-culture entrenched society, we prooobably wouldn’t expect that starting a non-profit aimed at helping some of our nation’s least fortunate youth would be Miley’s next move – but it is – so what does this say about us? It says that we’re not digging deep enough from the get-go. It says that we take snapshots of life as truth, and we equate a decision or photo or story with all kinds of assumptions we believe fit the part.

This is a young woman with an enormous heart and passion to give to something greater than herself. Why is it that some can’t get over the superficial, brand-related images or decisions just because they’re not necessarily images or decisions we’d choose to make? Isn’t it our hearts that matter most?

This judgement doesn’t stop with celebrities, obviously – it infiltrates our lives. We snapshot-judge each other like wild, especially as women. Arms too thin? She must have an eating disorder. Waist size too large? She must eat a lot of fast food. Waitress? She must not want to “live up to her potential” or even have potential at all. The way we infer from the exterior view is like choosing a hotel to stay in based on the doormat. How about the bedding, the amenities, the hospitality, the comfort?

EMPATHY FOR PRESIDENT. This part of the HHF Manifesto really struck a chord with me: “We know that the people sleeping on the sidewalk could have been us or our closest friends if our lives were just a little bit different. And the people we see sleeping on the sidewalk COULD be our friends if we gave them the chance.”

At the beginning of this year, I had the honor of being a mentor for a program run by Chrysalis, a local organization that helps empower those down on their luck by finding them employment. The program, aimed specifically at women, changed my life and changed the way I look at the people lingering down my street. I met girls who hand’t even hit their 20s yet and women who were well over “retirement” age. Some had homes. Some had families. Some were living on the street or out of their cars. I bonded with a few of the women on a pretty deep level. Once the program ended and they all graduated, it was I-kid-you-not like seeing a whole different set of women than two months prior. The difference in confidence and authentic expression was unbelievable.

One of the biggest takeaways I walked away with? We really are ALL the same. We all want to connect, we all want to love and be loved, we all want a sense of feeling safe being ourselves. Everyone has a unique voice and truth to add to the world, regardless of background, religion, race, “social status” or life experience. We are all so worthwhile. Sometimes people need a reminder of that.


photo credit: rolling stone
photo credit: rolling stone

How does this fit into the negative self-talk equation? It’s one and the same. Just like giving compliments can help us rewire our brains to speak kindly to ourselves, judging others builds up those self-talk muscles in our brains that talk down and judge ourselves.

To compare and not what’s dissimilar is in our nature as humans. It’s survival instinct – we are wired to take note of what’s not like us. Trouble is, many of us judge reactively. Judgement, just like Casual Negativity, becomes engrained in our vocabulary and our language.

That doesn’t mean that the judgement has to be the truth or the norm. It’s how we respond to that initial judgement and rework it – and eventually minimize it – that really matters.

photo credit: hhf facebook page
photo credit: hhf facebook page

When you find yourself in judgey mode, here’s how to check yourself and get in a better place. Ask yourself:

Acknowledge your thoughts and your words. Make it a habit to actually listen to yourself and your words/thoughts throughout the day. Many times, we’ll think or blurt out judgmental thoughts without realizing what we are saying. Just like Casual Negativity, judgement becomes automatic. And just like the H-word, judgement creates a fire inside you – it’s an easy way to feel something. When you catch yourself in judgey mode, recognize it – and then forgive yourself. Mistakes happen. You are only human.

Is what you’re saying actually true of this person or group of people? Do you know for a fact, or are you making assumptions because of previous behavior or even just “something you heard?” Try and distinguish if the opinion you’re forming is really yours, or one that you’ve picked up from someone or something, somewhere along the way.
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Maybe that person is being quiet not because she is a bitch, but because she is introverted or used to being talked down to and has accepted that as her truth. Maybe that person cut you off in traffic because he is racing to the hospital to catch the birth of his first child. Maybe someone made a certain decision because that is there way of trying to help, or solve a problem, or bond and connect.

Someone once told me that when it comes to road rage, to just imagine the person in the other car is my grandparent. How would I want my grandmother to be treated by others on the road? Her senses are dulled and she’s not as alert as she used to be, but she is just trying to get to where she needs to be the best way she can. Maybe that person you’re judging just has a different way of getting where they’re going than you would choose. Rack your brain for ways they might be just trying to figure things out their own way.

Did you know that 25% of homeless youth were previously physically or sexually abused? Did you know that nearly one in three transgender people have been turned away from shelters? Did you know that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT – and family rejection is the most common reason they experience homelessness? (all stats from The Happy Hippie Foundation site) Every single person has a story, and many, MANY circumstances, disorders, and differences are judged simply because people don’t take the time to practice empathy and read up. If you find yourself starting to judge, ask yourself if you know the full story. Then be the one who sets the example. If anyone can be one, WANT Woman, it’s you.

The incredible Brené Brown said, “We’re hard on each other because were using each other as a launching pad out of her own perceived deficiency.” Instead of focusing on the judgement of others, what can you do in your own life to proactively move yourself into the YOU you know you want to be? Again, just like negative self-talk and Casual Negativity, judgement of others is many times a placeholder, a distraction to focus on instead of achieving real growth within yourself.

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photo: hhf facebook page
photo: hhf facebook page

In the time I started to write this until now, I’ve seen/heard more and more articles, tweets, and soundbytes than I can count. Miley is being a force for good, and the world is getting on board. And I think…I honestly think those who judged her harshly in the past are right there with her. The people who might have judged the homeless teen might now be seeing him a little differently. I hope so.

Like I said, judgement of others and judgement of yourself is all interconnected. The more you start to recognize the nuances of others and appreciate their story and truth, the more you’ll do the same for yourself.
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You don’t have to agree all the time and you don’t have to like it – lordy knows we won’t always agree with or like what goes on with ourselves.

But I truly believe we can change the world with kindness, authenticity, and empathy. Inside and out. The way you do it is up to you.

You be the judge. 

We know that the people sleeping on the

To get involved with The Happy Hippie Foundation, click here.

Featured image credit: Rolling Stone

What’s one thing you can do TODAY to show kindness and empathy towards someone who crosses your path? Do it, then come here + leave a comment reporting back. I can’t wait to hear…