#33 Getting Good at Taking Bad Advice
I was listening to Don’t Ask Tig, a new comedy advice podcast from comedian Tig Notaro. If you don’t know who Tig Notaro is, what have you been doing with your life? You can check her stuff out here:
Anyway, she recently asked listeners “What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?” I’ve definitely gotten some questionable advice in my life including, “you should definitely buy a beach condo at the top of the market mere months before the housing crisis of 2008.” But here’s one that really stands out.
Back in 2005, my company hooked me up with an executive coach to work on my “executive presence”* and to help me prepare for a temporary relocation to Tokyo. The Tokyo gig was a really big deal for me and my company, so I was pretty nervous and willing to accept any and all help and advice as my move date approached.
The coach was a white woman in her late 50s who looked as though she might have won the Miss Dairy Farm pageant in High School before marrying an oil tycoon. She took one look at me and imparted her first piece of advice: “Don’t wear glasses. Glasses steal your beauty.”
Glasses Bad. Noted.
Eat shit, Coach!
When our sessions turned to the topic of my upcoming relocation, the coach admitted that she had never been to Japan or worked with any Japanese people. Eventually, I’d come to assume that she’d never even met a Japanese person. But she’d “done some research” that told her that I should “never wear the color red. It agitates the men.”
No red. Let me just write that down.
Her most important piece of advice for me was this:
“You are 35 years old and unmarried which is almost unheard of in Japan.** Your male co-workers will think it’s very odd.*** So, you should get yourself an inexpensive gold band and wear it on your left hand. That will avoid any uncomfortable situations.”
Pretend I’m married. Check.
I asked her what I should do if anyone asked me about my nonexistent husband. Not to worry! Apparently “the Japanese are very private people and never ask personal questions at work.”
I moved to Tokyo and, thankfully, did not follow her advice because it turns out that Japanese people (like everyone else on the planet) are nosy as fuck. They asked me every personal question you can imagine† so I would definitely have had to create an entire fake marriage and probably hire someone to act as my husband since it would be EVEN WEIRDER to have moved all the way Tokyo and left him behind. (Come to think of it, maybe I should have taken that advice. That would have made for a madcap summer!)
On reflection, better advice might be to 1) Don’t be an asshole and 2) Don’t take advice from assholes.
I did OK in Tokyo. Made great friends. Wore a yukata. Ate water ice.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
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*In my boss’s defense, my go-to work style was sneakers and t-shirts with irreverent sayings on them. My favorite was a black tank top emblazoned with “I hate you. Stop crying.”
**Not true. In 2005, about 50% of women in their 30s were unmarried in Japan.
*** They did not.
†Once the office gals got used to me, one of them even asked me what Americans call “poop.’ Thanks to me there are a number of ladies walking around calling it “number 2.”