I was 14 years old, sitting in the college canteen across my best friend, Bee, on a spring afternoon in London. She was telling me about the latest fight she had with her boyfriend, and I, the sage teenageress, was about to drop some hard #WinnieWisdom.
“Go to his class and stand outside the door for 38 seconds,” I said.
“Why 38 seconds?” Bee asked.
“Thou shalt not question. Thou shalt do as told.”
The last bit was added for dramatic flair, of course. I think what actually happened is I just told Bee to trust me. To trust the completely arbitrary number I plucked from the air and decided was the appropriate length of time for her to wait for him.
But it worked. He came out at second 35. And they lived happily… for the next couple of months, at least.
I don’t remember when I became that friend that you always turn to for advice, or when I became aware that I had a knack for giving advice. But I know I’ve always enjoyed listening to people’s problems.
When I was younger, I think what I actually enjoyed was problem-solving: I liked coming up with solutions, I liked figuring out what to do next.
I also really liked telling people what to do. And I liked being right.
The emotional payoff that comes when you advise people, and they follow it, and things work out for them – it’s twofold: I feel good because I helped my friend, and I feel good because I was right! It’s super addictive.
As I got older and more confident with my “wisdom dispenser”, I took for granted that I always knew the right thing to do. And I got a bit self-righteous with it.
I became the friend that would call out your crap, and I didn’t sugarcoat anything – you knew what you would get if you came to me. I was blunt, and I’d tell you what you didn’t want to hear.
While I still believe that kind of honesty is a good quality to have in a friend, the problem was that I was judgey with it. I held a black and white view of morality, and I was impatient with people who made choices I couldn’t relate to.
It’s easy to sit on your high horse and judge people for the choices they make in situations you’ve never had to face yourself. It’s even easier to look down when you have been in a similar situation but you did the right thing, while the other person did not.
That was me. I prided myself on always knowing and doing the right thing. Until the time came that I didn’t do the right things. And that gave me an entirely new perspective.
I’ve done things I’m not proud of, things I haven’t atoned for.
I crossed lines I never thought I would. And I’ve struggled, with feelings of guilt and shame. And sometimes, I didn’t struggle at all. There were times when doing the wrong thing came easy, which makes it even worse.
The good thing that came out of all that, is that I got a lot better at listening to people’s problems. Because now, I listen with empathy and compassion. I know what it feels like to be down, so what I’m interested in, is creating a space where you can be vulnerable and feel safe. I’m not interested in being right or telling anyone what’s right anymore, I’m interested in figuring out, together, what’s right for you.
Life is designed to test you, and you’re not always going to pass. Once I fell off my high horse, I realised that it’s not about passing every test. Nobody passes every test. So, life is just as much about what you do when you fail, when you take the wrong steps.
I believe a mistake can be a wonderful thing if you end up in a better place. But we hold the responsibility in our own lives to figure out how we get there. How do we elevate ourselves from what we’ve experienced? How do we build instead of break down?
Through my Winnie Wisdom column, this is what I hope to help you with: figuring things out; being someone you can share your problems with, especially if you lack a support system in your life; and being someone who’ll listen, without prejudice.
Tiwin Aji is a Brunei-based comedienne known for her popular web series, #WinnieonWednesday. Equipped with empathy and a preternatural knack for doling out advice, she discovered at a young age that she loved telling people what to do.
If you’d like to get her take on your dilemma, fill out the contact form below or email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reader-submitted questions will be published fortnightly in the ‘Winnie Wisdom’ column. All submissions will remain anonymous.