I’m not a person to boast, but one of my extraordinary talents is to find what other people are doing wrong before they even have a clue. I’d like to thank my parents, Irene and Vern, for their tireless mentoring of this magnanimous trait as I was growing up. Without their willingness to instruct by example, I might be waltzing through each day unaware of the shortcomings of my closest friends and colleagues.
I remember as a kid, when I’d be stuck in the back seat of our sedan, passing by the houses of neighbors, and my mom and dad would remark to each other about how wonderful it was to have Marv and Sally Foster right around the block, how they were dear friends and “the salt of the earth.” Silently, I would count to five before the “buts” began to fly: “but Sally is too busy gossiping at bridge club, and she overbids every hand.” Or, “but it’s a pity Marv stays in that dead-end job just so he can have his entire weekends free.”
Naturally, as an adult, I honed this skill that was passed down to me. At times, I can’t help but think how people really messed up according to the Book of Don. And I’m far worse than my parents because I feel the need to actually share my wisdom with the offending party. Of course, I attempt to do it in a loving, supportive way. I point out not only the errors to these people, but also offer little tips on how they could do something better, often while they are right in the midst of things, and feeling pretty good about themselves.
How has this approach worked out for me? Not so well. Sherry tells me to be silent the moment I start to get that special, knowing look on my face. If I am within striking distance, I receive physical cues to keep my “constructive” criticism deep inside my inner being. My friends—those who have stayed with me despite this character trait—are quick to let me know when my advice is neither requested, nor appreciated. Colleagues often exclude me from operational meetings in order to minimize the opportunity for me to butt in.
In conclusion, I want you, and all those I come in contact with, to know I’m attempting to get better. Please stop me whenever I start to give unsolicited advice.
But change is challenging. Like right now, I’m thinking you should read this message a second time in order to really get the benefits of—shhh…Don, just shut up!