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Advising III


Hemingway instructed writers to write about fishing in highly specialized language. The more specialized and specific, the greater the credibility. He didn't advise writers to make up terminology or to fake expertise. Rather, he suggested that taking the time to really learn the lexicon of an obscure (but compelling) art could provide a shortcut to a writer winning deep credibility with a reader.

So I wold talk about the virtues of sans serif versus serif fonts. I would talk about specific tactics related to margins and the spare use of bolds to emphasize certain information. In presentations about interview skills, I would -- before talking about the most important material (the stuff I really needed folks to focus on and trust me about) -- talk about knit versus woven ties. It had very little to do with the substantive commentary. But it had everything to do with building the credibility necessary with the audience to make them pay attention to the stuff that really mattered.

I suppose it all leaves me open to the accusation that there was something snake-oily about the advice that I was providing. That its provision was always predicated on a kind of performance. Of course, I could slip right out of that, snake oil or no, by asserting that any presentation of information for the sake of making an argument constitutes a kind of performance. There's no way around that assertion, I think. And if my intentions were good (I really did want these kids to get jobs, to feel worthy of the praise and wages of whatever company they thought would best leverage their services), then was I guilty of manipulation in any kind of truly nefarious sense?

They left my office, they left the auditoriums in which I spoke, feeling better about themselves more often than not. I'll take that outcome every time.

Now. As to the question of whether this confidence (and improvement in self-valuation) was warranted -- whether it was something that meant these same individuals really did have a better shot at securing employment or admission to top graduate programs, or whatever -- I would not look anyone in the eye and say that it was warranted every single time. No. I couldn't do that.

It got them through the day, though. And another thing that I realized in my capacity as a lone advisor and voice of reason was that helping someone get through the day could be an act of holiness. Of grace. Get someone through the day, and do so without comment to oneself on their capacities to survive in general. Help them find the reserve to get back to the content of their daily routine and work. And I will say: yes, you did that person a service worth the investment of their time, energy, and gratitude. You can sleep well knowing that their burden was eased for a little while.

I guess. Most of the time I just drove home in the sleet and the snow and the rain and hoped that they didn't think I was faking all of it.