Intrusive Advising

I came across an article this week that caught my eye. In particular, the headline brought a tinge of pain to the pit of my stomach.

The term intrusive advising sounds and feels so heavy-handed, and in my opinion, a blatant example of how we actually injure (disempower) and insult people, all under the guise of “helping” them.

Intrusive is, well, intrusive.  Intrusiveness communicates the patriarchal sentiment: “I know better than you”, and is a form of institutional and inter-personal bullying.

My daughter, who is a college junior, brought up the point to me recently, when she received several unsolicited emails from her advisor.  She has a complicated medical condition and therefore experiences challenges from time to time.  She was taken aback when her advisor expressed his “deep concern” that she had received a C, rather than an A, on a biology course. He even suggested she change her major!

In his desire to ensure “academic retention and graduation rates”, he essentially insulted and infuriated my daughter– and unfortunately, she is now less likely to ever seek council from him.

As someone who has spent a great deal of time in the helping professions, it is clear how this happens and the mentality that enables it. I’ve been guilty of this myself, so have learned the hard way that over-helping is actually not helpful at all. It is intrusive at best, and abusive at worst.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of well-meaning individuals trying to “help me”, but who never stopped to ask my permission or consent. They honestly “thought” they were helping. And therein lies the flaw; the egoic “thinking” and mentality that we somehow know better about someone’s life, work, life ambitions, studies, art, relationships, fill-in-the-blank, than they themselves do.  Arrogant? Ignorant? Yes.

What can we do instead to support student success? For starters, I suggest abandoning the term (well, unless universities do in fact wish to be “intrusive”).

Language matters. Respect matters, too. If we want to help students and truly assist in facilitating the perilous journey of higher education, then we must approach it from this space. The terms partnership advising or collaborative advising express a professional inter-dependence, versus a one-sided and therefore pathological dynamic that requires an “intruder”.

One of the best and most coherent voices to ever express the importance of respecting those you wish to help, comes from Ernesto Sirolli, who in his 2012 TEDTalk inspired and implored to those who wish to help others to “shut up and listen!”

Which would you choose?

Grand Canyon, 2010

There is a perilous, jagged, and crooked path that affords the richest, deepest and most expansive views of this life and world.

There is a straight, safe, and secure path which enables the most basic understanding of the human condition.

Which would you choose?

If given a choice, no one in their right mind would likely pick the perilous path. Most of us are rather content with the straight, safe and secure. Often times, however, we are not given a choice about which path we must traverse. Especially when love is directing our course.

Parents of chronically ill children have been “places” most would rather not go. However, the love of our children will take us places most would rather avoid; from impassioned conversations about quality of life, to human rights, to comparative religion and philosophy, to death.

When my daughter said to me, “I would rather live 3 good years, than live another 20 like this”, it stopped me cold in my own tracks. What are we really trying to do? Should we “fight” or should we “yield”? These are questions that only a soul can answer.

More than once I’ve been told by very well meaning people: “You have such a hard life!”, “I can’t imagine how I would handle what you deal with on a daily basis!”. I politely nod, because clearly, they’ve not traversed the crooked, jagged path of life– or perhaps they are unaware they actually have and that there is suffering in every life. Cancer patients know this. Recovered addicts know this. Artists know this. People who contend with mental health issues know this, too.

Only those who are awake and aware, intimately know the grace and the depth of understanding that comes from the most expansive and heart-opening life hikes. No truer is the adage “there are no short-cuts to any place worth going,” than in matters related to quality of life and death. We either go “kicking-and-screaming”, or in faith and grace– but it’s okay to totally do both.


Whenever I spend time at the hospital with my daughter, (which is several times a year due to her cystic fibrosis), it allows time for deeper reflection and work. It also allows me the opportunity to practice and live out the notion of true collaboration in the service of another.

My daughter’s healthcare team are a rare breed of humans. From her pulmonologist Heather, to her beyond-the-beyond loving nurses Peggy & Michelle, as well as the temporary team of angels who take care of my daughter, everyone is focused on a singular and loving goal; the restoration and care of a precious 17-year old young woman….which got me thinking an awful lot this morning about cooperation and competition.

As a business student and professional, the term “competitive advantage” was drilled into our heads for good reason.

Today, in my work as a social marketer and educator, along with all the creative manifestations of my work in community health education & promotion, I use the term to teach the notion of “differentiation” in a product or service; e.g. what makes you different? special? stand-out?

While all of this is good to know and have a handle on, what is also good for you and others to know is what is your “cooperative-advantage”, in other words, in what ways and to what degree do you cooperate to advance mutual goals in your work, field, and in life?

To those who still embrace, and believe, that the only way to do business is through a rigid adherence to paternalistic and patriarchal models, the notion of cooperation will sound utterly absurd. “If I help you, then surely I will lose.”

To those who embrace the ideals of the “new professional” (Parker J. Palmer’s term), the “21st century leader” (Jeff Brunson’s term) or the “soulful leader” (Crystal Pirri’s and my term), cooperation is the only way to true success in work and in life.

What differentiates my daughter’s healthcare team from others in the area? It is not only what they do well (they are indeed experts in their respective domains), but in the way they do it.…and that surely is another post, for another day.

What will you gain when you work and serve others from a cooperative versus a competitive position?

Everything you need or want. Everything.

Soul Proprietor

About a year ago, I had a session with the highly insightful and lovely, Sarah Weiss.  While our session was generally related to personal and medical matters, she shared some details about my forthcoming work that left me both comforted and confused. In practical terms, I was doing what I needed to be doing. However, from another perspective (the spiritual one), I was only scratching the surface of what I came to earth to do.

“Crap” was my initial thought. This, then followed by the deep calm of awareness when someone reminds you of what you already know…and a promise I had made to my dad before his passing.

In all ways, this blog, this website, and my work going forward is about just that; how do I align my own soul, with my work, and the way I serve in the world.

Not everyone needs, nor wants to have their own business, that is a given. But even within the confines of someone else’s company, or public organization, large or small, there lives an opportunity to bring a degree of heart and soul into work.  Our organizations and companies need this. Our schools need this. Our families need this too.

To me, doing anything else but living in alignment with my heart and soul feels like an act of aggression (a mild form of violence) against myself and therefore others. Many of my colleagues at Soul Publishing Group have felt this, too.

No one can tell you what is right for you. No one. Anyone who tells you they know better than you, is ultimately fooling themselves and are simply showing you their own ignorance and arrogance. Trust your soul and only your soul.

Living in alignment with your truth does not guarantee an easy life. In fact, getting there can feel a little daunting. You will mess up. You will confound others. But ultimately, you will be free.