Giving advice is an extremely underrated activity. You get to help people while sounding sort of wise, and you don’t have to do any of the actual work — you just listen to the issue, throw out some suggestions and return to your sandwich. It’s like helping someone move by sitting on the couch and supervising.
I made this discovery while writing a fairly regular (but extremely irregular) advice column at The Athletic over the last few years. “Dear Faux Pelini” was the brainchild of Stewart Mandel, the editor-in-chief of the college football section over there, who convinced me that what the world needed was an advice column from an angry fake football coach.
So I (well, Faux Pelini) began a weekly routine of sorting through emails and conjuring up recommendations for how people should live their lives. It turns out that to run an advice column you don’t need a license or experience or approval of any kind — you just need a keyboard and access to strangers who are willing to randomly share their problems.
Actually it’s not completely true that you don’t need any experience to write an advice column. You need a bunch of life experiences, preferably some that you regret, so that you can steer people away from the mistakes you made and the dumb things you did. People won’t listen, of course, because nobody likes to be told what to do, but it’s a fun charade. In that way it’s a lot like raising kids, except you don’t have to feed the strangers or help them with their homework.
Every letter I’ve posted on “Dear Faux Pelini” has been real and sent in by an actual person. Most of the questions have involved awkward dilemmas that sprung out of life’s daily annoyances (messy roommates, bad breakups, Jim Harbaugh), and I’ve tried to treat each submission with the respect (or lack thereof) that it deserves.
For example, the very first question I posted (back in September 2017) was this one:
Dear Faux Pelini,
I recently got engaged and my fiancée wants to have a fall wedding. Please help me convince her that Saturdays in the fall are for college football, not weddings.
I Don’t Want to Miss the Game
It seemed like a good place to start — a legitimate relationship issue with a college football twist.
Here’s part of my response:
I once had a cat that I liked very much. He was a loyal companion, a trusted friend, never bothered anybody. However, once in a while he did a very bad thing: he peed on the basement carpet. This made me angry, because cat pee smells and I didn’t want my basement to smell. I tried everything — I reasoned with him, stared him down, started rumors about him, called him hurtful names. Nothing worked.
Ultimately I made the decision to keep this cat, bad habit and all. And from that point forward it wasn’t really his fault when the basement carpet got peed on. He was just doing what he did, being who he was. I decided to keep him and his basement-peeing tendencies in my house, and therefore I had only myself to blame every time it happened after that. You can’t get mad at someone for being who he is; you can only decide to be with him or not…
Much of life is figuring out who to be mad at, and unfortunately many times the answer is YOU. You picked a fiancée who doesn’t understand that college football is the most important thing, and so of course she decided a fall wedding is fine. That’s who she is. But you are the one who picked her to be your wife. So don’t be mad at her, be mad at yourself. Or better yet, don’t be mad at yourself, and just shut up about it. There’s nothing more boring than a person who complains about his own decision.
In that first edition there were also questions about whether vegetarians should eat animal crackers and whether cereal counts as a soup. You get the idea.
As the months wore on, my inbox started to be peppered with more conventional requests for advice, like how to meet a mate or make a baby stop crying or get promoted at work. I told myself that anyone who sends a question to a fake football coach who resides on the internet probably isn’t facing a serious struggle, but I found that answering these “real” questions was more fun (even if I had no idea what I was talking about). My answers occasionally drifted into semi-serious territory, which probably made Stewart wonder what had happened to the supposedly funny column he had signed up for.
After the first year of dispensing advice I condensed the themes and takeaways from the column into a graduation speech, which is still free to read by clicking here.
Why am I telling you all this? Two reasons.
One, I think we should do some life advice in this space from time to time. A nice way for us to get to know each other better could be for you to share your personal problems with me, and then I’ll publicly make fun of you. A win/win!
And two, this gives me an excuse to post a question and response that I wrote last fall but never made it into The Athletic. See below.
So send your life problems/questions/issues to email@example.com and I’ll try to drop some wisdom in this space from time to time.
Here’s the unpublished Q&A I mentioned two sentences ago. We left it on the cutting room floor last fall, soon after the Miami Marlins hired their new General Manager, Kim Ng…
Dear Faux Pelini,
I don't really care that Kim Ng was hired as the first female Asian American baseball executive. Does that make me a bad person?
No! You’re not a bad person just because you don’t care about something. We all have a lot of stuff on our minds these days and we don’t have time to digest every piece of breaking news. You don’t need to apologize for not making time in your life to follow the Miami Marlins’ offseason moves.
But before I pronounce you Not a Bad Person, I need to know exactly why you don’t care about Kim Ng getting hired.
If you’re saying this news just doesn’t interest you, fine. Maybe you’re not into baseball in general or the Marlins in particular. Maybe during the fall you shut out all sports news not involving college football (I can relate to that).
But usually when a person truly isn’t interested in something, it doesn’t take up any space in his brain. When my neighbor’s kid makes the honor roll, honestly, I don’t care. But I also don’t call my brother to let him know how uninterested I am in the kid’s boring achievement. When you don’t care, you don’t care.
I think you do care a little bit about Kim Ng’s hiring, Blake. I mean, you took the time to write me an email announcing that you don’t care about it. I’m guessing you also don’t care about the offseason moves of the Texas Rangers or Chicago Cubs, but you didn’t email me about those. There’s something about this particular hire that you especially don’t care about.
What’s going on here? Were you hoping to land the Marlins’ GM job? Are you mad Derek Jeter didn’t even give you a call? Or are you annoyed that the world seems to want you to celebrate the hiring of the first female Asian American baseball executive, but you don’t really feel like it?
You are certainly not required to be excited about Kim Ng’s hire, Blake. This is still a free country and you can choose which teams to pull for.
But there are lots of people who do see this as a big deal. Women have been left out of baseball’s management structure for approximately infinity years, and Asian folks haven’t exactly had their pick of front office jobs. Lots of people are celebrating this new ground being broken, and because of that free country thing, you need to let them do that.
Don’t try to minimize their moment. When someone throws a parade, either jump in or get out of the way.
Are you Not a Bad Person, Blake? I don’t know you, so I’m not going to pass judgment here. But I do know that if you feel some discomfort in your belly when something good happens to a stranger, you should get that checked out. It might be what you had for lunch, or something more complicated.
Blake, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Hope your belly feels better.
See you all in the comment section.