BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Advice for the Modern Man: A Weekly Column

George Costanza

Just out of college, my friends and I went out on weekends, because there were no girls in our apartments. There were girls at the bars, even if none of them talked to us.

To change that, my friend, Ryan, proposed an unconventional tactic: What if we sat at an empty table, and on top of it placed a sign that said, “Advice”? If we couldn’t approach girls, maybe we could get girls to approach us.

Over a decade later, I can’t decide if this was a good idea or not. And I’ll never know, because we never tried it. Instead, we mocked Ryan and kept leaning against the wall.

But I never have forgotten that idea, and I wonder what might’ve been. Then I wonder if I can still find out. Not so I can meet girls (I’m happily married), but so I can actually help people. Is there a way I could try it without being the old, creepy dude at the bar?

What if I wrote an advice column?

*****

I started college as a psychology major. A semester of biopsychology ended that endeavor. Journalism, it was.

Still, human behavior never stopped fascinating me. Why do we feel the way we feel? What drives our thoughts and actions? How do we affect change in ourselves?

In hopes of answering these questions and others, I’m now summoning the courage that evaded me years ago in that bar.

This is my “Advice” sign, in the form of a weekly column.

How is this going to work? It’ll be an experimental process to be sure, but we’ll cover whatever’s confounding the modern man, from relationships and romance to social etiquettes and Seinfeldian conundrums.

So…whether you’re stuck in a rut or in need of a second opinion, please submit any question on any topic through this brief Google form. Submissions are anonymous, even to me.

Not convinced I’m worthy? (And why would you be?) To prove what I can offer, below is a sample question I asked of myself, about myself.

I’m not only this column’s author, I’m also a client…

I’m a writer, and while I have a satisfying day job, I’d like to use my spare time to progress my personal work — to expand my portfolio, maybe write a book. But whenever I try to get going, I get sidetracked by anxiety (and random Kardashian shows). Suggestions for breaking this pattern?
Sy Sperling, Houston, TX

I live with low-level angst that readily accelerates into something more. The sweating, the tensed-up shoulders, the somersaulting stomach — these symptoms have convinced me anxiety is an adversary.

But recently I’ve realized that, at its core, anxiety is anything but. It’s altruistic. It doesn’t attack but protect, like a personal Defense Department.

You get anxious in a dark alley. Why? Because you sense danger. That’s a good thing.

The problem, though, is that anxiety has an unsophisticated definition of danger. It interprets getting in the ring with Ivan Drago as being as “dangerous” as having nothing to say to someone at a party — meaning it’s up to you to make sense of it. Are these alarm bells in response to an exterior threat or an internal idiosyncrasy?

In 2013, when I was contemplating pursuing a long-held dream — caddying at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort — there was plenty to be anxious about: quitting my job, giving up my health insurance, renting a basement with taxidermic decor.

I was terrified, and my anxiety forced me to evaluate the opportunity to ensure I could handle it. Again, this was a good thing.

Once I determined I could is when things got tricky, though. Out of nowhere, I began questioning if I even wanted to pursue the opportunity. I’d dreamt of caddying for seven years, yet here I was on the brink, and suddenly I’d lost interest? I was confused.

Until I realized it was the anxiety. The anxiety had failed stopping me with taunts of unemployment and stuffed deer, so it recast itself as a lack of interest. If airstrikes aren’t working, send in ground troops.

Thankfully I kept pushing, which resulted in a life-changing experience in Oregon. But I only was able to follow through because I was able to diagnose the anxiety. It wasn’t warning me of a harmful situation; it was illuminating a fear that needed overcoming.

The best thing I could do was run toward the anxiety, not away.

For better or worse, anxiety is alway going to be there. The key is learning to identify and manage it. For that, three suggestions:

First, if an anxiety-inducing situation keeps surfacing (i.e. caddying at Bandon Dunes), it’s surfacing for a reason — it’s something you need to pursue/solve/learn from. You’ve repeatedly thought of writing more; that means you need to write more.

How do you write more? Structure. Structure can be anxiety’s kryptonite. It sets boundaries, demands discipline and promotes consistency, breaking down the overwhelming into the manageable. For a writer, it can be anything from writing at a specific time each day to imposing attainable deadlines.

Once that structure’s in place, start. You want to write more? Start writing more. That’s not patronizing, that’s the only way it’s going to happen.

That’s also the hardest thing to do, because if you’re like I am, the starting gates are where the anxiety is its strongest. Lean on your structure — “I write every day at 6 p.m.” — and soon you’ll have a new habit.

A writer’s success is tied to his exposure and audience, and the way to grow both is to identify a void, then fill it consistently so readers know when and where to find you. I browsed some of your articles. The turmoil, the discussions, the insights — they read like the transcript of my last therapy session.

Have you considered writing an advice column?

This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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