I was at a New Year’s party. It was catered and servers were passing trays. Everything was really yummy, including the coconut shrimp. The poor guy, though, who kept approaching people with his shrimp plate. After a time, he got a lot of polite refusals.
As a parent and a person who works with young adults, sometimes I have something (knowledge, advice, guidance, usually not actual shrimp) that people should want but don’t. I tell my students, “let me help you with your job search,” and vanishingly few take me up on the offer. That’s when I think, “I’m the guy with the yummy coconut shrimp that I can’t give away.”
With apologies to the Rolling Stones:
You can’t always give what you want.
In this graduation season, a few students who have taken my advice and feel served by it have come back give me an update. Those are incredibly precious moments for me. The gratitude is mutual. I tell them, “it is my pleasure to help.”
The rejection of help isn’t really a mystery to me. There was no telling me anything. My poor mother. I realize now that my stubbornness must have been especially hard for her. Why especially hard? Dear mom is what I like to call “pathologically helpful.” Not just helpful. If she’s not being helpful in some colossal way, it’s not enough for her.
My sister called me one time when our parents were visiting her.
Sis: Mom is so happy.
Me: Is she cleaning your fridge?
Sis: Better. She’s in the yard, cleaning the cat shit from the birdbath.
The worse the job, the more she loves it.
My mother also spent her career in a university. She was a mentor to dozens of young staffers. They came back again and again for knowledge, advice, guidance, and matzo balls (even if not coconut shrimp). I get it now.
This post is dedicated to Nick, Elly, Natalie, Hailey, and Sarah.