Virginia Madsen has always seemed down to earth to me, but when I spotted her byline on a spring cleaning article this morning in The Daily Love, I was a little surprised: She even does her own laundry? Sike. She’s not giving lessons on how to wash floors; she’s telling us how to scour ourselves of bad energy and wake up our inner selves. Naturally.
Madsen’s advice is simple:
Try something new to excite, or wake up your inner self. Try yoga, cycling or raising your heart rate with a simple walk around the block. With simple “baby steps” we can transform our own energy. By doing so we create momentum that can affect ourselves, and those around us. I think of this as a kind of “spring cleaning” of the body mind and spirit.
…and the rest of her post is brief. She’s not trying to invent the wheel, or sell a trademarked brand of self-help. But my knee-jerk reaction to her advice, like any life tips from celebrities, is to err on the side of skeptical. Very skeptical. These are people who just get attention because they’re rich and pretty! They’re not trained in philosophy, psychology, or religion — how can they possibly give me sound advice? But then, I also take the time to read sites like The Daily Love, which hooks readers with headlines like “transform your energy” and “how not to let the world get you down,” almost all of which are written by people who don’t have qualifying degrees. And what would those be, anyway?
The more I learn about meditation, self-help, and positive psychology, I find that some of the most interesting speakers are people who aren’t any better qualified than I am. Yoga teachers, former PR girls, and, yes, actors and actresses have all inspired me at least as much as Buddhist writings or the scientific studies released about happiness and psychology. Take Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, for example: The best-selling author has thousands of fans, and her advice is based on nothing more than her personal exploration of what makes us happy. She just got a book deal. No one goes to her because she’s supremely happy, or knows about special tricks to help earn money. She simply got a book deal and started testing out theories, reading up on philosophies, and researching spirituality to write a book about what makes us happy.
And did I mention that sometimes I find her easier to relate to than the Dalai Lama? It’s not that I’m freaked out by Buddhist philosophy — I don’t consider myself religious, but books by Thich Nhat Hanh sit on my dresser, and I occasionally lull myself to sleep with podcasts of the Dalai Lama’s latest teachings (oh, technology). But occasionally, I like to read about how all these zen philosophies and power of positive thinking pans out on my side of the Buddhist Temples. How do those inspirational quotes figure into a schedule that’s not cleared for meditation, and what’s the use of zen philosophy when you can’t even find time to take care of your laundry? There are real answers to those questions, of course, and I find that frequently, they come from men and women who, just like me, aren’t really “qualified” to give them. But they do anyway, and it turns out what they’re saying can be useful, too.
It’s easy to blow off self-help advice when it comes from someone we can’t relate to, or someone we doubt is “qualified” to give it; for many, Virginia Madsen falls into that category. But is the Dalai Lama vastly more qualified or relatable? Maybe. Probably. But my point is that if I would take advice from Gretchen than she to give tips on positive thinking? Well, probably. But my point is that if I would take advice from Gretchen Rubin, or seek out the opinion of my friends (none of whom have expertise of any kind, save for knowing and caring about me), then what’s my big beef with Virginia Madsen?
Perhaps the problem is that her advice seems kind of cheesy. Let’s be honest: Sometimes you have to bite your tongue or roll your eyes at certain catchphrases of self-help. For a lot of people, it’s kind of embarrassing to talk about love, inspiration, and positive thinking. But this brings to mind advice from Laurie Gerber, a life coach who told us how to keep New Year’s resolutions earlier this year:
Calling people cheesy is what someone does when they’re embarrassed by someone else’s inspiration. Don’t you think looking down on someone who gets inspired is a little mean? I understand making fun of triteness; when anyone thinks they can write a self-help book or an inspirational quote, it’s hard to take seriously because it’s not genuine. But things really can inspire you, and you can shift your energy and mood using songs, quotes, poems, or journaling. I’m surrounded by inspirational things, but I don’t have post-it notes on my mirror.
I’m not saying Virginia Madsen’s spring cleaning tips are for everyone; take them or leave them as you wish. But even if she’s a self-help amateur, and lacks all clout compared to the Dalai Lama, heeding her advice doesn’t have to mean you’re a sucker for her celebrity, or a fool for taking cheesy advice.