If You Want My Professional Advice, You Have To Pay Me For It

Because “expert” advice is doled out regularly for free on the Internet like candy from a Pez dispenser, is actual expert advice losing its financial value?

My brain has been picked over like a dead gazelle. Dear God, the flies! Get them off me.

Who can relate? Complete strangers on the Internet feel entitled to free professional advice because they have read some article I’ve written, or one where I am quoted. The Facebook private messages may have different content, but are always the same:

“Hi! I live in Buckeye, Arizona. I loved your article about academic redshirting. Thank you so much for writing it! I am wondering what advice you have for me. My son is five years old and I don’t know whether to hold him back from Kindergarten because…”

And what follows is a description of her son’s physical, social, emotional, intellectual and academic development from the day he was born straight through Pre-K, and this description is so voluminous I don’t know how it doesn’t break Facebook Messenger, but it certainly breaks my patience as I squint to read it all and berate myself for doing so. But I always do.

I do it for the saccharine reason that I genuinely like to help people and I want what’s best for children. I do it because someone in a town I’ve never heard of thousands of miles away took the time to read something I wrote and thank me for it, and I’m a sucker for feeling like I’ve made a difference. I also do it because, like many people, especially women, I have a pathological desire to please. Maybe I’ll come off as cold, aloof, uncaring, or bitchy if I don’t dish out advice with no invoice.

And get this: I’m afraid I’ll seem selfish if I ask to be paid for my time. Yes, I realize I might need therapy, or medication. I simply believe so strongly in karma and paying it forward that I’m convinced that if I’m generous, it will come back to me in some unexpected and fortuitous way, even though it hardly ever does, and I have fully grokked and tenuously internalized that disappointment.

This needs to stop. Do you know how expensive my AT&T bill is? My elderly cat’s organic food? These kids all over the country always sound compelling, and I’m sure I would adore them if I knew them, but I don’t know them, or their freeloading parents. I am happy to assist my friends anytime and I do, but the 1.19 billion Facebook users are not all my friends, even though many of them message me with cheerful greetings and amusing emojis like we go back decades.

Because we now have Wikipedia and WebMD and Office Depot divorce kits and over 150 million bloggers, maybe all of our jobs are at risk of going up in a cloud of terabytes. But we will always need actual doctors, and they must exercise sheer grit not to punt every WebMD-quoting patient out the door. Plumbers and electricians will never lose their job security. But me? I’m wondering about it.

I’m not an expert on children because I’m a parent, and I’m not an expert on education because I once went to school. We have a lot of that kind of expertise floating around for free on the Internet. I’m an expert because I spent seven years of my education earning a college degree in psychology and two graduate degrees in educational psychology. And then I actually worked with thousands of children who were not my own, for over a quarter century. Could I possibly sound more bitter or defensive? Maybe not.

What I do for a career seems increasingly democratized and diluted on the digital ocean, where there are no barriers to entrance. Because advice about raising and educating children is doled out regularly for free on the Internet like candy from a Pez dispenser, is it losing its financial value?

We are moving into some realm where diplomas and work experience are becoming archaic and meaningless. The size and engagement of one’s social media audience –usually correlated with expertise in self-promotion—has too often bogusly transferred professional credibility to those savvy entrepreneurs who started their blogs more than five years ago, when they still had a chance to grow. I can tilt at those windmills, but the real problem isn’t the glut of bloggers, of which I am one, and among which are many genuine experts on any conceivable topic. It’s the culture the blogosphere has created where information belongs to no one and everyone, with no background check and no price tag.

Brain-picking goes with this territory. The digital savannah is a gaping, sprawling, breathtakingly beautiful ecosystem, my fellow gazelles. Just take care near the watering holes.

Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. She is the author of Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, and speaks on the topic of raising confident girls in a disempowering marketing and media culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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