Washington Post’s leading advice columnist reflects on his 25-year career, giving advice and finding your voice

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  • Carolyn Hax has written a union advice column for The Washington Post for the past 25 years.
  • Known for his outspoken yet compassionate advisor, Hax is one of The Post’s most popular writers.
  • In an interview with Insider, Hax talked about his career, his life, and what still surprises him.

how can i get mine wife to buy more houses Chores? How can I do it sever ties with a friend whose company do I no longer enjoy? how can i overcome job interview anxiety? How can I keep it together? terrible health scare?

These questions, you might say, are the stuff of life. They are also the life work of Carolyn Hax, who celebrated her 25th birthday this month at the head of her eponymous advice column for The Washington Post. The syndicate column is featured in 118 newspapers in the US, including The Sacramento Bee, Detroit Free Press, and The Dallas Morning News.

Hax’s quarter-century career is nothing unusual for the genre: Pauline Friedman Phillips, known as Abigail Van Buren, spent 46 years writing “Dear Abby,” while her sister, Eppie Lederer, aka Ann Landers – affectionately known as “America’s mother” – she’s been in the business for 47 years.

But Hax is admittedly a force in the otherwise distasteful self-help industrial complex. America’s mother, not. She’s more like America’s knowledgeable older sister: a little bossy, quick to show your blind spots, but also caring and knowledgeable.

Had it not been for a twist of fate, he would never have gotten the job. It was the spring of 1997, and Hax, a news and text editor at The Post, was filling the day at the Style Plus desk, which publishes lifestyle articles. In a casual conversation with Peggy Hackman, then-section editor, Hax learned that The Post was in the market for an advice column to attract younger readers.

“And I said, ‘What you really need is a brash 30-year-old guy writing one of these,'” said Hax, who was 30 at the time.

Self-described as “serious and stubborn,” Hax took matters into his own hands: Using the questions in the sample column, he wrote his own version of the answers, which were immediately circulated among the newspaper’s elite. He went into business within weeks.

Throughout his career, he has written thousands of columns and hosted hundreds of live chats where readers warmly addressed their personal challenges. He is consistently one of The Post’s most widely read authors, according to the paper’s internal data.

There is both voyeuristic pleasure and moral satisfaction in reading Hax. Not only do you look at other people’s lives and problems, you also get Hax’s keen observations and often extremely entertaining advice.

Hax, to the religious mother who does not allow her 24-year-old son to sleep in the same room with her long-term boyfriend, kind but frank“Your relationship can suffer when your son is an adult and tired of your moral integrity,” she said.

“Whatever you decide – and it’s your decision – please add, ‘I’m deciding this for a grown man,’ as a preface.

But Hax also has a sensitive side. To her daughter, who lost her mother to cancer and cannot figure out how to get over this pain, said Hax: “Feeling the pain – now its relentless flood, then in waves as the tide begins to recede, then intermittently throughout your life, whenever you feel like it’s washing over you – how do you get through it.”

After all, Hax is human and has had his share of tragedies, disappointments and joys. HE IS He lost his mother to ALS in 2002. She divorced her husband the same year. Nick GalifianakisThe artist, who has drawn cartoons for his column, remarried to his childhood friend. They are the parents of three young sons.

In an extensive interview with Insider, 55-year-old Hax spoke from his home office on the Massachusetts coast about his career, life and reader questions that still baffle him.

This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.

You answer about a dozen of the hundreds of questions you get for your column each week. How do you decide which ones to tackle? What makes you think ‘I have something to say here’?

A kind of provocation. My reading day is Monday and I’m sitting there and reading and if I have an instinctive reaction or an instinctive reaction – either I’m sad or angry or amused or “Wait, I know that!” emotion — I copy and paste into a text file. Then I don’t answer, I just keep reading and create a big question file. I go to that file when I’m ready to start typing.

I start with the top one and edit the question in a usable format and then try to write an answer. I put it in one column and then move on to the next. It’s really an assembly line.

Do you always know your answer immediately?

Sometimes I have to turn it around in my head for a few weeks. I have questions running in the background all the time that I come back to when I have something.

Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome or felt like you were doing the job a trained therapist was supposed to do?

Sure. But the history of advice columns does not include a group of people who are therapists. It is a medium from the hip. It is a columned kitchen-table conversation. I didn’t feel like I had any job doing this.

How did you find your voice?

By not calling. One of the things that has helped me is that I don’t necessarily like to write. I don’t keep a diary. I don’t write poetry. I like to read. i love words. But I don’t like to produce them myself. And so my style was born, I just didn’t try that hard to get one.

Your job looks very fun, but I guess it’s also very tiring.

It is mentally challenging. You’re in people’s problems and they can be upsetting. And even though what I’m doing is an ordinary man’s speech at the kitchen table, I feel very responsible. I want to make sure I cover everything. Because if I miss something the day after it’s published, I hear it from readers in this volume. These are people’s lives and I don’t want to be a knight.

How have these last two years been for you – both personally and professionally?

I never lose sight of the fact that I escaped easily. I was already working from home. I didn’t lose anyone, shoot wood near me. The biggest losses I have experienced are my children, who are all in high school and have lost a lot of experience. Their world was suddenly circumscribed in a way that seemed so wrong and unfair.

Professionally, I used to say that I used to get a variety of questions, and then suddenly I got variations of the same question: “I can’t do this anymore. I’m at home with my kids and I can’t see. a way out. I can’t.” This desperation and hopelessness did not subside for a long time. But still, I cannot overlook the fact that there is someone else; it wasn’t mine.

How did you cope?

[At the beginning of the pandemic] Sometimes I would have these moments of panic or these absolute debilitating moments of anger. This surprised me. I was just so angry. I would have to go for a walk. Or, unfortunately, I would cook something for me. I’m still wearing

You endured a small public whiplash in 2003 after you and your husband broke up and some readers were scandalized (and clearly cruel) when you appear in a gossip column who is engaged to someone else and pregnant with twins. What do you make of this today?

I don’t think about it. There are people who believe that I left my marriage for someone. I didn’t. This has happened over the years. I reported them all at once.

But then I made a conscious decision that I will not go against every accusation because it takes pieces of your soul. I could just say what was going on and move on with my life. The most helpful thing experience has taught me is to separate your own well-being from what other people think of you.

I’ve heard that therapy is successful when you hear that your therapist’s voice calms you down, clears your negative thoughts, and guides you towards healthier behaviors. Who do you have in your head?

The voices of the readers are constantly in my head. I come across questions and I think, “Okay. I went through something like this. It didn’t seem like it to me. But this person saw it very differently and I’ll include it in my answer.” The great thing about this work is that with all this feedback from readers, I’ve gotten an incredible education on what it’s like to be a person who isn’t me.

Where do you fall into the nature of the human race? Are we born bad? Or are we basically good people with flaws?

There are still people who surprise me. I look at what some people believe, despite being refuted over and over, and say, “Where do you come from? Where do you get your worldview from?” I think. As a writer, a citizen, and a human being, I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to try to understand other people. But sometimes I feel like I’m not making any progress.

However, I generally think that people do their best to overcome everything that is mysterious, difficult and complex in their lives. And that’s probably true when people were out hunting and gathering. Survival and emotions are complex things. I give people the advantage of not having the doubt that they are trying to find their own way to overcome it. I think some people lose their battle with their worst impulses. We all have it. I don’t think anyone is equally good. But I feel better about people, and I feel better about my daily life if I look at everyone as trying their best to sort out all these things, just like I’ve tried.

After more than two years of sad pandemic, social strife, economic uncertainty and international unrest, do you have any words of wisdom for us?

Stay away from the middle distance as this can be overwhelming. If you’re looking at close range (what you need to do on your to-do list to get to the end of the day), you stay on course. And if you look into the distance and realize that in all of humanity’s run, you’ve often dealt with worse things than that, you’ll be fine.

But middle distance – when you’re trying to figure out where you’ll be two months from now, or whether you’ll ever be able to get regular childcare again or continue. plane without the existential terror of getting caught up in something – it can confuse you. That’s why I always say, “Think in really small baby steps. Or get so big that you go to the mountains and you look at the sky and the stars and you say, ‘I’m unimportant. It doesn’t matter. ‘I’ll be fine.'”

Last question: You’ve been in this business for 25 years. Tired of this? Do you ever think about retirement?

I’m about to send three kids to college, so I plan to retire when I’m 150.