Turning a page, figuratively and literally, is an exceptional, yet peculiar, act, as the next steps, in a work of literature or in life, are unknown. The exceptional Dr. Venus Nicolino, best known as Dr. V, is privy to this initiative, as she single-handedly changed the narrative for her family while leading the way to new possibilities with a metaphorical torch in hand. Now, Dr. V has strategically applied her note-worthy knowledge into her latest must-read, Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bullshit, a book so powerful that the New York Times stated that the read will, quite literally, change your life. In this exclusive interview, we chatted with Dr. V regarding all things Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bullshit, what she hopes her readers' biggest takeaways will be, and her advice post-pandemic.
Megan Morgante: Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory of how you came upon this career path as a relationship expert and TV host and how it led you to where you are today?
Venus Nicolino: Well, not to bore you, I'll give you broad brushstrokes of who I am [laughs]. I’m from a lower working-class family and I am one of five children. My mother never went to high school, she barely finished eighth grade, and my father is an auto mechanic. From a very young age, I felt that I had this incredible obligation to my parents and to my family to make it out of the environment that I grew up in. I felt that at a very young age, and it almost felt as if my parents sort of chose me to do that. I mean, you don't go naming your kid Venus for nothing, they're destined for something bigger. And so with that comes great responsibility and I think comes emotional maturity. When you're given a lot of responsibility and you're given too much power at a very young age power that you shouldn't have, it’s a lot of pressure and takes a little bit more of their innocence. I definitely know that I missed out on some of my freedoms as a child because of that responsibility.
Growing up, we lived in row homes. It's a group of homes that are attached one by one and you share the alleyway and you have a front stoop where you sit and you talk. At a very young age, I would often sit on the stoop with the older women in the neighborhood and I would hear them talk about their problems, their relationships, and about themselves. I really took in this sense that it felt like to these women, that these problems were unsolvable, that there was no way out. I came from this place where I felt as though I was supposed to figure out solutions to these problems, that I’ve been given this torch. I would sit there and I would listen to the challenges behind the stories and at the end of it all I would think to myself, this is solvable, this doesn't have to be this way. So at a very young age, I began listening to people's problems. It really was this neighborhood and these family members that shaped me and gave me my earliest lessons in what it means to be an active participant in the life of another person.
MM: That’s truly amazing. Sometimes it takes one person or one singular experience to change and, eventually, better old ways of thinking or generational experiences.
VN: That's really how this all started, coupled with an Italian background. I'm incredibly expressive and I'm not afraid of conflict. Italians tend to lean into the argument, so I think that that also was an early lesson, of not being afraid. That was something that I'll always thank my parents, my neighborhood, and my friends for because that is a unique feeling to be unafraid. As a woman, it's easy to become afraid. By afraid, I mean, you don't believe in yourself or you deem yourself worthy. You don't think that you are capable. For example, men will apply for a job if they meet just 65% of the qualifications, but a woman will apply for the job only if she meets 100%. So, to feel this sense of, “I'm going to walk through the world like I have a f*cking dick,” really came from my mother and the women in my neighborhood who really were strong females. I've been surrounded by that my entire life.
MM: Beautifully said. Leading into your journey, you just recently published your book, Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bullshit... congratulations! The New York Times said it was a book that will, quite literally, change your life. Can you give some insight into where you drew the inspiration from while writing this masterpiece and who it's targeted towards?
VN: I know that I read a good book when I close the book and that my views have changed just slightly on how I look at the world. In some ways, that is the ingredient of an incredible book. I wanted the end product and your process in reading the book to be fun. It's written in a way that’s familiar, so that you feel as if you're talking to your best friend over a glass of wine or two and you're just talking about life. I really am striving to teach a lesson to educate ourselves on how we come to believe something to be true. And while I took these sort of received wisdom, the underlying process was how do you know what you know to be true? My goal is to really inject my irreverence into this book and really into the psychology world. This book is part of a new genre that was created, the “anti advice,” because, in a way, I really am very irreverent about the field of psychology. For example, theories matter. How you live your life matters. We at one time believed that the earth was flat, we lived our lives believing that we could potentially fall off the edge of the earth. So, it’s incredibly important that you understand that your mind is not a psychological waste dump. What you feed it is so incredibly important and if what you're feeding it is a bag of bullsh*t, you have to unlearn that stuff. We at one point believed lobotomies to be helpful. Think of all of the nonsense that we at one point believed to be true in the field of mental health, medicine, and science that just isn't.
Now, in the age of social media and Instagram, where you see these bullsh*t perceived wisdoms next to a lighthouse saying, “You can’t love anyone until you love yourself,” it's just not true. It implies that you don't know how to love people and implies that you're to blame if love goes wrong. It implies this idea that love is linear; first I love me, then I love you. It says that love is not synchronous, it implies this linear effect. It implies biological miss truth.
MM: I've been going to therapy for years, and the number of therapists who I've been to where they would say the same, mistaken, things and mantras, was absurd. I would have to continuously ask myself, “How is this helping me? How is this going to help me in the long run, if it’s a mistruth?”
VN: Some really good studies have been done that show if you perpetuate a mantra, that you then reinforce the negative thing that you believe about yourself [laughs].
MM: I completely agree. So, what do you hope that your readers will ultimately take away with them after reading this book?
VN: A new way of looking at things. I take several of these received wisdoms, these sort of bullsh*t phrases that people will say to be sweet and to help you at that moment, but in easing your pain, you end up making yourself much worse. Let's say you're nervous to give a speech on stage and someone says to you, “Just be yourself,” but that's the last person I want to be. If I were going to be myself in that situation, I'd be sh*tting my pants. So you have to ask yourself, what qualities and skills do I need to muster up for this particular act. Who do I need to be? What skills and qualities do I have that I can bring to this activity? That is something that is truly tangible, not this elusive self.
MM: With a vaccine underway, some people may be struggling to readjust to their past lifestyles, dating, or regularly socializing, as some have developed more of an introverted mindset. If you could give a piece of advice to going back out there and readjusting to the life around us, what would that advice be?
VN: This is an odd thing to say, but, stay curious. I think that during this time we all have learned a little something about ourselves that maybe was a little surprising, maybe that we knew all along that was just confirmed. That is a very curious place to be, this idea of discovery. When you're curious about something you're not going to plunge in headfirst or just simply jump in the water, you’re going to look at it very much like a prism in light. You turn it one way, you see blue, you turn it another way, you're going to see yellow. With that being said, I would invite all of us to remain curious about who you are, what makes you tick, what you love, and what brings you joy. It's been a little bit easier as of late to create some boundaries with friends and relationships, so I would suggest to stay curious about what you bring to the world and what gifts or talents that you have to offer other people. So many times I hear young people say, “Whatever I do with my life, it was my life,” and I always ask how about we rephrase that with, “How do I want to give back in my life?”
Photography by Elie Maalouf
Hair by Kelli Christine
Makeup by Elie Maalouf