Before delving into this let’s look at what advice is, and — more importantly — why we seek it. Simply put, advice is asking for someone’s opinion on a situation. Should I quit my job? Am I too young to get married? Do I need the new iPhone?
Some pieces of advice are more serious than others, but it all boils down to the same thing: getting a second opinion. Now, I say second opinion — it could be a first opinion (which is even more dangerous… but we’ll come to that later).
If that’s ‘the what’, then what about ‘the why’? Why do we seek advice? We seek advice for validation. We either want to have our own ideas played back to us, or we want someone we respect to tell us what they would do in that situation.
Seeking advice isn’t a bad thing
Both of these things are absolutely fine as long as you realise one key thing: those people are not you. No one — not even your best friend, your parents or your partner — can ever know all the little nuances, quirks, fears and hopes that make you… you. Don’t get me wrong: they can get pretty close. But only you can truly, deeply and wholeheartedly know yourself (if you take the time to figure yourself out).
This is why it’s important to take advice with a pinch of salt. Whether it’s given with the best of intentions, or whether it’s given to make up for the advice-giver’s own shortcomings, advice has baggage. Even if it’s subconscious.
Let’s say your friend was made redundant a year ago. They worried about the mortgage and bills, but had some savings. After a couple of months they started a new role: the savings took a bit of a hit, but that’s what savings are for. Now, you say to this friend that you hate your job and you’re thinking of quitting with nothing to go to. You ask your friend, ‘What do you think I should do?’ Consciously or not, your friend will let their experience influence their advice.
This isn’t a bad thing, as it’s a perspective you may not have considered. However, your friend’s situation is different from yours. You may not have a mortgage. You may work in a different industry that’s crying out for talent. You may have more of an appetite for risk.
We use advice to validate us
What this all comes down to is validation. Internal validation versus external validation. Are you comfortable with your decisions, or do you prefer to have someone reinforce the decision you’re making? That’s ‘second opinion’ advice.
‘First opinion’ advice is a whole different ball game. This is where you genuinely don’t have a clue and are seeking guidance. Let me preface this by saying I’m all for seeking guidance: if you do that, you’re winning. But be careful. Take on the information objectively. It’s coming pre-loaded, after all… The difference is you don’t have an internal benchmark against which to measure it.
Whether this matters or not depends on you
Why does any of this matter? So what if advice comes with baggage? That depends on you. Are you able to stand in front of people you love and respect and say, ‘I hear you, but you’re wrong’? If you can do that, then listen to all the advice in the world!
Where it really matters is when you can’t do that. When it’s too hard, and you feel as if you have to justify your decisions to others. And they might say your thinking is wrong. Or stupid. Or dangerous. They could be right. But it’s your decision to make. If you lose, it’s your loss. And since we learn more from our losses than our successes, is that even such a bad thing?