Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m the first person to start dolling out advice. I’m opinionated, I love discussing life and theories, and one of my favorite hobbies is researching absolutely everything so I can pull the most ridiculous, random facts out of every orifice of my body. You never know what you might need to know. You know?
I’m also the first person to say, who knows anything, really? Most advice is well-meaning but how many times have you nodded along to someone as they explained some method of parenting, or asking for a raise, or fixing a marital problem all the while thinking, this has no relation to my life at all?
And the problem with advice these days is there is no way to avoid it. If you have a Facebook or a Twitter account, you have advice coming at you unbidden every hour of the day. And some of that stuff can be pretty hard to ignore. It’s designed, after all, to catch our attention, draw us in, and then leave us questioning whether we actually know anything about things as simple as getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve talked to several people over the past few weeks who have been so paralyzed by advice, they’ve stopped moving forward on their goals because they’re sure they’re doing it wrong.
The Problem with Advice
One of my endless fascinations is the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator®, or put more simply, the personality test they force you to take in high school to tell you want kind of career you’re best suited for. You’ve probably taken it at least once in your life. Whether you believe in the accuracy of personality tests, I think we can all agree that each person is different. Science has proven we’re mentally hardwired differently. The MBTI® breaks personality types down to 16 profiles but even within those types, there are endless nuances.
What does this all mean? It means that no matter how well-meaning your neighbor or your mom or even the expert in your field, what works for them every single time, still may not work for you.
Some people are naturally organized while others thrive on organized chaos. Some people keep a straight head in a crisis while others are overwhelmed by their empathy. Some people are quick to make decisions while others need to think things through exhaustively. *ahem* None of these ways are wrong and most of the times, they aren’t even decisions. They are simply our nature–the way our DNA and our life experiences have combined to become our way of life.
Another Way to Think About Advice
First, recognize that there’s no one way to approach anything. Not a single thing in life. Sometimes some things work better than others. Sometimes some things work better than others for you. Sometimes even when the most successful experts reveal their magic serum, it isn’t the be-all or end-all. If that were the case, everyone who took said experts’ advice would have the same amount of success. Right?
Second, redefine advice. Instead of thinking of it as indisputable law from your best friend–no matter how many kids she has of her own–think of it as an idea. Even if it’s something that makes sense or is in line with typical words of wisdom you’ve heard your whole life, question it. Pay attention to how it makes you feel. Double-check the word “should” when it appears in your mind or falls out of your mouth. Feelings of guilt or resistance are a indicator that the advice might not be right for you. Advice that provokes these feelings are not only useless, because you’ll never follow it–at least not happily–but it can also be detrimental, making you second guess yourself at every turn and doubt the qualities that make you you.
Still, Don’t Stop Challenging Yourself
It would be easy to cater to our natures, never doing anything that makes us feel unsure or uncomfortable. But what fun would that be? Instead, get good at stepping back from advice and searching for the essence of behind it. Take those “ideas” and tweak them. Brainstorm new, different ways to apply them that are more natural to you. Push your boundaries in a way that excites you.
But don’t let advice stop you. Let it fuel you, or simply let it go.