“All advice is autobiographical. It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.”
How To Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
Advice is a funny thing. There never seems to be a short supply of it. Colleagues, friends, parents, teachers, they all seem to have something to say about how you can make your life better. They’re sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but more often than not I think they’re wrong. Not that they actually are wrong, just that I think that they’re wrong. And it’s not too hard to understand why when you think about it. They have a lifetime of experience that says you should do this or you should do that. Unfortunately, I have a lifetime of experience that says I should do something else whenever I hear “advice” that doesn’t fit my world view. This is problematic. To help I’ve been doing a few things to combat the natural urge to dismiss the advice (or worse argue about it):
- Listen (without trying to knock it down)
Listening is almost always harder than not listening. This is especially true when the advice is less like advice and more like criticism. However, the first step is not to get into an argumentative state because that almost always ends up with me learning nothing.
- Say, “I’ll think about it.”
This is important so that I won’t be nagged about it constantly. Otherwise, the conversation will inevitably risk turning it into an argument. It also happens to show respect for the other person’s point of view as well as saving me from a barrage of criticism.
- Think about it.
I’ve found it hard to immediately extract wisdom from most “advice” I receive. I usually give it a good night’s sleep after which I always have a very different perspective. At the very least, it gives me time to figure out why the other person is giving the advice. It’s almost always based on the experiences that they have gone through, which may or may not be applicable to me. In any case, there is always wisdom that can be extracted beyond the actual words that they are conveying to you. This is the most important part because people usually do have a good message — they just don’t know how to communicate it well.
It took a while for me to figure this out, which is why that quote from Austin Kleon struck a chord with me. It’s such a succinct way of framing how people give advice. And that’s why I like sharing these lessons that I’ve learned, in hopes that they may somehow be useful because the last thing I would want is to give anyone advice.