“I don’t really keep counsel with others. I’m the kind of person who will think about something, and if I know it’s right I’m not going to ask anybody. I don’t go, ‘Boy, what do you think about this?’ I’ve made every decision for myself—in my career, in my life.” — Tom Cruise
I propose that most of the advice you’re given is useless.
Giving advice is easy. People are full of opinions, and we love nothing more than to share them with others. It gives us a chance to talk about ourselves: our opinions are largely based on personal experiences, emotions, and values. Yet, how many of us actually do the work required to hold a certain view?
“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do. — Charlie Munger
“Asking for advice is a form of thinking out loud, except that it involves no thought.”— Joe Queenan
When literally anyone can give you advice, it should be expected that the overall quality of advice given is extremely low. Unfortunately, the people we tend to take the most advice from is our close circle of friends and family, who are often the least qualified to provide it. You wouldn’t take computer advice from a plumber, so why take entrepreneurship advice from your buddy who has spent his life in a cubicle?
The friends and family group is also the most biased. They attempt to point you in a direction they would like to see you go, rather than where you would like to see yourself go. They are secretly manipulating you, consciously or not. And if you continuously follow their advice, you will eventually wind up living someone else’s life instead of your own.
How often have you heard of the engineering student who realizes he hates physics but continues anyway because his friends all do the same? Or the medical student that gives up 12 years of his life to satisfy his parents? The investment banker who hates the job but stays for the prestige?
The people that give you advice may say they have your best intentions in mind, but the truth is that it’s often the best in their mind. It’s so they can happily gloat to their friends what their son or daughter does for a living. It is the choice that they themselves would make, given their hopes, dreams, aspirations, anxieties, and risk tolerance. Nevertheless, we tend to trust these people the most.
The bottom line is that you are not other people. There are very few one-size-fits-all pieces of advice. Generic advice is just that: generic. The further removed you are from the ideal case, the less it holds true.
A passage from the $100 Startup illustrates this point:
James thought back on the discouragement he had received from well-meaning friends when he first told them about moving down south. “You can’t start a business during a recession,” they said. “You can’t move across the country without a job.” “Most small businesses fail within one year.” “Almost all mom and pop restaurants fail within the first year.” On and on it went. And every time someone gave him a reason he couldn’t succeed in what he had set out to do, he made another note in his “non-planning” folder: merely one more obstacle to overcome.
The “advice” from well-meaning friends turned out to be nothing more than discouragement and obstacles.
Every entrepreneur has surely heard some semblance of the above, but anyone who has ever done anything that has deviated from the norm can relate.
Most people simply don’t like to see others succeed. If a person doesn’t fit the mold of what he or she should be, it threatens the status quo. Change is scary. It brings people to question their own ideals, their routines, their life. It makes them feel small. And so the ever popular advice “be realistic” was coined, to push these outliers back to the sphere of convention and mundane.
There are a number of other reasons why advice is useless:
- It’s easier said than done. The doing is the important part.
- The advice is outdated, irrelevant, or mismatched.
- Confirmation bias and self-serving bias cause people to reinvent stories to self-attribute and self-aggrandize their successes.
- Advice is mood and state dependent. My advice to you could change from one day to the next because it’s raining out.
- Groupthink. A psychological phenomena that causes people to stick with the group on viewpoints and decisions.
- The advisor isn’t being upfront with you.
Certain advice can be helpful, but be selective in the advice you take. Listen to those who have the necessary real world experience, who fully understand your situation, who carefully listen to you, and who share the same values.
You can also just take the leap. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission and lead you.
Be a bit like Tom Cruise. It’s your life.