But the advice doesn’t matter.
Here’s what makes bad advice really bad: taking it. After all, advice is just words. It’s taking it that makes it terrible.
I think very often people ask for advice even when they know what they should do, or what they want to do. We’re looking for confirmation and support. And when someone gives us advice that matches what we really want, what we’re feeling in what J.C. calls our “secret heart”, it feels like good advice. When we get advice that doesn’t match that, we second-guess ourselves, we doubt what we know for certain.
Many years ago I was in a bad relationship that I knew had to end. I had a conversation with someone I loved and trusted, who told me to stay. And though I knew I shouldn’t, hearing that advice (and it’s hard for me to imagine that it was well-intentioned, it must have been, because I think most advice is well-intentioned) helped me doubt what was in my secret heart.
But the advice wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I took it. I pushed down all the parts of me that were screaming, “LEAVE! LEAVE!” and I stayed. And it ended up being far worse for everyone involved. If I’d left when I was first thinking about it, it still would have be painful, but it wouldn’t have been as intense or complicated as it turned out to be. I don’t necessarily regret the decision, because like all decisions, it’s part of who I am today, but I do wonder how things might have gone differently.
I’d like to blame the advice-giver, and at times I have, but it wasn’t their fault. Do I wish they hadn’t told me to stay? Of course. But what I really wish is that I’d trusted myself enough to know that I knew what was best for me (and for the other party involved), that I hadn’t chosen to let someone else’s opinion dictate what I did with my life, to ignore what I knew was right because I doubted myself. It’s one thing to take someone else’s recommendation of what to order for dinner or which shoes go with what dress, or whether you should go on the horse or the zebra on the carousel. It’s entirely another to bend your will to someone else’s ideas about relationships, or where you should live, or what kind of job you should take, or whether you should have children or not. That should be completely between you and your secret heart.
A big part of this is that no one else is you. No one else understands the situation in exactly the way you do, nor do they have exactly your perspective on it. And no matter how much you try to explain, it’s never going to be the full picture. Even your best friends aren’t going to understand it in exactly the way you do, and therefore their two cents is going to be worth just about that.
Going back to last week’s lesson from King Neil, prophet of Neil’s Theory of Mattress Buying, my advice is that we really shouldn’t be giving advice at all. But if you get some advice, here’s my advice: don’t take it unless it’s what you want to do anyway. It may be a bad choice, but it was a choice you made, and it’ll feel much better. And if it does turn out badly, well, then you’ve got yourself a great story. Maybe even a novel.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever taken?