Plenty of people dish out advice on all sorts of topics. The internet is full of it. Heck, even this blog has a bunch of posts with advice, be they technical, focused on travel or general life stuff.
But why should you listen? And who should you listen to?
With information about anything and everything readily available at our fingertips at any time of the day, it gets harder and harder to differentiate between the valuable stuff and the forgettable ‘waste of time’ stuff.
My personal rule for seeking advice from the ‘right’ people and sources is very simple:
Look to those who have achieved the results you desire.
Now I wouldn’t go so far as to ask Donald Trump how to become rich. Mostly because becoming rich isn’t a goal of mine. But also because his values don’t align with mine.
So who do I ask for advice?
When it comes to career related advice, the answer isn’t quite so simple because your preferences, goals and the direction of your career will likely change over time. But for the here and now, your current goals and ambitions, there are surely people who have reached the level/position/expertise you are aiming for. So ask them. Never has it been easier than in the age of social media to contact people whoever and wherever they are.
You might not get a response, but there is no harm in trying. It may also not be a matter of simply asking ‘how did you get to where you are’ but rather a discussion of what they do, what they enjoy about it, what the challenges are and what they see as the critical steps that helped them achieve it.
You can learn a lot from those conversations, above all it’ll be a good way of finding out whether what they really do is what you thought they did and whether it is what you want for yourself.
A few questions I like to contemplate when I talk to those whose professional achievements I admire, include:
- did they at any point have to sacrifice their values and go against their own (business) ethics to get to where they are? (deal breaker!)
- how big a role did their education play?
- what personal sacrifices did they have to make? (this is obviously a very personal matter, but some people are happy to share those stories with you and the lessons they learned)
- how long did it take? (it likely didn’t happen over night)
- what were some of their biggest failures along the way?
- what were major milestones along the way?
- what role did their mentors play and how did they find the right people to turn to for guidance?
Oh this is a biggie and a topic that comes up constantly in my life. Choosing a vegan lifestyle and being a 31 year old woman without children, settling back into life in Germany after living in ‘paradise’, who enjoys racing triathlons and travelling to various countries means I get plenty of unsolicited advice coming my way.
What really gets to me is when people give me advice who really shouldn’t, no matter how well-meaning their intentions.
In line with my rule stated above, I ignore any health and fitness advice from people who are neither healthy, nor fit. At the risk of sounding harsh, but if an obese person comments on my food choices it really pushes my buttons and I react accordingly.
What I do, how I train and what I eat works for me and for my lifestyle (and it has for almost an entire decade now). Listening to people who couldn’t complete a sprint triathlon, let alone beat me across the finish line, is not going to help me improve and their criticism of my healthy food choices tells me everything I need to know.
Don’t listen to those who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. It won’t help you grow and improve, so keep going on your path and instead follow those who are reaching the goals you have set for yourself.
I will make a bold suggestion here and recommend that you don’t just listen to your teachers and academics when it comes to your education. Why?
Well, most of the teachers you’ll meet have not worked in business. That’s not a criticism in itself, but if you want to work in the business world rather than academia, then you’ll do well talking to people beyond the lecture theater. The ‘outside world’ doesn’t follow the textbooks and additional perspectives on skills required by employers, the behaviours that shape discussions in the boardroom and the dynamics existing in workplaces will help you a great deal in navigating the early years of your career.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that my business degree, majoring in Accounting, Commercial Law and HR, would be highly applicable in business life. But what I learned in my psychology degree is what I use and appreciate every day. Because working with people is all about people.
We’re all surrounded by stuff wherever we look. Houses, gadgets, offices, clothes, clutter, a never-ending stream of things. What should you do with it? How do you look after it? How should you dress? What books should you read?
Well, that depends a lot on your personal interests. But what outcomes do you want? And who has already achieved them?
A couple of things I focused on over the past couple of years that were important to me included getting rid of clutter, simplifying my wardrobe and finding a ‘style’ that’s really me. For that I found inspiration online. Pinterest admittedly is like a Bermuda triangle which sucks you in for hours, but you can find a bunch of useful images that reflect whatever you are looking for.
I used that approach to find a clothing style that resonated with me and then tracked my way to finding relevant books that would answer the ‘why’ behind those questions and also identified my colour palette and cuts before going out and getting myself setup.
Well, admittedly, when it comes to this topic, I’m just winging it myself, so I’m probably not the most qualified person to make recommendations here. But what I do know is that seeking advice from various people isn’t the worst idea.
No one has it all figured out, we’re all different stages of mastering this life stuff. But if you find someone who seems so content and happy with who they are and what they do, ask them what their secret is.
For some it’s yoga and meditation, for others it’s music and art, while different people get their bliss from raising children, inventing new things, tending to their garden or climbing really high mountains.
I guess my biggest advice here and for all other topics is to not be afraid to ask. Ask people about what they do, what they learned, where they failed, how they got back up and what their secret is to staying the course.
The worst that can happen is that they reject your request and just won’t tell you. This just means you’re no further than before, at least you tried and the next person will likely share some valuable information.
Focus on the things that are important to you and seek guidance from those who inspire you so that you can go down the path that does in fact lead you to where you want to be.