Advice's Greatest Value is What It Says About the Giver of It


As someone who is trying to find strategies to grow his business and constantly wrestles with self-doubt, anxiety and depression, I have read a lot of advice articles. Advice is something that isn't very hard to find on the internet. If we want the comments to pile up on Facebook or Twitter, then all we need to do is ask for an opinion and watch the feed fill up 'words of wisdom.'

Advice is not some magical elixir that solves all problems by transforming into a mighty Pegasus that flies us off to the miraculous land of prosperity.

I discovered the truth of advice when I was about to become a parent. It seemed like every friend and acquaintance was in a mad rush to deliver parenting truths. They all believed they had the special ingredient to be the perfect parent. One group taught me that we need to be absolutely silent while our baby sleeps, but then another declared the importance of vacuuming right outside the sleeping baby's door. It was a commandment passed down to me that we need to immediately pick up our crying baby, except by those that said we must allow the baby to cry it out.

The tug'o'war of ideas got me thinking that parenting advice was a tad subjective.

Then I became a parent, Emily and I started trying out different things and figured out that we need to just find that formula that works for us. There isn't some universal truth about being a good parent. I'd like to think that my parenting has been positive in Everett and Danika's growing into kids that I am proud to call a part of my family.

While as a new parent, I learned very quickly that this whole raising our kids was very personal and what works differed depending on the family and child, that didn't stop me from thinking that I cracked some secret codes. I often heard about how kids were picky eaters and they wouldn't like stuff with varied tastes like sushi or curry or things considered 'adult food.' But Everett ate everything. I remember my mom telling me about how they took Everett to a dinner that was serving Indian food, and they were nervous over what my 2-year-old son could eat. She was then amazed by how he hummed away and ate everything that was offered to him, and probably ended up eating more than the adults.

I started patting myself on the back and believing that we had solved the 'picky eater' problem. Since Everett ate everything, thus we clearly knew how to raise a child that would happily eat anything. We were so awesome and great.

Then Danika came along.

While she happily bit chunks out of the storybooks and toys that were in pristine shape when Everett had them, she wasn't as thrilled about this whole eating food that wasn't bread and cereal. It was a sucker punch to the gut to learn that apparently my parenting style was not the reason for Everett being a great eater. As the days and years went by, I also quickly learned that what worked really well for Everett was not the best strategy for Danika. Both kids needed different parenting approaches and strategies. 

It has been my journey as a parent when I started changing my view on advice. Advice is not just to be slotted into categories of being good or bad. Instead, one should listen to or read the advice, but then figure out for themselves how it fits with their own life and experience. The big thing is that every person has different experiences and backgrounds and personalities, and this means that each piece of advice is going to connect and resonate differently with each person. 

The big discovery that I made not only as a parent but also as someone who has read his fair share of advice articles is that the greatest value of advice comes from what we learn from the person giving the advice. 

This is not to say that the actual advice is worthless. If anything, being able to understand and know the person giving it helps make it more valuable. Then we can understand what led them to that advice, and then we can apply it in a way that work for our own life. 

I have written a few advice articles in my life, including on this site. From my experience, the advice is more powerful when it is explained how it affected the giver's own life and what experiences led to believing in this advice. It is the giver's journey to applying that advice and what it did for them that can then help others to contextualize it for their own life or to see if it is something that is not applicable for them.

I recently came across some advice that I feel are neon signs towards the author's values. Once we can decode what motivated the advice, then we can transform it into something valuable for others. 

In a list of how to be a more successful entrepreneur, one of the bullets points was to stop watching sports. The argument was that the coach and the player were actually engaging in the activity rather than passively watching. This immediately slammed me with the thought that the author may be someone who doesn't enjoy watching sports or has a spouse that drives them nuts by watching it too much. 

There is danger in passively living through others or allowing something like a sports team's success to consume us. But I'd argue nothing (be it work or religion or pop tarts) should overtake us to where we lose out on life's other riches. I'd also argue passive engagement with anything is detrimental if it is allowed to whittle away hour after hour without adding value and enrichment to our life. We can be a fan of a sports team or athlete in a way that is more than vicarious wish-fulfilment, but rather active engagement that inspires. motivated and nourishes us.

Watching sports can be motivation and inspiration. How many great athletes or coaches found success because they were first fans of greats like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or Vanessa Williams, and it made them believe through hardwork that they can achieve their dreams too. Sports can tell stories about the underdog overcoming great challenges or the long road to victory after an athlete overcomes an injury, which are powerful lessons that inspire and create hope. A successful entrepreneur can mine many great lessons from actively engaging in the stories formed in sports.

This leads to another points that I've read and heard a few times, and that is not wasting time watching TV. Once again, I think it more paints a picture of what that person perceives as TV, and maybe how they would spend their time in front of it. Often the argument is there is no value in gobbling up the junk food of celebrity reality TV or a sitcom like Big Bang Theory

Now, I am not here to say anyone should avoid that type of entertainment. But I am arguing that there is a lot more to television than those type of shows. There are a lot of complex, nuanced and thought-provoking TV that challenges, inspires and illuminates. 

There have also been pieces that argue against watching movies or playing video games. In the case of all three, I know many great and successful creative people that credit their ideas and inspiration from those forms of entertainment. In all three mediums, much like the sports, one is not always passively watching or wasting their time, but often many our actively engaging and immersing themselves in it. It is an engagement that offers the viewer new insights and may motivates them to their own creations. Some of the greatest innovations and inventions first came from science fiction or other types of stories, so it isn't just a flame that is sparked for the storytellers.

Now, there is also advice that I cling on to that works for me, but I know is not a one size fits all. I have read many times about how successful people get up early. If we want to be a billionaire then we need to rise before the sun, or at least get up with it. I personally do usually get up pretty early, and I find a lot of value in writing for a few uninterrupted hours before everyone else wakes up.

I also know that not every single successful person wakes up early. Some are night owls that just work much better when midnight creeps up rather than bouncing out of bed at 5am. There are successful and famous people like J.R.R. Tolkien, James Joyce, Pharrell Williams, Kathryn Schultz, Winston Churchill and Aaron Levie who get up later in the morning. Early rising isn't the mandatory ingredient for success. It is more what we do with our day and time when we get up.

I am sure the people who talk about early rising being a key to success once slept in and woke up feeling like they lost several precious hours. Who knows, maybe they then spent that day watching sports and reality TV. 

As a writer, I've often heard the advice that we must write down ideas the moment they come into our head. I know many who swear by the value of keeping a notebook so you can jot down all our daily ideas. On the other side, Stephen King says the best way to immortalize a bad idea is writing it down, and he believes that we know we have a good idea when it remains in our head for days and weeks, and you filter our the bad by forgetting them. Once again, we have advice from experienced writers that completely conflict.

This is not a claim that advice is useless. Instead, the claim is that advice can be nice snug fit for one but a floppy clown shoe for another. But I do feel that every piece of advice is worth at least considering, especially if it is from a trusted or successful source. The advice has the most value when the author explains why it works for them and what was the journey that led them to it. 

Also, if there are parts of our life that we aren't happy about or success seems to be playing hide and seek, then give relevant advice some real thought. It is worth seeking out a source and author that we trust, and even better, if their life experience is one that resonates with our own. 

When I was a new parent, I contemplated all the advice that was given to me by other parents and reworked it to make it fit with my lifestyle and values. I also tried to sort out what was the actual inspiration and purpose of the advice given, and if I couldn't directly apply it, then I'd frame it in a new way for my own family.

This is why when I do offer advice be it writing or positive thinking on this site, I try to share my own personal experience. I feel the value comes from sharing the journey and being honest about my own life. Hopefully, by sharing my experiences and showcasing what has worked for me that it can offer value for others.

So, be open to advice, but remember a great deal of its value is how it reveals the author, and it allows us to have better understanding and empathy for that person. The next step is figuring out how the advice works for our own journey.

What is some advice that you've received that you found valuable even if it didn't directly apply to your own experience?