Who Should You Take Advice From?
I never seem to have faith in my own thoughts. The idea that what I think is the best course of action often hits me with more uncertainty than courage. Even when I know what I want. Even when I can look back in my own life and observe moments when the thoughts I had led to positive, if not, extraordinary outcomes.
Do you ever feel that way? That you need to hear your own thoughts from someone else before you believe them? That you need mentors to succeed in any venture? I often do. And the more such instances I have in my life, the more I come to the quiet understanding that what I may have believed for a long time may not be the entire truth and that no one — not you, not me — knows anything about what someone else should do with their lives.
I have given advice before. As the first of four children, I’ve thrust my own share of anecdotes, opinions, and whatnots. Even here on Medium, I have written a lot about what I think everyone should do to have the lives they want. But if I had to be completely fair with you, a lot of what I write or say is what I wish someone said to me. So, in the end, it still boils down to the conclusion that I don’t trust my own advice — even to myself — unless it’s in an external format of sorts.
Why is that?
I have blamed it on my upbringing. In Cameroon, children learn about the world from their immediate surroundings which happen to be, in most cases, their parents. As parents keep children safe, they hand down advice, words of caution, sometimes even yanking kids from the electrical outlets or hot stoves. Parents do everything in their power to protect their children from harm. And this, in my opinion, is great.
Until it isn’t.
I had the fear of working while going to school because my parents thought it would be hard to concentrate on both areas. They had their reasons and I would agree with them, now, that without a system to make sure I didn’t favor money-making over education, I would lean towards money. But that was their fear. Not mine. A fear I carried. A fear I implemented and ended up in limbo where I neither did my best in school nor honed work experience.
There a few such instances from my own life and from friends where well-meaning parents establish rules and ideas that take root in children’s minds and never leave without some hard life knocks — or in most instances, the child becomes a bad child for disobeying his/her parents and doing what they really want.
When I think of this casual example of parental influence on ‘small’ decisions like work, school, relationships, religion, money, I can’t help but feel that as children, we’re raised to depend on the opinions of everyone — but ourselves.
I’ve seen uncles have more say in children’s education than the children in question. I have heard grown-up women break-up with their husbands because their families didn’t agree with details that would leave rational mouths aghast.
In theory, living in a place like Cameroon where it’s easy to observe the negative influences of listening to people frozen in a different generation, this should grant people like me the foresight to realize that most of the people who tell us what to do, shouldn’t be listened to.
They usually speak from a place of privilege or ignorance. Some are the family heads or have bribed their way into positions of money and power, or genuinely worked tooth and nail to get what they have but have no idea that in 2019, work ethic is no longer enough. They tell us what to do with a prism of life unequipped to fully comprehend the problems of this century.
The others watch and compare, spewing ideas they don’t understand simply because they’ve heard a neighbor or a niece or — gasp — a movie character.
Everyone seems to know how you should fix your life but doesn’t seem to fix theirs. We can’t see this until we realize two things: we’re all human and context matters.
1. We’re All Human
It’s easy to look at someone having a hard time and tell them: work, have faith, believe!
But what if they’re doing that? What if you’re the only person who listens to them? What if they’re bombarded day in and out with negative talk from self and others in their household? What if…?
We’ve had a surge of motivational content online and many people ‘believe’ and ‘have faith’. Life is so much more than what we believe. Having faith doesn’t take away trials and everyone needs compassion in life.
There’s a reason why people who are treated with empathy remain grateful: we’re all dealing with way more things than we can express. I’m still dealing with childhood trauma my parents have no idea happened.
When I have a conversation, I still need to remind myself that the person I’m talking to isn’t waiting for me to make a mistake so they can laugh at me.
Yeaup, I have issues.
What more of that random lady who asked for a dollar for a meal? Do you really know her story? Do you think it’s really just laziness?
We’re all human. No one has life figured out. And everyone dies in the end.
2. Context Matters:
There’s advice I have heard 99 times and it only clicked on the 100th time. Sometimes, people aren’t ready to be helped or led. Including you.
“All advice is autobiographical” — Austin Kleon
We all say what we think is true — for us. We all share what we understand — at our level. Whenever someone assumes they know what you should do without knowing your full story, that’s a red flag. Listen with caution.
As a storyteller, I consume a lot of content on how to tell stories. I also want to make a living doing this so I read business books and related material. One thing I try very hard to consider with any piece of content I read is the context of the writer: everyone has a level of privilege. You’re reading this because you have access to resources that half of the world’s population doesn’t have.
Think about that for a moment.
When someone tells you what to do, take into consideration their context and privilege; that should ground, dilute, or debunk their message.
Context is so much more than where you grew up and how much money you have. It encompasses how you grew up, what you’ve worked on, your influences, your network, and every facet that led you to do this point in time( including what you had for breakfast).
It goes both ways because someday, you will have to give someone advice. I may sound like I’m saying you shouldn’t listen to anyone, but everything I learned, I learned from someone.
My plea is for discernment. Knowing that all advice comes from a place of privilege and maybe fear. Fear that you won’t make mistakes.
How do you know those mistakes aren’t exactly what you need to grow?
Don’t believe anyone who thinks they know exactly what you should do, or how to do anything. Yes, we all need to learn, so, consider their context and their results.
Are they living the kind of life that you’d want? Are they the kind of person you love hanging out with?
Are they a good human being?
I don’t think we need mentors to do the things we’re called to do. More often, we give ourselves excuses and someone points that out and we’re grateful they did.
I don’t think we need motivation. We need systems, plans and to get up and do the work.
I don’t think you should believe anyone because most people are clueless.
I believe some people know how to say what we need to hear at any given time and it’s still up to us to take action.
In the end, no matter how much advice you get, if you don’t go out there and try it out, you’ll spend your life waiting for someone to save you when you were already saved from the day you let out your first cry.
So, that project you’ve been making excuses for, that one you’re thinking about right now, the one you’ve been getting advice from everyone but yourself…
What are you waiting for?