Advice isn’t one size fits all

As a warning, this might be a touchy one for some people. But it’s worth finding the balance between gentle and direct. You are under no obligation to follow advice from anyone.

The person giving advice might be close to you, or they might be a complete stranger. They might have offered it unsolicited, or at your request. They might understand your situation well, or they might not (I mention this separately because someone being close to you does not automatically mean that they get it).

I have a lot of people who care about me, and nearly all of them have an opinion on the best way for me to handle things. In a lot of ways, that’s awesome and I feel super lucky. But it can also be overwhelming when everyone’s got something to say and I’m just trying to navigate the waters.

Emerging adulthood is also a time when advice is both annoyingly absent (there’s no instruction manual for this stuff, and my mom won’t tell me what I should do anymore), and annoyingly ever-present (everyone seems to have an opinion about all of your major or even minor life decisions).

So here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to receiving advice: Always listen, do not always follow. Even if absolutely no part of you wants to listen to what this person has to say, it’s 1) polite to at least listen, and 2) might hold a little nugget that actually proves helpful in moving forward. So, no matter what, listen.

Once you’ve listened, then it’s up to you to figure out what, if any, of the person’s advice is applicable to your situation. There are, of course, some clues that their perspective might be particularly valuable to you:

  • If they’ve given you good advice in the past
  • If they’ve been through a very similar version of what you’re going through
  • If they know you well and you have a solid level of trust
  • If they asked before giving you advice

The first three might seem fairly obvious, but the last one is an indicator that the person is trying to prioritize what you need over what they think. It’s not a must — I’ve gotten great advice that I didn’t ask for — but it does speak well in terms of the person really caring about what’s best for you.

Of course, in the past there have been people who met most or all of these criteria whose advice still didn’t feel right for the situation, and I ended up not taking. So long as you’re not taking someone’s advice because you believe another option would be a better decision (rather than just out of spite), you don’t have to feel guilty about making your own call. At the end of the day, advice is just advice.

If you’re on the giving end of advice, the biggest thing to remember that the person you are giving said advice to is not you. They have a different background, personality, situation, and future than you do, and no matter how well you know them you don’t know every detail of their life. Even the best-intentioned advice may miss the mark. And, even if you meet all of those criteria I mentioned above, the person may still not take your advice. At the end of the day, that’s their decision and — again, unless it was done out of spite — not something worth being butthurt about. (Yes I just said butthurt, and it might be juvenile, but it’s a very accurate word in this instance.)

Advice is tricky: Sometimes it’s perfect, and sometimes it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Sometimes it doesn’t become valuable until way later down the road. But whether or not it ought to be followed in any given moment, it should nearly always be listened to, just in case. Also, I realize that everything I just said is, technically, unsolicited advice, so take it as you will. But frankly this is not something that’s ever going to go away, and at many life stages will only increase. So hopefully it proves helpful in some way.

What pieces of advice have been most helpful in your life? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

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