I’ve encountered a few attempts at advice sharing recently. First, at a Q&A session of a large meeting, the following question came up. “What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to make positive change?” It was sort of an interesting question based on the environment, but still a good question nonetheless. The answer in that moment was your normal run of the mill general advice. It was about having the right perspective and the person referenced a book that they had found personally helpful. As someone who gets asked for advice a decent amount, it was not the answer I would’ve given which then got me curious about how to really answer that question as thoughtfully as it had been asked.
A few weeks later, I was at another function where a few times, advice was solicited from the group. This advice, in the form of what you could fit on a post it note, was directed toward people who didn’t specifically ask for it, but it fit in fine with the whole vibe of the gathering. I found out later that some of the advice on the notes was pretty cliché and unhelpful.
The more I thought about these moments, the more upset I became at these wasted opportunities. And then I realized that I was a contributor to plenty of these wasted opportunities in the past! Human connection is the secret to life and just like wasting chat time with another person on the weather or silly logistics about where someone lives (we all do it!), these juicy moments of interaction served up by the universe just waiting to be filled with deep meaning and connectivity from one experience to another were just glossed over and burned up in an instant. Sigh.
The thing is, if you ask the same question to 20 different people, you’ll get 20 different answers. Sadly, none of them is the right one. This isn’t to say that you can’t learn from other people’s experiences, opinions, and learnings. There is a ton of good stuff in there. The part that these examples are forgetting is that it has to be relevant to the advice seeker to do any good. How can you honestly give advice to someone without asking a bunch of questions? And to the advice seekers, have you spent the time asking yourself questions before you went to seek external learning? If you don’t know yourself, you’re wasting your time.
The self-help section of society is vast. I know because I spend a lot of time there. I’m constantly bombarding my brain with other people’s learnings, advice, stories, directives, and positivity reminders. The more I read and listen, the more I realize the rhetoric coming off as “truth” is to me, only sometimes truth. I find myself providing counterpoints to my audiobook or hearing something new and running it through the “is this true?” filter as much as I’m inspired and pumped and set up with new nuggets of goodness. But as I pondered this question, I wanted to go deeper under the surface level sound bites and think about what has triggered my own memorable and valuable moments of personal transformation. In my first example, this person clearly has some sort of nagging problem. It may be unhappiness, lack of satisfaction, a feeling of stagnant personal growth, a lingering goal that can’t be reached, or who knows what else. How can you answer that broad of a question without the opportunity for more questions and clarification? Well, you can answer it with more questions.
Now that I’ve pondered this, if I could talk to that person, I would advise them that the only way to make positive change is to learn how to become self-reflective and self-aware. I would tell them to think about answering some questions for themselves first before seeking out the advice of others. For example,
· Define positive change more specifically for yourself.
· What would that look like to you?
· Have you answered questions for yourself about how you got to where you’re at now?
· Why did those things happen and what part did you play?
To make change, you have to understand what needs changed, and why it happened in the first place. Sometimes change is nothing more than clarity. Sometimes it’s actual change like eliminating people from your life or changing your daily routine or your circumstances. Sometimes it’s literally just looking at your current life in a different light.
After spending time on some more deep “why” and “how” questions, I would advise them to take the next 30 days or so and start to journal. By writing down what you experience, how you feel about it, what you observe, and whatever else comes to mind, you can learn more than anything anyone else can ever tell you. The process of journaling is one of the most underrated and underused tools in making personal change and finding answers to your own life’s questions. The reality is that the resources that are out there can truly only be wonderful after you’ve written and read your own. If you don’t start where you are with who you are, why you are, and how you are, you’re wasting time wandering when you could be profoundly changing the things you want to change.
Back to the first example, if that person had done the work on themselves first, their question may have sounded something like, “What advice would you give to someone who is looking for deeper and more meaningful relationships but lacks the skills involved in building trust?” or “How would you go about finding a mentor or career counselor to help someone who feels stuck in a career path that doesn’t relate to their own personal passion or personal development goals?” See the difference there? Kudos to the people out there who ask for advice. Your intent gets a gold star. I hope you find someone that will stop and either ask you the right questions or send you on a personal discovery path to get there before they start showering you with book recs. I certainly will work on making this part of my advice seeking and advice giving repertoire.