In an ad-vice grip

Sometimes, the best advice is to not take any advice.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

I recently read an article about the worst career advice the author had ever received.

The author had a choice between taking a risk and leaving a comfortable and “safe” but unfulfilling position with his company for a new position in another division or staying put and waiting for attrition to take its course so he could hopefully rise through the ranks that way. He asked a co-worker in the same situation what he should do and the co-worker said to stay put. Ultimately, the author chose to take the risk and move on.

Wouldn’t you know it? The risk paid off (of course it did) and the author built a new team from scratch, received several rapid promotions, and is now in the C-suite at a new company. His co-worker? Stuck in the same job, not particularly happy, and apparently still too timid to take a leap of faith for a “better” opportunity.

This comes on the heels of a conversation I had with a peer this past fall about a potential career move. I was asked for my advice even though I wasn’t sure I could offer anything profound. My words of wisdom: “Make the choice that you think will make you happy and don’t worry about what someone like me says.” When pressed, I relented and said that my personal preference is to play it safe and stick with what I know versus what’s unknown. If I’m going to take a risk, I make sure it’s a calculated one, where the odds are in my favor. (Obviously, I’m not taking Vegas by storm any time soon.)

I know that’s not world-shaking advice. It’s certainly not the stuff that great careers are built on, if you believe the people often championed as pinnacles of professional success. But after the fact I was told it was some of the best advice this peer had received.

That’s the thing about advice — it’s really only ever good or bad in hindsight, and good advice for me might be bad advice for you.

The other thing about advice is we know inherently that it’s so situational and individually specific — why do you think we tell each other to take it with a grain of salt? — but we also tend to get so bent out of shape when someone asks for our advice, we give it, and then they don’t take it. (Were you just looking for validation of your own opinions? That was good advice! Why’d you even ask me if you weren’t going to take it?)

The truth about advice goes right back to what I initially said — make the choice that you think will make you happy and don’t worry about what someone like me says.

Me, you, our peers — we all have our best intentions in mind when we offer advice (and maybe that’s not always quite the case, but hopefully you’ve learned by now not to seek advice from the bad actors in your life), but that doesn’t mean our advice is the right advice. By the same token, just because I might seek advice from someone who’s successful and I admire, that doesn’t mean I should just do what he or she says without taking my own feelings into account.

The worst thing about advice is it can make us second-guess what our gut instinct is telling us. While our gut sometimes is wrong, there are times when the leap is worth taking, and even if failure is the result, good things might still come from taking the chance. The knowledge that you tried is sometimes enough.

Ultimately, however, no one knows you better than you. Getting an outside perspective is always advisable. Weighing it against your own opinions is certainly a wise choice. Adopting it could prove to be the correct course of action. But if you can’t live with the choice and its possible outcomes, then it’s never going to be good advice.

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