Dazed and confused? Bombarded by “experts” who tell you everything from the best way to salvage a charred roast to how much sunscreen to apply? Do you personally know 1,000 ways to train your dog, treat your lawn or tighten your belly, based on four dozen articles that have crossed your desk and 100 talk show guests you’ve watched on each subject since 1998?
Someone once wrote that if all the talk shows, advice columns, and self-help books of the past few decades were strung together, they just might run the circumference of the equator: approximately 24,900 miles. Add in what’s available on the Internet, and you could probably follow that string to Alpha Centauri–and back.
That’s a lot of advice, and for many of us, though the players may change over the years, a daily diet of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dear Abby, Cesar Milan, “supernanny” Jo Frost, Iyanla Vanzant, Joy Behar, Ricki Lake, Dr. Oz, Nate Berkus, Rachael Ray, Roy Masters, and on and on can throw us into a kind of information vortex in terms of determining what works best for us as individuals. For the record, no one is saying collective counsel is without merit, and that many who proffer aren’t at the top of their craft which may qualify them as experts, but let’s face it: advice is not one size fits all. In fact many, if not most, of these persuasive pundits will tell you just that. Accordingly, for each of us, perhaps the answer lies in mastering the ability to look within for the right course of action.
For Houston homemaker Candace Riley, the decision to return to work–and what kind of work– when her son was in school wasn’t made overnight, but she admits she may have ruminated a bit too long. A nurse by profession, Riley decided that after 10 years her heart was no longer in it though a clear new career choice just wasn’t there for her.
“I visited my local career center, read countless books on changing your career, looked into going back into the nursing field but also back to school at night for another degree, studied all the statistics and predictors of the most lucrative and sought-after jobs in the next 20 years, and watched dozens of TV talk shows and with probably hundreds of guests who told me what to do and how to do it,” she said. In the end, after a year-long immersion into finding a new career (she’d only planned on taking six months to reinvent her life), Riley quieted the chatter in exchange for a long weekend in the country (her husband took their son to visit his grandparents) where she made her decision.
“Not everyone has the luxury of a long weekend,” she acknowledged, “but I was exhausted and no closer to a new career than I’d been a year ago. It wasn’t that what I’d read and listened to for so long wasn’t helpful. It was, though enough was enough.” Riley said when she finally trusted herself enough to push it all aside and boldly examine her own needs, the answer–a kind of hybrid job as a paralegal specializing in medical issues, which gave her a new profession but utilized her nursing background–had room to emerge.
According to the experts (oops…here comes more advice), advice is like candy. Just because it’s out there in proliferation and may be quite tempting doesn’t mean you have to eat it. And in the realm of one size fits all, what works on the dating scene for that divorced restaurant hostess from Tampa you saw on a TV talk show yesterday may not necessarily work for you, though you may be able to take away a few relevant pointers.
The Other Side
The flip side of the advice game is that as human beings we can’t know everything. Scientists tell us our brains don’t work that way and our talents, strengths, and abilities take us in different directions anyway. Unless one has a Ph.D. in economics or a Wharton MBA, making our way through a challenging 21st Century economy, for example, can sometimes consume us without the proper advice. Accordingly, there is value when a Suze Orman or Gail Vaz-Oxlade put someone’s finances in a vice every Saturday on CNBC, and we put down that quart of Cherry Garcia long enough to take copious notes. Or perhaps we’re compelled to move ahead, pull back, or go in a different direction by a deep dive into Deepak Chopra or Marianne Williamson (to paraphrase a favorite Chopra quote of mine: In every seed there is the promise of a thousand forests).
These are positive manifestations of the benefit of someone else’s experience, which can be interpreted as advice. But in a world of many mentors, advice can get balled up like socks and sheets–and even keep us from making the changes and decisions we need to make. When all is said and done, and in what for some may be a bold move in self-trust, it’s often better to act as your own talk show host or guest. Discuss (with yourself!) the pros and cons of a pending action or decision, and take your own advice!