What if All the Advice I’ve Gotten has been Wrong?

A reader wrote me with a question. He explained that he rarely turns to others for counsel because in his life experience, almost all the advice he’s gotten has been wrong. So he relies on himself and on his own research on the web and books. How to make sense of this?

Let’s analyze this situation based on the framework of Advice is for Winners, assuming that indeed all the advice he’s gotten has been bad. Let’s also rule out a unique streak of bad luck.

Likely explanation #1. Good advice truly takes account of your circumstances, goals, and constraints. If you do not explain these, then the received advice may be off the mark. Possibly you don’t explain them because you’re not asked, or because you think it’s presumptuous, irrelevant, embarrassing, or whatever. So, I’d suggest reviewing those life situations where you got bad advice and ask yourself if you made your situation clear to the advice giver. Advising is a collaborative process.

Likely explanation #2. Good advisors have certain qualities, such as being good listeners. If you chronically choose advisors who lack many of the right qualities, especially the listening one, then you may get bad advice.

Of course, there are other good qualities to have. One is suggested by the proverb “Those who have no children bring them up well,” meaning that the lack of relevant experience undermines one’s credibility, and also one’s usefulness as an advisor.

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