Why I'm Trying to Give Less Advice

I give advice–a little too freely in fact. It's understandable, I have an associates degree in pastoral studies, I've preached thirty or so sermons, and a chunk of my employment is giving guitar lessons; I get paid to tell people what I think they should do. A good friend of mine, who is constantly asking the air what she should do with her life, gets the worst of it. My reaction to a posed question is to answer it, immediately, whether it was addressed to me or not. I have an opinion, and my gut assumes she probably cares a whole lot about what I think. Even if she didn't ask me specifically...ever. Halfway through my diatribe my brain realizes what's going on and I try to start listening again.

Some advice if you ever end up on the receiving end of one of my advice rants. Smile, say, "thank you for the input," and walk away. The truth is, you'll save me the trouble of apologizing later and save yourself the trouble of adding white noise of my voice to the conversation in your head.

Advice is not a bad thing. My goal isn't to wipe it out entirely. But I have been trying to sit and wait until it's wanted (if ever).

And here is an incomplete list as to why:

1) I won't typically take advice from people I don't ask myself, unless of course you are a very select group of people who I severely trust and respect. Even if I verbally engage the ideas you bring up, I'm probably just trying to be nice. It's likely that I don't really care about your opinion on things. Otherwise, I probably would have asked you what you thought. I assume (and yet so often forget) that it works the same way with others.

2) Whenever we are making life decisions (or even little ones), everyone is going to have an opinion. After a while it becomes a cacophony of preferences. And as much as we like choices, choosing between a dozen different "absolute best ways" of doing something can be paralyzing. By the time I've offered my unsolicited input, thirty or so others have probably done the same. When Courtney made a visit to the emergency room a few weeks ago, while waiting for results on the cause, we discovered there were at least 25 supposed PhDs among our acquaintances willing to give us their free medical opinion. It's easy to miss that my two cents is being added to a pile of loose change. I may only be making someone's choice more difficult.

3) Much of the time, even if they ask you, people already know what it is they want to do. In which case, they're probably looking for your validation. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough to be note. This isn't bad. Sometimes we already know and need encouragement to do so, but it feels awkward saying, "Can you encourage me to do this?" And so we question until someone comes along and pats us on the back. If you think someone is making a stupid decision and looking for validation, talking them down probably isn't going to do much good. If they ask for advice, give them a summary of your opinion. If they really care, they'll keep digging. If they just want validation they'll start arguing with whatever you just told them.

4) If you're living a life worth mimicking, you're probably already giving advice people somebody will pay attention to anyway. I have several friends who advise me a hundred times a day without saying a word. They are my unknowing mentors to whom I compare my own decisions. I could ask them what they think I should do, but I've already seen them act out the answer. And yet people who are obviously terrible with money seem think congress should take their financial advice.


But that's just my two cents.