the vice of advice


Do you have sleep issues? Drink honey. Are you fat? Start being thin.

We love free advice. We give it away like the guy standing on the pavement distributing pamphlets as a marketing strategy. Sometimes, there’s enormous value in this free advice: drink honey. Most times, it’s useless: become thin. My writing is a form of free advice. Advice to myself – advice that has worked for me – and advise that makes me cringe when I read it a year later.

Free advice is in abundance. It’s not the free bit that’s a problem. It’s the advice. The issue I have with the advice is the halo effect. If someone who has made a million dollars is talking about dog poop, we will pay to hear it. 

But, he’s talking about dog poop and you don’t even like dogs.Well, he’s made a million dollars!

Think about the best advice you’ve received. It’s generally from mom or dad or some obscure relative or friend – during the seemingly ordinary times. Imagine a bespectacled-shirtless-frail-bald man told you about the benefits of healthy eating. You would dismiss it with casual disdain. But what if I told you that man helped free an entire nation? Would you still dismiss it? Doesn’t matter what the person is talking about, who he is what matters.

Some heroes go unheard because they don’t have the credentials. Some of the best advice I have received has come from these unknown heroes. When Dad gave me advice, I dismissed it as paranoia of the parent, but the same advice from billionaire Mark Cuban, and my life changes.

There are people giving away great advice on everything from food to poop . But there’s also this guy at work giving you advice that’s stupid bullpoop: “See, I will tell you from my experience…” I started advising my friend about something, and she asked me to stop with my free advice. I felt like the bull. As I wallowed in the hurt, I realized how much I resented free advice. Credibility and credentials are all that mattered. And when she questioned mine, I has no answer.  

The thing with advice is that it’s autobiography. People tell you about their life. On what’s worked for them and what they have seen works for others. If Dad asked me about which laptop to buy because he thought a computer engineer would know best – because all that computer engineers do is fiddle with the insides of laptops, my free advice would be: Buy a Dell inspiron, because it has been serving me very well for 8 years. But what if he needs something lighter and not a laptop that’s as heavy as the table it is on.

Advice is enormously hard to give without understanding what the other is going through or wants. And it’s this gap that makes free advice annoying. So, here is the tricky part about advice:

You have be willing to listen to people around you, but you should know they have no idea about your situation. The only way people assess your situation is by asking you what you want to do with your life. The sheer vacuousness of that question has been plumbed for decades and it would suffice for me to say – we are all clueless.

So, the advice starts with finding that eternal clue first, and ends somewhere between going to B school or becoming an entrepreneur next.

Here’s the advice I gave myself after trying to advice my friend:

Don’t go around giving away free advice. If you have advice to give, know the other person well. And when you receive advice examine it like you would examine a painting oblivious to who the painter is. The advice will be richer – and Mark Rothko would ‘ve never made those millions.

That was free advice about free advice.

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