In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of seeking advice from others when looking for work or navigating a career path.
Outside advice can be especially useful when you’re really lost, in the wilderness so to speak, and have no idea where you are going or how to get there. It can also be useful for those who are on surer footing and have a clearer direction of their career paths.
Let’s focus on the first category of people since they are a bit more complicated.
For those who struggle with direction, advice from a trusted colleague, friend, or mentor can be a very powerful asset.
These people can help you see personal attributes that you may not take into account on your own, especially when you’re down on yourself. They can widen the aperture of your vision so that you see opportunities that you didn’t know existed. And they can be an extra set of eyes and ears when you are actively on the job market—studies show that as much as 80 percent of jobs are filled through personal connections rather than online job postings.
Some people are more comfortable with receiving advice than others—and that’s fine. But there is no reason to avoid advice altogether. If you have a hang-up about turning to others for guidance, try to get over that affliction, as it can be a drag on your personal and professional advancement.
Ask yourself if your aversion stems from pride (“I-can-do-it-on-my-own syndrome”) or a fear that someone will tell you something about yourself that you don’t want to hear (“fear-of-constructive-criticism syndrome”).
Constructive criticism can be very useful for objectively understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are but there is a fine line between that kind of healthy feedback and advice that is negative and hurtful. That’s why trust is so important. It may seem obvious, but don’t get advice from people you don’t trust. This happens more often than it should so it bears further explanation.
Don’t trust people whom you think have an ulterior motive or who may benefit personally from steering you one way or another. Don’t trust advice when there’s a power dynamic at play that leaves you feeling more manipulated than counseled.
This can be tricky when you get advice from an authority figure you really respect, like a teacher or a spiritual adviser. These people can be your greatest advisers but you have to use your best judgment to make sure they are giving you counsel within strict ethical and professional boundaries—if they aren’t then bolt.
Good advisers, on the other hand, are like good teachers. They never give you all the answers. Instead, they empower you to ask the right questions. They should be good listeners themselves, so that they can absorb what you tell them and turn that data into useful feedback and advice. Good advisors encourage you to stretch your abilities and seek out challenges that they know you are ready to tackle and that can help you grow. They even respect you when you turn down their advice, as long as your decision doesn’t stem from self-defeatism but from the self-confidence of knowing what is best for you.
Indeed, one of the great things about advice is that you’re in the driver’s seat as to whether to accept it and follow up accordingly or discard all or parts of it. Ask yourself whether the advice rings true to you, whether it resonates with your values and interests, and whether it excites you into action. If it does, then follow that as far as it takes you. If it doesn’t, then file it away somewhere—who knows if circumstances may change and it comes in handy down the line.
Sometimes, though, people take a dogmatic approach to advice. Someone suggests something that makes sense at one point in time and you stick to it even when it no longer does. You have to know when to change course—when you’ve reached a point that you’re denying yourself new opportunities by staying overly faithful to old ones. It’s not always easy to decide when that is—for better or worse that’s part of the learning process of life.
So what kind of advice should you ask for? Try to be as specific as possible. Don’t ask broad sweeping questions like, “What should I do?” Instead, ask, “What should I do now that I left my job at the online magazine and have all this social media experience?” That prompts people to think more imaginatively about what you can bring to the table for specific jobs. Try to be as open as possible—within your comfort zone of privacy—because the more you can share about your talents, skills, background, and aspirations the more someone can help you connect the dots.
Finally, keep your expectations realistic. We all want to be given some magical piece of advice that will unlock all the clues to our success and happiness. That invariably never happens. The wisest person in the world can only illuminate the path ahead so far. It’s up to you to take that journey, decide when to diverge from the path, when to stay on course, and where to set your particular destination mark. The journey of self-discovery does not have to be a solitary one but, in the end, it is up to you to forge your own path.