THE BLOG
07/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Advice On Advice

The last few weeks, I have offered observations and advice regarding the twenty-something experience which inspired even more advice, feedback and colorful commentary. One comment that I wanted to highlight was from mono who wrote: This article is bogus because I think nobody can give advice to others. I heard a commencement speech by Dolly Parton in the 2009 graduation ceremony at University of Tennessee. She said "I cannot give you advice but I can certainly give you information." I agree with the essence of what mono is says (and appreciate the return of the word bogus from the 80's) and the quote he shared from Ms. Parton. Anything that anyone says is indeed information and only you can decide what is true for you.

Most of the time, advice is colored by opinion. As objective as we try to be when giving advice, it is normal for it to be influenced by our personal perspective which is shaped by our experiences and belief systems. In writing an advice column, I try to the best of my ability to be neutral when giving so called advice but I will be the first to admit that it comes from my perspective. We also all hear advice differently because we listen through our own filters. What I say to someone may really resonate whereas to someone else it may sound completely bogus.

The advice that I give about advice is to treat it like a buffet. You don't have to put everything on your plate. Look, listen, observe and then only take what really resonates with you. There is an infinite amount of advice available to you but that does not mean you have to gorge yourself with it.

One of the most important things to learn as early on in life as possible is that only you know what is best for you. Yes, it is valuable to seek guidance and be open to information, particularly from people who have lived longer than you; however, it's important not to become dependant or overly influenced by external feedback. In my work with twenty-somethings, I have observed a trend which is looking for someone else to tell them what to do with their life, how to handle a situation, or make a decision. The question I ask when a client comes to me for advice is, "Well what do you think?" before I give any information or guidance. This question is at first incredibly annoying but what would be more annoying long-term is to never develop the inner skill of independent decision making.

When you truly are in need of guidance, seek out people who can be as objective as possible. Family members, significant others and close friends are often the most biased when it comes to advice giving. Try to find individuals or resources that are in alignment with the type of guidance you are seeking. For example, if you are contemplating going to law school, seek out people in law school or working attorneys to speak with rather than relying on the advice of people who have never "been there, done that." But keep in mind, even someone who has been through a similar situation as you are going through will still offer advice from their perspective. Even when given the exact same situation/circumstances, each person's experience will be different.

Also, and this is going to sound ironic coming from someone who writes an advice column, resist the temptation to give out unsolicited advice. Even if you think you know better or have something brilliant to say, allow someone else to figure out their own answers.

So the next time you are questioning something and searching for someone to tell you what to do, stop and listen to your best advisor: you. Journal, talk aloud to yourself, sleep on it. Trust that the answer will come to you and when it does, listen to your own advice.