What is a caring yet confusing piece of advice you have ever been told? We’ve all received life tips that we later realized were more misleading than they were helpful. Since none of us came here with a how-to-live-life manual, it’s therefore essential we are more judicious of the life advice we give and those we receive from others, no matter how well-meaning they may be.
In this piece, I am sharing ten examples of life advice I have been given and internalized that turned out to differ a great deal from what I wish I had received. This article is to remind you to scrutinize life tips you get more thoroughly before accepting or refuting them.
#1 Fake It Till You Make It
This aphorism is problematic for two key reasons. First, it overlooks the value of time, effort, and disappointment to achievement. Evidently, a growth mindset and an enthusiastic attitude are important, but they are only a piece of the giant success puzzle. Imagine boarding a plane only to hear that the pilot is a three-month intern full of confidence that one day he’ll be an excellent captain, but he is only faking it now. Would you stay on that flight? I bet even the most adventurous person out there would think twice.
Flight officers go through rigorous training before they are eligible to fly an aircraft. A pilot doesn’t fake it until they become licensed. They learn it, practice it, and fail at it until they make it. After all, why would anyone be motivated to learn it if they could fake it? It’s human nature to seek the easy, well-worn path to any destination. If we can fake our way to a goal, then there is no motivation to labor to reach it.
Second, faking is the ultimate source of mistrust and alienation. If you can’t cook, it’s smarter to embrace your lack of knowledge and use it as an avenue for learning and growth. The following may be a little long, but it’s a more valuable piece of advice: Learn it, practice it, and fail at it until you make it.
#2 Never Give Up
If we could foretell the future, this advice would be tremendously helpful. Unfortunately, we aren’t in this utopian world yet. Sunk cost fallacy causes many to hold on to relationships, goals, and jobs, even when their costs outweigh their benefits. The late professor Clayton Christensen ended up in academia when he realized his efforts to join the Wall Street Journal would be fruitless. He didn’t cling to a failing dream in the name of “never give up.” He kept his aperture open. And when another opportunity presented itself, he took it. Sometimes, quitting is the most logical option regardless of how assiduously we’ve applied ourselves. Therefore, it’s more meaningful to remind others to be strategic.
#3 Be Yourself
Our identity is fluid and multidimensional, making this maxim utterly baffling. When you tell someone to be themselves, do you want them to be their public self? Their self-concept? Their actual or behavioral self? Or their ideal self? Since the dawn of time, scientists and philosophers have proposed various ways to describe human nature. Whether you define yourself by your actions, behaviors, thoughts, values, and possessions, we embody distinctive identities at different places and times. We are in a perpetual state of discovering ourselves. Therefore, it’s more thoughtful to encourage people to never stop striving towards realizing their best selves.
#4 Take Risks
A while ago, a sophomore sought my counsel on his intention to drop out to start a business venture. He’s been exposed to people telling them to “take risks.” He was confused. At the time we met, he didn’t have a solid business plan or a workable prototype, only his devotion, tenacity, and industriousness. He firmly believed that was enough to start a successful business. After walking him through a complete risk analysis, identifying and assessing his probability of success, he understood that staying in school while working on his project and sharpening his business acumen was the optimal solution.
Obviously, every decision carries some sort of risk since we can never gather all relevant information before starting. However, that’s not a reason to not do proper due diligence. Today, he has a bachelor’s degree and his startup is thriving. So, the advice he needed was: Take calculated risks. I suggest you do the same. By adding the adjective “calculated,” to this statement, you can spare yourself scores of preventable and unnecessary disappointments.
Take calculated risks! Test the water with one toe at a time. Don’t throw yourself in the pool all at once. That’s the best way to learn and adjust your plan!
#5 Follow Your Passion
This was my favorite piece of advice for several years. When highly successful people continually advise you to follow your passion, it’s hard not to believe it. However, my time working as a sales manager made me realize that a passion can also be created. Some of us are fortunate to discover our passion early in life, but others must create it. Fortunately, our life can be exceptional, whether we discover or create our passion.
#6 Everything Happens for a Reason
If you have ever been told that everything happens for a reason following a substantial loss, you know how unsettling this advice can be. But really, is it true? This is one of those life’s mysteries we should learn to live with. Regardless of your beliefs, sometimes it’s better to not ask why. Rather than making such a perplexing generalization, I would choose this more prudent advice: Sometimes, things just happen.
#7 “Don’t Worry! You Are Young. You Still Have Plenty of Time.”
People who use this axiom don’t realize that youth is an asset. We should harness the time and exuberant energy of our youth to design the life we desire. How we spend our youth will predict, more than anything else, the quality of our existence. Thus, a more worthwhile piece of advice is: Your youth is a treasure, make the most of it.
#8 Believe You Can Do It and You Will
I have been believing I can fly since the day I watched the blockbuster movie Superman, yet it still hasn’t happened. Will it ever? People who end up achieving great things didn’t necessarily believe in themselves. They put in the hours. A more appropriate piece of advice is: We never know until we try. Instead of overestimating our abilities or disparaging ourselves, it’s better we espouse an experimental mentality. You want to do something? Keep an open mind, formulate a hypothesis, and experiment. If you succeed, bravo. If it fails, review, revise, and repeat!
#9 Do What Makes You Happy
My friend once told me smoking makes him happy, and that’s why all his attempts at quitting failed. Many times, we engage in destructive behaviors convincing ourselves we are happy despite knowing it’s untrue. Those lame excuses can paralyze us from never pushing our boundaries and enjoying genuine happiness.
The most rewarding things in life aren’t always enjoyable. Appreciating my ripped physique in the mirror brings excitement, but going to the gym isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes, we must let go of those things we think make us happy in order to grow.
A more helpful piece of advice would be: Do what makes you happy and challenges you. Life is tough, beautiful, unjust, fair, and pleasant all at the same time. You can’t enjoy the fullness of life if happiness is all you are looking for. We find fulfillment when we develop the ability to pursue learning, even if we don’t enjoy it.
#10 You Only Live Once (YOLO)
This slogan, popularized by rapper Drake in 2012, has become synonymous with reckless behavior. Ervin McKinness’s death in 2012 is a case in point. Minutes before his death he tweeted: “Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #FuckIt YOLO.”
A more constructive piece of advice would be: “You live every day.” That will remind people that life is both a journey and a destination. Such a mindset will empower us to enjoy the little things and not waste precious time impressing others, immersing ourselves in doubts, and worrying about the future. Jonathan Swift says it best: “May you live every day of your life.”
Instead of a formal conclusion, I will leave you the option to share your experience with us. What did I not mention here that you think I should have? Please share your comments below.