Expert advice is compelling. It promises a shortcut to the 10K requisite hours of practice that “mastery” of anything is supposed to require. Everyone of my generation, when stuck at a crossroads, wants Obi Wan in their head going: “Trust your feelings, Luke.”
But it’s a double-edged lightsaber, isn’t it? In many situations, trusting your feelings is the worst thing you can possibly do. No nugget of wisdom is universally applicable. And good advice generically applied can seriously mess you up.
Here are 7 of the most dangerous pieces of expert advice currently in viral circulation:
1) Avoid toxic people. They just hold you back.
You know what’s toxic? Dividing all of humanity into two categories. I don’t know what golden ladder you’re climbing, Bub, but it’s entirely possible that some of those toxic people whose heads you’re stepping on might have something to teach you if you had compassion enough not to exile them from your life.
Let me be clear: I am not recommending that you remain close to narcissists and borderline personalities who are sucking the life out of you. If you’re certain that someone is harming you, by all means get the hell out of there as fast as your legs can carry you.
2) Fail harder. [+ accompanying graphic of robust white guy off a cliff]
This is at least 50 percent bull$#!t. Depending on who you are, pulling any sense of security out from under yourself and diving repeatedly into the unknown has a reasonably high probability of leading to drug addiction, misery, and death. Charles Darwin made his greatest discoveries on a dangerous sea journey into the unknown, but before that he was a trust fund kid whose wealth afforded him the leisure to wander around studying beetles and keeping journals. Experts: Stop encouraging strangers to dive off cliffs. This is good advice for some people, at certain points in their lives, and the worst possible advice for others, at others.
3) “Everybody thinks they can [start a band, write a novel, whatever] but they don’t know what it really takes.
NO. Just no. If I want to start a band tomorrow, I will do it. The Velvet Underground did. The Sex Pistols did. Lou Reed “can’t sing.” Sid couldn’t play bass. No, they’re not Joshua Bell. So what? They changed the world. Also, they had a great time doing it. Even if my band’s going to suck, who are you to deprive me of the experience?
4) Stay positive.
No. Stay honest.
5) Work harder and stay at work later than everybody else.
This advice was clearly cooked up by a Machiavellian CEO who hoped it would increase worker productivity. Survey 1,000 of the world’s most “successful” people, where “success” is defined at making what most in the field would agree is a significant impact, and instead of asking them a stupid question like, “Would you describe yourself as hardworking?” ask them to describe in detail a typical workweek. I guarantee you that it won’t entail sitting hunched over a desk for 12 hours a day, skipping lunch and never seeing friends or family. That’s a recipe for the opposite of creativity. If you’re trying to be the most successful CPA in an accounting firm, I don’t know, maybe that’s a good way to go. Probably not, though.
6) Get out there and network!
Do not “network,” please. Meet people who genuinely interest you, not solely because of some perceived advantage knowing them might have for your career, but because you think what they’re doing and saying is cool. Reach out in a non-aggressive, non-freaky way. Don’t write people emails whose subtext is: “I am really trying to network here and have identified you as a person with whom it would be beneficial for me to network.”
I’m not saying this is easy, especially when you’re starting out. But I firmly believe that building a foundation on real connections, rather than some abstract imperative to network will end you up in a much happier place.
7) Persevere, at all costs.
A farmer wanted his ox to drag a heavy cart the “direct route” straight over a steep mountain rather than taking the longer, flatter way around. In an attempt to be a good ox, the ox persevered in this impossible task, had a heart attack, and died. If you are 100 percent certain (or close to it) that the path you’re taking is the right one, by all means persevere. But banging your head against the rock until it breaks isn’t always the only, or the wisest solution.
As Bob Dylan once sang, “Don’t follow leaders.” He followed this with “and watch your parking meters,” which I suspect was intended just to screw with our heads in case we were impressed enough by the previous line to start following him as a kind of anti-leader. The irony of this post is not lost on me. I’m giving anti-advice. Feel free to ignore it if perseverance or working hard or networking or being super-positive is totally floating your boat. If it’s working, work it, or some such.
But before we start coaxing other people to follow us over the cliff, let’s take a deep breath and recite what may be the most important piece of expert advice, ever, attributed by the Internet to about 17 different experts: Nobody has a clue what the hell they’re doing. And if they try to convince you otherwise, they’re either lying to themselves, or selling something, or a little bit of both.