Thoughts

The Dangers of Too Much Advice

Advice Can Be Helpful

I’m a pretty cautious person by nature.  I love to research things and seek out advice.  Before starting a project, buying a new product, taking up an activity, or making major life decisions, I turn to Google for help.  Since I have access to the collective wisdom of the internet, I figure I should take advantage of it.

What kind of reviews did something get?  Are there better alternatives?  What are the experts saying?  Can I avoid making any obvious mistakes?

This approach serves me well in most areas:  I don’t get ripped off very often.  I generally do business with reputable people.  And I rarely make impulsive purchases that lead to buyer’s remorse.

Don’t Overdo It

However, before the internet came to dominate our lives, the amount of advice available was more manageable.  It was often confined to newspaper or magazine columns (like Dear Abbey or Savage Love), call-in radio shows (à la Loveline), instructional TV shows (e.g. “Happy Tree” artist Bob Ross), or self-help books.  Otherwise, you had to turn to your parents, your friends, or your personal social circle.  It was harder to overdose on advice because you couldn’t seek out so much of it.

Fast-forward to today and advice is everywhere.  There are entire TV channels, social media outlets, podcasts, websites, blogs, magazines — you name it — all dedicated to telling you what you should do and how you should do it.  Advice is abundant for any topic imaginable.  Health, fitness, investing, gaming, coding, career paths, relationships.  The categories are seemingly infinite.

And this is ultimately a good thing.  It gives more people access to guidance and information in all facets of life.  It levels the playing field for anyone looking to improve or to succeed in any given endeavor.  We just have to be careful not to overdo it.

The Downside of Too Much Advice-Seeking

I get so wrapped up in accumulating advice and learning how to make flawless decisions that I spin my wheels and waste too much time.  After a certain point, I’m sure I would be better off focusing on something more productive.  Like actually living life.

But the quest for perfect advice becomes an activity unto itself.  I start convincing myself there’s something magical out there that will give me the ultimate edge.  And I’m so close to finding it— buried in the search results, hidden in an obscure online journal, tucked away in a blog post, or lodged deep in the belly of an old Reddit comment thread.

Oftentimes my search reaches OCD-level proportions.  The sheer volume of advice I consume becomes overwhelming, counterprodcutive.

I’ve learned that a little advice can be helpful; just the right amount gives me the confidence I need; and too much is almost worse than none at all.

Pile of "question marks"

Once I hit that point of diminishing returns, seeking out too much advice leaves my mind swimming in a sea of information overload.  It’s paralyzing.  Conflicting opinions abound, minutiae piles up, and my brain is stuffed with vivid anecdotes describing every possible thing that could go wrong if I don’t follow the CORRECT advice.  By this point, I’m worn out; my confidence in my own judgment and decision-making plummets.

Fear

At the root of my appetite for advice is a kind of fear.  I’m afraid — afraid that I’ll make unnecessary mistakes.  Or maybe that I’ll end up wasting time, energy, money, or effort.  Quite frankly, I hate doing things wrong: We only get one life and I want to optimize it.

The irony is, though, that no amount of advice can drain all risk out of life.  Trying to do everything “right” actually amplifies my fear — this advice dependency causes me to outsource my own agency.  I’m rendered skeptical and distrustful of my own intuition.  Because what if I choose wrong?

But, essentially, mistakes give life its flavor.  Sometimes the most interesting people live a life that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, of sensible advice.  Most great entrepreneurs, artists, investors, writers, entertainers, and musicians are iconoclasts.  They’re doing it their own way.  They had the guts to live life without a roadmap, to follow their own path and see what each new day would bring — good, bad, or otherwise.

Collage of famous iconoclasts

 

It’s Your Life

I’m still going to turn to advice for the smaller, more well-defined aspects of life, like figuring out which cell phone to buy or which mattress gets the best reviews.  But I’m learning to be more careful about the bigger stuff, like:

What should I do with my life?
Which skills should I focus on developing?
What does a successful life look like?

Because all this advice-seeking and consumption is robbing us of something fundamental: our chance to grow, to learn from mistakes, to find out what we, as unique individuals, really want out of life.

After all, maybe we’re destined for something that hasn’t been done yet.  And maybe there is no advice for that.  At least not yet.