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Advice is Bad Pt. 2

May 15th, 2022

It says part 2. But I'm really writing this because it's an idea Ben had about how advice works—that it's showing someone a shortcut that's supposed to spare you a painful or tedious learning process. Read about it here.

I think Ben's core insight here is really really good. People get advice from people trying to help, but they're stubborn: they want to do their own strategy instead. Or else, the willpower to do something a certain way only comes after you've had the visceral experience of messing it up first.

But I want to expand on it because I think framing advice as a shortcut might overlook its value as a roadmap. I think advice is a way to frame an experience we're about to go through so we have a thought about where we're going to end up.

Ok, example time. About a month ago I went to Ben to be therapized about a relationship issue I was in the midst of. And as soon as I was finished describing it, Ben had an immediate response: he'd actually been in an almost identical situation a while ago back in high school—he'd lived it! His advice, though, was not very confidence-inspiring: basically that it wasn't going to work out.

And even though I was dealing with a deeply aware individual who I trusted and who was speaking from a place of credibly knowing what to do, my thought was something along the lines of "Fuck you, Ben! Just because lame highschool Ben messed up doesn't mean I will too. Stop peddling your silly little advice!"

(Sorry Ben. He was right, incidentally. As he often is.)

So far, we're pretty close to the initial Ben thesis about advice: that it is hard to follow the shortcut without experiencing the long way first. But what I realized is that even if I was annoyed at the advice and refused to follow it, it still helped. Because even if I disagreed with it, just having been told the advice gave me a sense of perspective that I might end up there too. It was a roadmap that told me eventually I was going to get to the advice destination and it would all be ok, even as I didn't follow it.

Ben's advice wasn't useful. But it was comforting. And so I think the fact that most people don't listen to weighty advice might be missing the point. What matters is that they get to keep it in their head and let it remind them of where they're going. I don't think that makes the journey any different, but I think it makes it feel easier.

So that's pretty useful.