Life is but a series of questions, answers
What is life if not a series of consequential decisions? At every step of the way, there is a fork in the road. Questions present themselves on both the personal and the professional fronts.
On the personal front, questions like: “Who should I be with and where should I live?” And “Should I get married and have kids?”
On the professional front, there are other questions: “Should I further my studies or get a job? Which profession should I choose? How do I balance life and work?” And “When should I retire?” There are also less existential questions, of course, that shouldn’t be taken too lightly: “Where should I spend my next vacation? What show should I watch?”
Decisions. Decisions. More decisions. On one side of the spectrum there are people who pride themselves of making their own decisions and on the other side there are those who are constantly reaching out for guidance and advice. And as for advice givers, some say “I don’t know,” some are often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt, and others just know it all.
In my last article, I told you about my cousin and how the advice he gave me has changed the trajectory of my life for the better. Since then, in my professional life, I have given advice daily (as a doctor, giving advice is a part of what you are paid to do).
In my personal life, I have often received and given advice as well. Today, I want to share with you some reflections on what I have noticed about giving and receiving advice. This article is therefore a kind of an advice column. Let’s call it: The Incomplete Guide on How To Receive and How to Give Advice.
≤ You want to seek advice from people who are familiar with the subject in which you have interest. Need medical advice? Don’t ask your mother-in-law who happens to be a gardener. Don’t over-Google it. For serious medical advice, ask your doctor. Same goes for everything: a leaking faucet, call a plumber. Complex tax return, consult an accountant. Wrongfully accused of a murder, don’t represent yourself, call a lawyer.
≤ In matters of the heart, recognize that sometimes you want to share your story more than to receive advice. If you are seeking professional advice, speak with a professional–a psychologist or a relationship counselor, for example. But if all you want is to be heard, talk to a friend and start by saying, “I wanted to share with you something private, I am not particularly seeking advice, would you mind listening?
≤ Ignore the natural tendency to seek advice from people you know hold the same position as yours. What good is it to hear yourself in a echo chamber? Often, a different point of view can illuminate a problem in a different light, provide a different perspective. Approaching any problem from several points of view–brain storming with diverse opinion holders–can bring a more effective, creative solution.
≤ When giving advice, do more listening than talking. Ask questions that will allow the other person to present the case as a whole story: What triggered the situation? What happened next? How did you feel about it all? What do you you wish to happen next? What would be the best possible outcome, and how are you going to get there? Often, allowing the advice-seeker to think aloud through the situation would lead them to a solution that best fits their set of values and personality. You can bring to the discussion your own experience, offer guidance, and gently express your own opinions, but in the end, it is the advice-seeker who will have to make the decision, so let them do so.
≤ Here is an observation that is more like a confession. Suppose that Danny, my son, asked me, “Daddy, what profession should I choose?” And I answer, “If it would be me, I would choose medicine.” Sounds like good advice, right? And it is good advice (medicine is a good profession and Danny would make an excellent doctor) until you consider the fact the Danny DOES NOT want to study medicine nor does he aspire to become a doctor. Instead he wants to study computer science.
≤ You see, what I’m trying to say is this: most advice-seekers are asking a question that sounds something like, “If you were me, what would you do?” In response, most advice-givers respond by pronouncing what they would do if they, not you, were in your situation. To give good advice, the giver should step into the shoes of the one who seeks advice. What motivates the advice-seeker? What interest him? What’s his goals? How does he feel about the road ahead and what steps is he willing to take? To give good advice, you need to know the person.
≤ Danny has never expressively asked for my advice. I gave him advice nevertheless, overstaying my welcome. He listened politely, lovingly. He never chose medicine, he is whole-heartedly immersed in computer science. It seems like the best fit for him.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Aspirus and the author of “Is Life Too Long? Essays about Life, Death and Other Trivial Matters.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.