Whom Do You Ask for Advice?

BlogHer Original Post

Let's face it. Advice is a dime a dozen. If you ask two people their opinion you'll get at least three or four different answers. Every corner you turn in your office, in your business stands someone who wants to tell you what they think you should do. So, how do you know who you should listen to?

At the end of the day the only person who can truly guide you to the right path is you. Part of the reason so many of us find/have found ourselves in careers wondering "how the hell did I wind up here?" is because we listened to everyone else but didn't go inside ourselves to discern what we really wanted. Yet, even the most inner-directed person does benefit immensely from having various mentors, coaches, advisors, and the like. So how do you know what advice to take and which to fall by the wayside?

Brazen Careerist has something to say about this in "Don't be a snob about career advice". As you might expect, Penelope Trunk's advice offers you counter-intuitive principles. I particularly like her first (of five) principles:

Listen to people who hate you. People ask me all the time how I put up with the level of criticism this blog draws. The interesting thing about taking advice from people who don't like me is that sometimes, they'll say things that other people wouldn't say because it would hurt me. I rely on my gut in terms of whose criticism comes from caring and understanding and whose criticism comes from an obsessive need to take me down, but after I figure that out, I still pay attention to my critics.

There is value to be mined here. I personally learned some very valuable lessons from managers and co-workers who couldn't stand me.  In the end it came down to their own discomfort with themselves, some aspect of me that scared them (because either they didn't want to be like that or wished they had the chutzpah to do what I've done), or plain personality differences.  Yet, it taught me important lessons about how I was being perceived and what I needed to bolster within my own confidence so that I wasn't beaten down by others' criticism.

GenPink hits the nail on the head in "Twenty-something advice: Don't plan your life based on what other people expect":

The biggest thing I’ve learned since leaving college is that what everyone expects you to do, is not necessarily what you should be doing.

and further on in the article...

Don’t plan your life based on what other people expect, plan your life based on what you want to do with it. Regardless of what people think.

The earlier you learn this the better.  This doesn't mean you disrespect, ignore, or trample others from some righteous position.  Rather if you come from a place of self-confidence and compassion you can stand strongly in your choices while honoring yourself and others.

Once you have that solid foundation, possibilities open up.  You can find various mentors in your life, personal and professional, and get the most out of the relationship.  Why? Because you'll always be able to truly take in what they share and then determine what pieces of that advice are a fit for you or not.  That being said, you need to be open to try on some advice that makes you uncomfortable or that might not seem a fit at first because it is meant to help you move to that next level of mastery or success.  You can always try anything on for size and then choose not to use it ongoing.  Your bigger risk is if you discount everything you hear because it is a stretch.  That's being complacent, not authentic.

So, how do you find a mentor? Sure there are some hard core, rigid ways to do it.  "Help! I Need a Mentor" from CBS Moneywatch has some of that advice.  I think the key is to pick a relationship that really works. "Who is Your Mentor" sums it up nicely:

So what makes a good mentoring relationship? The mentor/protege relationship should not be forced, but rather form naturally. The mentor should have competence, character and patience. The protege should be enthusiastic and willing to learn. Common interests and humor should also be present in the relationship to make it natural and easily deepened.

You have to respect one another and have rapport, otherwise it just doesn't work.  Trust me I recently had a mentor where she and I were at one another's throats.  Then, all of a sudden we realized we both wanted the same thing - we just weren't listening to one another and our personalities were very different.  After that difficult conversation things went great and I've benefited greatly from her support. 

Several years ago I wrote "The Art of Finding a Mentor" which has some great information in it as well.

Be mindful of who you ask for advice and even more mindful of what advice you choose to act upon.  With your inner compass intact, though asking and receiving is a surefire way to boost your career and business far beyond what would be possible if you tried the Lone Ranger approach.


Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and business coaching for women to help you gain the clarity, confidence, and courage you need to up-level your business and life. Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom & Experience Greater Confidence" at her website

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