Don’t Go That Way

It’s hard to give negative advice. Harder still to take it.

What’s “negative advice?” That’s advice about what not to do. It’s much easier to give, take and evaluate “positive advice,” i.e. advice about an action. I can say, “I did X and got Y result; your situation is similar, and you also want Y, so you should do X.” And you can look at your situation and decide if it is indeed similar and you can examine my result and all that.

It’s harder to say “don’t do X.” For one, it’s harder to evaluate the effects of non-action. “I didn’t do X so Y didn’t happen to me” is harder to prove, simply because you can’t prove a negative. And you have a million possible counter-factuals.

On top of that, it’s harder to compare situations. Let’s say a successful person tells you that they wasted their time in a dead-end job for 2 years, and now they’re trying to tell you not to do that. Okay, but… aren’t they successful now? What if slaving away in that dead-end job contributed to that? If I admire your success, should I do what you say, even if what you say isn’t what you actually did?

Meanwhile, if I meet an unsuccessful person (by whatever standards I’m using for “successful”), and they say, “don’t do X; I did X and now look at me,” should I trust that? Sure, you did X and now you’re in a position I don’t envy, but why should I trust that you’re accurately evaluating your own failures? If you were a better judge of what actually led you down this path, wouldn’t you have avoided it and become successful, or at least recovered?

Whenever I give advice (and I try not to very often), I try to always give “positive advice.” I.e. I advise people to take action, not to avoid action. Usually I try to stay away from advice in the form of “don’t do this probably bad thing,” especially if I’ve done that bad thing.

Because I survived it, right? Hopefully I even learned something, got smarter, got stronger. I’ve done some weird stuff that in all likelihood I would have been smarter to avoid. I lived in a horse stable for a while… like with horses. Like, my roommates were horses. I also sold vacuum cleaners out of the back of a van for a week. I’m not 100% sure they weren’t stolen? I mean, I didn’t steal them, but I never saw my boss actually buy them or order them, so who knows.

The point is that these weren’t power career moves or even smart living choices. But they were experiences, and they didn’t kill me, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that I did them. So I wouldn’t tell someone else not to do them – to be honest, I can’t say with certainty that I know all of the effects they had. It’s better to share the experiences that directly generated a positive result that I have a high degree of confidence would duplicate if repeated.

Learn from other people’s successes – but make your own mistakes, my friend. It’s more fun that way.

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