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Life Is Short. Life Is Long. Why Advice Doesn't Matter.

Advice we are told: Life is short. Life is long. You only live once. You probably live twice. Feel into your emotions. Set aside your emotions. Put yourself first. Put others first. Take risks. Proceed with caution. Be active. Be still. Take your time. Don’t waste your time. To each their own (I did actually hear that one during the pandemic). We’re all in this together.

Advice is confusing. The list is long and very contradictory. But at the end of the day, just like you choose a job or a spouse, you choose the advice you feel is right for you. You first feel into it, and then you rationalize it. Jonathan Haidt (2012) explains this best in his elephant and rider analogy that draws from the social intuitionist model which states: Intuition comes first. Strategic reasoning comes second. The elephant is your intuition and the rider is your reasoning. When a dilemma presents itself, the elephant in you will automatically lean in one direction. It’s so quick that it’s barely even noticeable. The rider in you will then look for the evidence to support this move making it look like your “rational brain” has really thought this through. Take voting for example. Or making a big decision about a job offer or a move. Your elephant already knows, your rider’s job is to justify it.

There was a time in my life when I felt it was all about me. I listened to the advice of “put yourself first” because at that point in my life that was honestly what I felt like doing. Then there was a time when I was lonely and I was given the advice to “put others first”. I listened to that because at that time that’s what I really wanted - to connect with others. And then just the other day over lunch with a friend, I was lamenting about a personal choice I had to make and she said: “When I was in your boat, I wish I had been more selfish. You gotta put yourself first.” Well that felt right, so I listened to that.

It’s not the advice that counts. It really doesn’t even matter. It’s how you feel in that moment in time and what words are going to make your feelings matter. Grieving over someone’s death? Perhaps it’s “life is short, seize the day” that you want to hear. Feeling pressure to have it all all at the same time? Perhaps it’s “life is long, be patient with yourself” that you want to hear.

With so much advice out there, it can be overwhelming to sort through it. And with our over-reliance on someone or something else to solve our problems (a “fix it” culture I believe we live in) we can be tricked into believing that the answer lies outside of ourselves. But even in the cases when we look toward external support, likely without even realizing it, we are drawn to the people, the books, the sayings, the ideas that in that moment speak to how we really feel. If you ever are having trouble identifying your emotions, just take a look at the last quotation you wrote down or the last online article you clicked on to read. It is sure to reveal how you really feel.

There’s only one piece of advice/life wisdom I find myself continuously coming back to and I learned it not through the direct words of any one person in particular, but through the experience of sitting with both of my grandmothers while they were dying. They say to pay attention to what people say on their deathbeds and I must have liked that piece of advice as my grandmothers were dying, so I paid careful attention. At the bedside of my father’s mother, she asked me how her daughter who had died nearly 40 years earlier was doing. It was clear she felt she was about to go see her. I played along. She died the next morning. At the bedside of my mother’s mother, I held her hand while she sat with her own four children, who had not been in the same room together in years. She died the next morning. It seems as though when all is said and (quite literally) done, relationships are the only thing that really matter. Which brings me back to advice. Listen to that if that is what feels right, or don’t if it doesn’t. Maybe it doesn’t feel right now, maybe it will later. You’ll figure it out. You have time or maybe you don’t.

Relationships, while I don’t know anyone who would say they don’t matter, are tricky. Let’s not forget they are a two-way street and one of the ways we give love to one another is by giving advice. But advice doesn’t really matter. Love does.

I’m often asked why I am so strict on no advice-giving in my CIRCLES. The answer is because it robs people of exploring how they really feel. They either will like your advice and become attached to the words not recognizing their feelings beneath them, or they will dislike your advice and become resentful of you, again not recognizing their feelings beneath them. I don’t allow for advice-giving because the advice itself really doesn’t matter. I allow for other kinds of love- like the gifts of time and listening- because well, they really do matter. OPM CIRCLES are one of the only group spaces where advice-giving and problem-solving do not exist and exploration of an issue is truly an open and honest process, a kind of support that is too few and far between in this broken world.

Which makes CIRCLES a scary thing to say yes to in the business world. (And yes, I am actively working to partner with businesses as we transition into a hybrid workforce.) In the business world, there’s a solution, a 3-step process, a program, a boss, a leader who has the answer (or the right advice) to any problem. This has to be true some of the time. This is why really successful companies with really effective leaders do so well. But this also has to be false some of the time. A main reason people leave their jobs is a poor relationship with their manager (Gallup, 2015). And one of the key factors of self-motivation is autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2000). People want to feel empowered to make decisions in the workplace and they want safe and supportive relationships with their managers and their peers. Sure, advice is nice sometimes, especially from a trusted mentor, but space, space to explore, to feel, to be seen, to be heard, to be known, to be understood...sounds like a place of true belonging to me.

But it’s not my role to make my team at work feel belonging? That’s what families or friends are for. If you are a manager and this sounds like you, I would have some advice to give you, but then again, my advice doesn’t really matter. You’ll discover whether your company supports this mindset or not and I’m pretty sure the world has already come knocking on your door anyways. If you are a manager and you are feeling excited or emboldened or overwhelmed by this new responsibility. My advice? Again, it doesn't really matter, but I would be very interested in exploring CIRCLES with you…


Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage Books.

Harter, J., & Adkins, A. (2015, April 8). Employees want a lot more from their managers. Gallup.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

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