Taking decisions in life is hard. Especially if they concern our future. One of the classical examples we have all gone through is deciding what career path to follow after we graduate.
And there are many people – parents, relatives, friends, unknowns, who try to give us their valuable advice about our own future. Some will tell you to go study medicine or law since it is so well paid. Others will tell you to study economics, because everyone in your family was an economist and you should continue the chain. And some will tell you to follow your passion and do what makes you happy.
And all of this friendly help makes things even more complicated. Some people blindly agree on what their parents say, since they are their superiors. Others act more rebelliously and do the exact opposite of what others told them and write stuff like “I don’t care about what other people think or say” on their Facebook walls.
I have gone through both periods myself. I know the struggle and I have also received advice about my future when I was graduating and I continue receiving it even these days any endeavor I take.
What has changed, however, is my approach and way of thinking about the issue.
I didn’t use the graduation example by coincidence. That is the time when the issue escalates and can cause a crucial effect on our lives. And that effect can be either devastating or profoundly helpful.
Choosing what to study after you graduate is one of those things our parents feel an obligation to intervene in. I have a friend, who likes drawing a lot and wanted to become an artist, but his parents told him to study civil engineering instead, since they didn’t consider drawing a real profession.
This is also an issue for aspiring software developers nowadays as well. Normally, you won’t have an issue convincing your parents that the career is a good one, since they have heard about the big salaries programmers take. But these days, you have the option of taking the traditional route to software development through university but you can also learn the craft on your own or via a boot camp. And the latter choices might not be appealing to your parents even though they might sometimes be the better option. After all, you will be a disgrace to the family if you don’t have a degree and you will deeply upset your grandma.
But that is not the only case when we have people trying to tell us what to do. This actually happens on a daily basis to most of us in a subtle way. We watch videos of some highly popular and presumably successful people that tell you what to do with your life. Some suggest adopting the habit of reading books. Others tell you to start your business ASAP and follow your dream, never give up, fight until the end.
But the problem is not in the people saying all those things. Their suggestions might cause more damage than help but even so, they are only trying to help (well, most of them at least). The problem is in our approach to them.
A case study
When I was a little kid, around 10 years old, I was highly dependent of my parents. In those days, whatever my parents said, I would consider a law. I used the things they said as trump cards in disputes with other kids. Whenever I said “Yeah, but my parents said this”, I knew I had won.
But as we grow older, we slowly start gaining more independence from our superiors. We are entering a period in which we can look after ourselves. For me, this was especially true as I have been studying in another town since I was 14. I saw my parents only during the weekends, when I went back to my hometown. And as I was getting older, my view of them started to shift. Now, I grasped a different strategy.
I would do the exact opposite of what my parents said. If they told me to study hard, I would play games instead. If they told me to take a haircut, I would let my hair grow longer. And whenever they tried to give me any advice, rage would grow in me as I didn’t want my life to be chosen by my parents.
When I was graduating, things weren’t different. My parents tried to actively take part in my choice of career. It was almost as if they were the ones graduating, not me. And I appreciate that they care about my future and well being. But even so, I still didn’t listen to them.
However, this time it wasn’t because of stubbornness. I realized that neither of my early strategies were good. Extremes can rarely bring you any good. You shouldn’t blindly follow what other people tell you, nor should you oppose them just for the sake of behaving differently. There is a different mindset you can adopt, that will help you make optimal decisions in such circumstances.
The correct way to address the issue
Before listening to anyone’s advice, ask yourself:
Does this person have any expertise in what he is talking about?
Has he achieved what you are striving to achieve?
Do you want to become like him once you grow up?
If your father has been a farmer all his life, is he the right person to tell you what to do for your software development career?
That was my situation. My father didn’t know how to reinstall his PC and had troubles using Microsoft Word and yet, he was giving me advice about what to do to become a programmer. Of course, I didn’t take his opinion into account.
Instead, what I did was to search for popular software developers in my region, found their contacts and wrote emails and messages to them asking for what they thought was the best option for studying software development nowadays. As they have proven to be experts in this field, I believed that they would give me good advice about entering the field myself.
But a common pitfall is to view particular people as role models and listen to them about not only their field, but every other one as well.
I support the idea of listening to mentors, but only about what they are good at.
If a famous YouTube motivational-speaking guru has proven to be very good in sales, then he might be a good option to listen to about how to do sales properly. But if he has 2 failed marriages, then he probably isn’t the right guy to tell you what to do with your personal life.
So, choose your mentors wisely, and have different mentors for different fields.
We constantly find someone to tell us what to do. In our early years, that’s our parents. In later years, that might be friends, random people on social media or a popular motivational top-speaking-success-driven kind of guru.
Whether we should listen to them or not depends on their expertise on the subject. We should carefully choose our mentors and make sure we don’t blindly listen to everything they say. Different people have different expertise. Strive to take the best of all.
Next time you read a book, watch a motivational YouTube video, or hear from your parents, think about whether they are the right people to listen to for that particular topic.
Once you develop this habit, you will feel confident that you are not blindly following other people’s advice or acting like a berserk teenager. You are starting to take informative decisions and are now firmly going towards being an independent person.