“This is what you should be doing when you graduate from university.” I heard this so many times in my final year of studies that the words lost their meaning after a while.
Whether it was my friends, tutors, parents, or the career advisors, there was no shortage of people telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing after I graduated. The range of options was so varied that it was dizzying trying to process them all and work out which one was best. Should I do a master’s degree? Do I want to go into journalism? What about a graduate job?
We think more options are often better, but in this case, they just confused me. All of the people I spoke to were convinced that their advice was the best. This is the same sort of advice that is dished out regularly on the internet. The same is true of social media. Suddenly, people who have a few thousand followers claim to know what’s best for everyone else.
The truth? They don’t. They’re just regurgitating what worked best for them and reasoning that because it worked for them it will work for everyone else too. And often, they’re wrong.
The thing about life is that there are many different ways to ways to lead yours. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. I’m sure these people mean well, but it’s easy to get caught up on your own success or beliefs and forget that it won’t work for everyone.
Instead, it’s important to recognize that much like there are a thousand professions you can do, there are many paths you can go down too.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
In his bestselling book, The Rich Man of Babylon, George S. Clason wrote:
“Advice is one thing that is freely given away, but watch that you take only what is worth having. He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions.”
This passage highlights a key problem with taking advice from others that we often overlook. Who is providing the advice is often more important than the advice itself.
This is often down to cognitive biases, such as the Dunning-Kruger effect where we often overestimate our ability in a certain area. Research has shown that many of us are unaware of our own ignorance which can lead us to falsely believe we know something when we don’t.
Clason is alluding to this in the passage above. When he states that advice is given away freely he is referring to the fact that it is often by those who do not have the experience or knowledge necessary to impart it.
If a Doctor offers their opinion on an ailment we’re suffering from, the majority of us would accept his opinion. They’re a qualified medic, they’re likely to have encountered this before and we can trust that their advice is sound.
However, if your friend who works in office offered some advice of his own regarding your ailment, it’s safe to say it won’t be as reliable as the Doctor’s opinion. This is one of the most important things to consider when people offer their advice. From what position are they offering it?
Do they offer their advice from a position of experience and knowledge? Or is it coming from their belief that they know a lot about this topic when in reality, they don’t?
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a common bias that afflicts us all. There are many topics that each of us know a lot about, and there are those where we think we know more than we do. If we’re not careful, we can end up listening to the advice of people who shouldn’t really be offering it.
The initial research by David Dunning and Justin Kruger is clear that the tendency to overestimate our abilities is strong. What does this mean for us in a world where people are more than eager to give their two cent’s worth?
A pinch of salt
If there is one lesson we should take away from the Dunning-Kruger effect it’s that a lot of people think they know more than they do. This has big implications for many of us and should influence who and what advice we listen to.
Twitter is a great example of how we can become exposed to the wrong kind of advice. It’s an exchange of ideas where anyone can share what they think with millions of people across the globe. The problem is that a lot of these people offering advice believe that their advice is the best and only way to achieve what you want. As well as this, the fact that studies have proven lies spread faster than the truth on Twitter underlines the importance of taking what you see on the platform with a big pinch of salt.
There’s little place for nuance and minimal recognition of the different paths you can take. It’s a simple case of this is right and this is wrong. This is not how life works. Look at the variety of jobs, teachings, religions and you’ll realise that there are many different ways to do things.
I’m sure believers in Buddhism, Christianity or Islam, will say that their religion is the one true path, but the fact that there are multiple religions across the glove dispels this notion. Much like there are two ways to peel a banana, no one religion has a monopoly on morality or the truth.
The numerous people that advised me on what to do after I graduated from university meant well, but a lot of the time they were suggesting what they thought I should do, rather than what was in my best interest.
The great thing about life is that there are many options. You have choices and the agency to decide between these paths. Much like one size does not fit all, one path is not sufficient for everyone to follow.
It’s important to take advice, especially from strangers on Twitter and the wider web, with a pinch of salt. Our tendency to overestimate our abilities means we should be wary when we get advice from others. It’s important to ask yourself some key questions before you heed or neglect advice.
- Are they qualified to offer me advice?
- Do they have my best interests at heart?
- Does this correlate with what I already know or not?
Not all advice is bad, but not all advice is good either. The distinction between good and bad advice can often lie in whether that person has tailored it to you, or is just offering the same advice they offer to everyone else.
If it’s the former, there’s a higher likelihood it will be reliable, if it’s the latter, this person may have fallen prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect and you should consider whether what they are saying is correct or not before taking their advice.
It’s important to remember no one has all the answers. No one path exists that guarantees success for everyone. In a world where people tend to think they are smarter than they are, it pays dividends to be sceptical and question the advice you are given.
One of the pitfalls of heeding advice from others is that as humans, we tend to overestimate our abilities in areas we aren’t competent in. If you’re taking advice from someone who doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to back it up, there’s a high chance the advice might be poor.
It’s important to consider the merits of the person dishing out advice and whether they have your best interests at heart, or whether they think they know best regardless of your circumstances.
Advice is easy to give, but we should only take it from people who have walked the walk and not just talked the talk.