Taking Advice

I take most advice that I receive with a grain of salt. 

First, there’s the most frequent form of advice I collect: unsolicited advice.  When bestowed unsolicited advice, I take it with a handful of salt in two senses of the expression: I’m not likely to take the advice very seriously, and I’m salty — inwardly eye-rolling and a tad-bit annoyed — that people feel entitled to share their opinions and suggestions for my betterment with me, without my asking for it. advice

Remembering words from Chicago Tribune Mary Schmich’s hypothetical graduation speech “Wear Sunscreen” helps me feel less annoyed than compassionate toward advice-giving enthusiasts, but still un-inclined to incorporate their “words of wisdom” into my life.  She writes, “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

The second type of advice that I often receive is advice that I’ve requested.  I have my go-to advisors for everything from work to relationships to my emotional and spiritual improvement: my parents, my husband, a handful of friends, my sister, a few former work supervisors and a smattering of mentors.  But even with all of these people — individuals whom I trust and respect enough to go to for advice in the first place — I don’t always take their suggestions. I weigh their advice, considering how it feels — at a gut level — and imagining what it would look like put into practice in my life. 

Maybe fifty percent of the time I end up acting upon requested advice that I receive.  This isn’t to say that I don’t take seriously the advice that I ultimately end up discarding; if I asked for advice, I’m going to listen to it and consider it carefully.  I just may end up deciding that it’s not the best solution for me, considering all of the other pieces of the puzzle to which only I am fully aware.   

If I am being completely honest with myself, though, deciding that it’s not the best solution for me only accounts for a portion of the advice that I don’t take.  Sometimes I don’t take advice that I sought, even when I know I would be better if I did, because it’s too hard to take.  Maybe I don’t have the discipline to put it into action, or I’m afraid, or I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.  Whatever the particular circumstances, these are not good reasons to discard advice. 

Seeing this tendency in myself to shirk advice that I actually know would benefit me to take, I’m trying something this year.  I am committing to taking all of the advice of one person: my spiritual director, Rosemary.  I’ve chosen Rosemary for several reasons: I completely trust that she has my best interests at heart, she is an intelligent, perceptive, and wise human being and so I know that her advice is good…and I only meet with her monthly, so there’s only so much advice that she can give me. 

I’m excited to see how this goes.  If she recommends a book, I’m reading it.  If she suggests a spiritual practice, I’m trying it.  If she tells me to lighten up, I will make my very best attempt. 

I’m curious to hear what others think.  Who do you go to for advice?  Do you always take it?  If you had to pick one person whose advice you unreservedly incorporated, who would it be?