Whenever we're thinking about changing the course of our lives, whether it be doing something new like picking up a new skill or deciding to switch jobs, one of the first things we do ask others about their opinions. It's not uncommon to have a desire to reach out to our close circle of family and friends for advice when you want to check out something different.
It makes sense since change can often be scary. Venturing into the unknown causes anyone to seek guidance from any place. It may also extend outside of your personal connections: long hours searching for information online, buying and reading lots of books, reaching out to others on social media, and so on.
Looking for any kind of recommendation for the things you want to modify in your life is a long process. It can take days, weeks, months - even years, in some cases. However, here's a little secret to help you shorten that timeframe significantly: when you're at the point of asking for advice you already know what you want, and no matter what anyone tells you, you will do what you wanted in the first place.
Postponing the inevitable
You might be thinking that if you're seeking advice from others, it's because you're unsure about what you want to do. It might seem like that on the surface, and you might even start to believe it if that's the thing you tell yourself constantly. But deep down in your heart and soul, the truth will be there, and it's what you will end up doing anyway. I have a personal story of how I realized this myself.
A few years ago, I joined a small company in the San Francisco Bay Area as a software engineer. The first couple of months were great - the product I would work on was growing rapidly, the people I worked with were incredibly talented, and I was full of excitement about the possibilities this position could provide for the growth of my career.
After the honeymoon period vanished, I began to notice the cracks in the foundation. The product was not growing as rapidly as I initially thought. My talented co-workers were not given the opportunity to flourish. I started to realize that I wouldn't improve if I remained in my position for too long. Less than one year in, I began to feel like this was not the place I was supposed to be in.
After one particularly stressful and unfulfilling week, I knew I had to make a choice. I could stick with the job a bit longer to see if the situation improved. Or I could jump ship and find something new. Deep down inside, I knew that the situation wouldn't get better, so I wanted to leave the company. But I began to make a million excuses against that: I had only been there for less than a year, job-hopping would look bad on my resume, interviewing is stressful, there's a possibility I would land a new job in a worse situation than I am now, and so on.
Since I was feeling split between these two options, I started to reach out to everyone I could. I talked to family, friends, former co-workers, peers who I followed on social media, talking to people at meetups, and just about anyone who I thought could give me their take on this situation. I also spend an inordinate time at the local library reading career-related books and reading blog articles from people in similar situations.
After at least four exhausting months of this weighing heavily on my consciousness, guess what happened? I left the company - just what I wanted deep down in my heart all that time.
You don't want advice, you want validation
The issue was not that everyone I asked for advice told me to leave my job. As a matter of fact, most of what I found was actually the opposite. My family and close friends thought I would be making a mistake in leaving a well-paying job in my field after just a few months there. But the one thing that I didn't realize at the time was that I discarded everything that I didn't want (ignoring whenever someone told me not to leave my job) and instead paid attention only to what I wanted (agreeing when someone told me to go).
This tendency is also known as confirmation bias. In my scenario, I began asking people about whether I should leave my job or not when I already knew that I wanted to go. These thoughts set me up from the beginning to label everything that wasn't what I wanted as noise, and only listen to what I wanted in the first place.
Doing this isn't seeking advice - it's merely seeking validation and someone to agree with you. It's a trap that only serves to waste your time and energy, as well as the time and energy of those around you. If I had decided from the beginning that I wanted to leave my job instead, I would have avoided months of being mentally and emotionally drained from both my career and thinking about what I should do about it.
Also, if you're spending your time seeking validation, it can be dangerous because it opens you up to be swayed in a direction that either you don't want or is worse for you. Typically, you'll have your guard down during this period of looking for confirmation, which makes it more difficult to think clearly about your own future.
I almost fell into this trap when I was thinking about leaving my job. Some people - mostly my family - tried their hardest to convince me to stay put. I was very close to agreeing with them. But had I remained with that company, I would most likely have continued to feel miserable and end up at a point where I'm almost certain that I would have been fired due to my performance or attitude suffering greatly.
Some co-workers that I confided in didn't want me to leave. I initially thought that they just wanted me around, but in reality, it meant that they would most likely be shouldering the workload I left behind. You need to be extra careful when you're in an emotional state of wanting to change something drastically. While most people want to help you sincerely, there will still be others who will take any opening to push their agenda on you and take you down a path where you don't want to be.
Seek advice as long as it's not merely for validation
The purpose of this article is not to persuade you to just do what you want without talking to anyone about it. Seeking advice for any life-altering event is strongly recommended to help give you balance and perspective, especially if you're genuinely undecided on what to do next. However, if all you're looking for is to have validation from others who agree with what you want, don't waste your time or theirs.
As mentioned earlier, the truth on what you want and how you feel will always be deep down inside your being. It's up to you to decide whether to dig it up or keep it buried and find acceptance from others. Remember, only you know what's absolutely best for you. Go for what feels right and trust that the Universe will take you there.
Small steps for your Practical Good
Let's get you on the path to make your personal decisions more efficiently and get to what you want to do quicker by taking these small steps:
- Determine if you're seeking advice or validation when seeking guidance from others. It's straightforward to fall into the trap of asking others about what they think when all you want is for them to agree with you. The next time you're looking for the thoughts of others to help with your decision on anything, find out if you're genuinely looking for advice to make that decision. If you think you're just looking for someone to agree with you, just skip asking altogether. It'll save you a lot of time and energy to do what you truly want.
- Defeat confirmation bias by disagreeing with what you believe in. There's a technique that has been used by some well-known and high-performant people such as Charles Darwin and Warren Buffett to help beat their own confirmation bias. The method is to think about your existing beliefs and find ways to contradict them. Finding differing opinions will provide better information to guide you towards a decision. Even if you still side with your original belief, at least with this technique, you will have analyzed both sides of the argument instead of finding what you agree with.