A Thought on Giving Advice

“The best way to succeed in life is to act on the advice you give others.”     ~ Unknown

Have you ever observed a behavior in another person and found yourself either thinking, or actually telling them, how you feel they could have better-handled the situation?  If so, here’s a news flash for you (and for me as well!): Unless someone asks you for your opinion, they aren’t interested in hearing your advice.

I don’t normally appreciate unsolicited advice from others, so why would I think someone else would be receptive to unsolicited advice from me?

My best option is to take my own advice and work on myself versus trying to fix others.  Because ultimately, the only person I have control over… is me.

A Quick Though On Sharing Yours

Whenever you’re in a large or small group, professional or volunteer, and the opportunity arises to share your thoughts and opinions, do so!

When we silence our own voice by withholding our thoughts, we willingly hand over the ability to make or influence a decisions to those who do share their thoughts.  We trade in our role as leaders and resign ourselves to passengers on a course someone will chart for us.

You have thoughts, insights, and ideas that could benefit those around you.  However, they benefit no one, if they remain solely in your head.

Get This Decision Right

Many of the choices we make don’t require a great deal of thought. For example deciding what you’re going to wear today, what you’re having for dinner, or where you want to go on vacation this year, while important, are not life changing decisions. If, in fact, you do make a bad decision in one of these areas, the consequences are pretty insignificant. (Your life isn’t going to change a great deal if you had chicken for dinner instead of salmon!) However, for those decisions where the stakes are much higher, we must make sure we’ve gathered sufficient information and given ample thought to our decision before we pull the trigger.

One of the most important decisions we make is the primary person we decide to do life with. Whether it’s a spouse, a life partner, or significant other, this person will have a very substantial role and impact in our life. As such, this type of relationship should be entered into slowly. Only after we’ve gathered significant experiences and information about the other person are we about to make a good decision.

If you’re currently in the process of making this decision about someone, before you decide, you should have answers to the following questions:

  • Do you know what your own goals and dreams are and what you, specifically, want out of life?
  • What are the other person’s goals and expectations from life? Do they align with yours?
  • What are the non-negotiable character traits and attributes you’re looking for in another person?
  • What are the non-negotiable character traits you are unwilling to settle for in another person?
  • How does this person align with the previous 2 questions?
  • No, really! How do they align?
  • What’s their worldview and outlook on life?
  • How does the other person handle conflict?
  • How do they handle money?
  • How do they treat other people?
  • How do they treat you?
  • How do they respond when life gets tough?
  • What guides them in how they make decisions and live their life?

The only way you will get answers to these questions is through conversation and time together. Lots of time together, so don’t be in a big hurry. The questions above are a list you can check off in a weekend, a week, or month. To really answer these questions, I think it’s important to observe someone for at least a year, if not longer.

Nothing will affect the quality of your life more that the primary person you decide to do life with, so spend the time to seriously answer these questions, lest you rush into a bad decision.

Giving Attention

Here’s a quick mental exercise. See if you can think of an area of your life that gets better instead of worse as a result of being neglected. Here my attempt at a list and whether or not these areas get better when neglected:

  • Relationships – No
  • Health – No
  • Finances – No
  • Career – No
  • Family – No
  • Personal development – No
  • Possessions – No
  • Outlook on life – No
  • A garden of wild weed – Yes

Most areas of our life don’t get better as a result of neglect, they usually get worse. I know, that’s obvious, but here’s what may not be so obvious. While we may not intentionally decide to neglect an important area of our life, neglect is what happens when we fail to give something our attention.

To make something better, or to at least keep it good, requires our effort and attention. With so many things clamoring for our attention it’s essential that we purposefully give attention to those important areas of our life, lest they be unintentionally neglected.

The Responsibility of Imperfection

Here’s a piece of information I find liberating: None of us are perfect, nor are we expected to be. While I make an effort to do my best at whatever it is I’m doing, in my imperfection I often miss the mark, screw up, or fall short.

While knowing that I’m not perfect frees me up to try, fail and improve, knowing that I’m imperfect also reminds me that with imperfection comes responsibility. When we screw up or say the wrong thing, or a host of other things imperfect people do, we should be quick to:

  • Apologize to those we’ve hurt or negatively impacted
  • Own our mistakes instead of giving excuses or looking for someone else to blame
  • Ask for forgiveness when needed

We should also be quick to avoid expecting perfection from others and be equally quick to show grace to others when they fall short, because isn’t that what we’d like from others?

Let’s work at being responsible with our imperfections, and graceful to others in theirs.

Unexpected Opportunities

On Thursday my wife sent me an email letting me know that my mom was having some people over for dinner that night. One of the people attending was a person from Guatemala that my mom thought my wife and I would be interested in meeting, so she invited us to join them for dinner. My initial thought was to say no for a bunch of lame reasons, (it’s been a long week, I’ve got stuff to do, blah, blah, blah). Fortunately for me, my brain saw this as an unexpected opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up.

I’m always interested in meeting folks and hearing some of their story (everyone has a story!!), especially if they come from a different background, country, or culture than I do. The person from Guatemala is the daughter of a pastor, who happens to lead a Guatemalan church in the same denomination as the church we attend. Already had some common ground for good conversation! So I emailed my wife back and told her to let my mom know we’d be there for dinner.

An unexpected opportunity to meet someone different from me lands in my lap on Thursday and I was about to say, “No”. What would I gain by staying home, except for some free time? As I thought about it, I realized that I get a lot more opportunities for free time than I do to meet an interesting person with a common interest.

This experience reminded me that I’m trying to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. It’s too easy to automatically settle for our routine and, as a result, let these unexpected opportunities go by. That’s a great way to maintain a routine, but it’s no way to live an exciting life.

The dinner and the conversation on Thursday was a lot of fun! I’m so glad that I went and didn’t settle for the perceived comfort of my routine. There is a lot that happens when we step outside of our routines.

Starting Conversations

Last week we were on vacation in Denali National Park. While the landscape and wildlife were spectacular, what stood out most to me was how easy it was to start a conversation and connect with other people.

Whether it was on the park bus or standing in line somewhere, it was so easy to start up a conversation with people by simply asking a question like:

  • Did you see any wildlife in the park today?
  • How long have you been in Alaska?
  • How long will you be in Alaska?
  • Where are you from?
  • What are you going to see next?

It was equally easy to start conversations with folks based on a sports team, a geographic location, or some other familiar identifier on a person’s clothing. (“Go Packers!” seems to be a good conversation starter with people wearing Green Bay gear.)

It got me wondering why we don’t start conversations with people around us when we’re not on vacation. When I look at my own life, it seems easy to avoid connecting with those around me, even though there are so many of the same conversation starters in everyday life.

Why not start initiating conversations with people around us, even when we’re not on vacation? We might be surprised with you many interesting and friendly people we cross paths with each day.