Article Published: July 15, 2014
Article Published: July 15, 2014
By Raul Valdes-Perez, Contributing Writer
Previous columns developed principles and a how-to of advice seeking, i.e., of bringing the knowledge and experience of fellow humans to bear on our own challenges through good social (not social media) means, person-to-person. These principles are generally applicable, regardless of technology change, as long as human beings remain fairly constant.
Aspiring researchers learn that the more restricted the context, the greater the number of general truths. Thus, there are relatively few true things to say about all living beings, but lots of things to say about mice. If we restrict the context of advice seeking, what more can we say? Let’s take a look at the common problem of considering whether to get a new job.
My book “Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work” tells a personal story of two part-time jobs I held as an undergrad engineering student: teaching English as a second language and washing glassware in a biomedical lab. The teaching job paid much more, but I got frustrated because I had trouble teaching to disparate student levels: some had college degrees, whereas others were barely literate in their own language. I ended up quitting the teaching job because I wasn’t able to teach to my high standards, but consulted nobody in my decision. Had anyone else ever had such an experience, who could have helped me see things differently and perhaps lowered my standards? Clearly yes, but I didn’t reach out, and so changed jobs. Had I consulted somebody, maybe I would have stayed, or maybe not. Job changes are often driven more by emotion and less by deliberation and foresight. Uncertainty is common: “Should I get another job” returns 729,000 Google results, whereas “Should I go to college” returns 637,000. What can we say about changing jobs?
Few people have lots of experience at this; if they do, maybe their own skill is suspect. It’s a highly individualized task to which many factors contribute: career, boss, co-workers, compensation, fulfillment, commuting, travel, family, friends, etc. So one can expect to get highly divergent advice, even though the ultimate options are few: stay or leave.
Career advisors often give divergent or contradictory advice because they: (1) have narrow personal experience only at nonprofits, or only at large companies, or only in technical positions, etc; (2) have different values, such as loyalty to an employer or boss or co-workers, whereas others believe that workplace loyalty is obsolete or even misplaced; (3) have different personal interests, such as not wanting to lose your companionship in the case of friends/colleagues; (4) do not fully understand your circumstances, which are highly particular, because you have failed to explain fully your circumstances and goals, or your advisors haven’t listened well; (5) misjudge your own aptitude for, or interest in, a specific new opportunity; (6) make different predictions about the future, such as that one industry will decline whereas another will thrive.
What to do? Getting multiple, confidential opinions is especially worthwhile, given the variability in circumstances. Reach out early, well before you make up your mind. Suppress emotion from your decision, and recall the proverb that grass is always greener on the other side. Above all, keep in mind that the value of advice is less to get solutions, and more to frame the issues differently than you would by yourself, and to make your ultimate decision with confidence of not overlooking anything.
My next column will look at another common professional task and see if more can be added to our general guide to advice seeking.