I’m sitting on a CO/UA 1755 from EWR to PBI, and in the seat next to me is a 25-year- old, heading down to Palm Beach for a jewelry convention. Nice enough kid. We start talking.
He mentions that he’s just met someone about eight weeks ago and really likes her. Then he says something that jolts me out of my “casual chat” comfort zone.
“You’re married, and obviously older. Can I ask you some advice?”
*Blink.* I wanted to say “first piece of advice is to not call out the fact that I’m ‘obviously’ older.” But I let it go.
He wanted advice on how to deal with this new girl in his life. It started me thinking. We’re asked for advice almost constantly, and usually, with very little background knowledge on what the problem is. As someone who’s thrilled that a month in on his marriage, he hasn’t done anything to cause Mrs. @petershankman to run away screaming, I’m hardly the best person to ask.
With that, I realized that we should all have five “go-to” pieces of advice that can be used universally, for almost any problem, anytime, anywhere. They’re not BS pieces of advice, as they really work. They’re also not designed to get the other person to go away. They’re designed to help, with limited information, the best you can. So here they are.
5. Don’t overthink things. Chances are, whatever problem you’re having, if you’re coming to someone else for advice, you’re at the point where you’ve done nothing but think about it for hours, days, maybe even longer. Perhaps that’s a mistake. Perhaps the answer is already there, but you’re so busy thinking about the problem, that you can’t see the answer in front of you. In other words, make sure you see the forest for the trees. Advising people not to overthink things can change their perception of their problem.
4. Let go of the anger, it’s not helping you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for advice from someone who’s angry. Whether they feel wronged, neglected, hurt, or ignored, they’re definitely not thinking clearly, because anger is clouding their judgment. Letting go of anger is like Windexing your soul. All of a sudden, you can see more clearly, make more rational decisions, and imagine a better outlook. Advising people to let go of their anger is a universal play.
3. Take some time away from the problem. Some of the best solutions to problems come when we just shut off our brain, and go do something else. Whether it’s playing golf, building a house of cards, volunteering to help build a home, or even running or skydiving—sometimes, leaving the problem behind as we do something else can have wonderful effects. We return with a clearer head, a better brain chemistry filled with new dopamine receptors and neural passageways, and a better mind in which to face the problem.
And more often than not, that’s probably the only thing we need to get us past the bump that’s preventing us from solving the bigger problem in the first place. Advising people to take some time away for a little bit gives them a new way to see things.
2. If all things are equal, do that which is more fun. Often, the advice asked for is on which choice to make—say, two different job offers, or two potential places to live. I’m a big believer that without fun in our lives, we wind up old, crotchety, frustrated and sad. Without fun, there’s no point. If I have two equal choices, and the only difference is which one would offer more fun, I’ll always choose the one with more fun. Advising someone to have more fun is good for them, good for you, and good for the universe.
1. No matter how dark things seem, there’s always light somewhere. Sometimes, we’re asked for advice on a truly devastating problem, one that there doesn’t appear to be a way out. But every problem has a way out. It might not be the way out they want, but it’s a way out regardless. And those way outs tend to bring some level of comfort at the end. So even if the advice requires descending into darkness for a bit, know that there’s light at the end of every situation. The only job they have to do is to continue to move towards it. Advising someone that it truly will get better (because it always does) is the best thing you can do.
Any other universal pieces of advice?
Peter Shankman is the founder of Help A Reporter Out and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc. He blogs at http://shankman.com/ where a version of this article first appeared. Find him on Twitter @petershankman.