How to Steer Your Life By (Despite) Contradictory Advice

People love to give advice. I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of good advice from a lot of good advice.

Unfortunately, this advice is frequently directly contradictory – sometimes even in the same conversation. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what I mean.

Persistence Vs. Insanity

Persistence pays off, they say. Stick with it. Don’t be a quitter. Hard work will win the day. Keep at it.

They also say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

So if you’re doing the same things every day, and getting the same results every day, should you keep at it? Or are you just driving yourself inane?

Diversify Vs. Focus

Get a well rounded education. Pursue your interests. Learn a little about a lot, and never turn down an opportunity to gain a new skill.

But be focused. Don’t be a Jack of all trades and master of none. True genius is obsessed. Pick your one big calling in life and chase after it with single-minded focus. He who chases two rabbits catches none – or something like that.

Blending In Vs. Standing Out

Don’t be the nail that sticks out; it always gets hammered down. Be agreeable, look for things you have in common with the people around you, and downplay or hide your differences. Don’t be confrontational; don’t even mention topics that might start (or reveal) conflict – like politics, religion, or football. (Although, in Texas, they’re sometimes the same thing.)

But if you want to be more confident, just be yourself! Let your true identity shine through. People will love you for who you truly are.

(As an aside, if you ever want to see a conformist bunch, just look for some rebellious teenagers. Doesn’t matter what the current style or fad is; the effect is always something like a uniform. This is true for most groups, but the irony of conformist rebellion is pretty sweet.)

Procrastination Vs. Punctuality

Better late than never, after all. At least it got done. It might have taken three years to hang those photos/finish that filing/wash the car, but it’s done, by George. Who’s up for a nap?

On the other hand, William Shakespeare said better three hours early than a minute late. A lot of employers share his opinion; and when it comes to emergency services and pizza delivery, I can see their point.

I’m sure you can think of many more examples.

So how are you supposed to know which advice to apply when? This is your life! It’s important!

I don’t know how to handle conflicting advice, but here are some guidelines that I’ve found useful when trying to sort through the cloud of well-mean direction to find the right next step.

First: Laugh about it. You think it matters a lot. But it probably doesn’t. Or it does, but it won’t. (I’ve talked to quite a few long-married couples, and it seems no one cares what colors they had at their wedding after the twentieth anniversary or so.) Laughter will help you relax, relaxing will help you see more clearly, and seeing clearly will help you make a better decision.

Second: Look ahead. Are you going in the direction you want to go? Then keep going. No? Then turn around. It can also help, when you’re getting stressed out about a decision, to measure it by how long it will still matter. Will you care next week? Next month? Next year? Fifty years from now? If the answer to more than two of those is NO, then relax and don’t worry about it so much. See Step One.

Third: Stop worrying about you. There’s a lot of release in worrying about other people instead. Send someone a birthday card. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Donate something you don’t need anymore. Say something nice to a stranger.  Our lives have a way of setting themselves in order when we set ourselves to the service of others.