I want your story, not your advice

The internet is awash with articles on how better to live your life, work more productively, and generally be a more enviable-slash-despicable human being. It’s fair to say that a becoming modesty is not a trait shared by many of them.

I am, like many readers, ambivalent towards this type of content — reheated advice based on an incomplete model or data, delivered in a hectoring tone, often by people with too little experience of life and work to know how little their opinion is worth. I do despise it, but there is a part of me — and this is what makes it work as “content”, in the “content business” sense — that wants to read. This I attribute to the insecurity gnawing at my soul, and apparently the soul of everyone else who “engages” with these articles.

The problem (or my problem, at least) comes down to two things.

Firstly, my availability heuristic — or bias towards recent memories — makes me tend to believe that any advice I’m currently reading is good. Secondly, and more importantly, there’s part of me that just wants to be told what to do. The problem with that part of me is that it only enjoys being told what to do; it doesn’t actually want to do what it’s told. So, by the time the thrill of the unsolicited advice from the self-appointed expert has ebbed away, I’ve had time to realise how (often) awful that advice is.

Instead, I increasingly find that when I read people’s story — their experience, emotional journey, failures, moral evolution, whatever — I’m more likely to take it on board, explore options and tradeoffs, and actually add actionable insight to the plans I’m currently cooking.

Or, to put it in life-hack-blog-voice:

  1. Don’t feed my insecurity — it won’t pay off for you in the long run.
  2. Don’t give me advice — tell me your story. It’s more interesting and valuable than your advice anyway.
  3. Do me the courtesy of letting me work out how to apply it to my life.

Thanks, internet.

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