When I was a senior at Highline High School, my guidance counselor offered me the following advice, “Mark, you shouldn’t apply to those Ivy League and prestigious liberal arts colleges because they are highly selective and you don’t have what it takes to get accepted.” Was that good advice? As it turns out, he was mostly right. In April of my senior year, I got three thin envelopes from Dartmouth, Williams and Amherst. But the envelope from Cornell was slightly thicker. I had been put on their waitlist, and a month later, I was accepted as a January Freshman. In the end, mostly right was totally wrong.
First of all, if I hadn’t applied to both Dartmouth and Cornell, I may not have been accepted to Cornell. And the experience of visiting the very elite Amherst and Williams as a soggy Seattle kid from blue collar Burien was very impactful in my younger years. So, the whole experience of applying to, and being rejected by, all four schools was, on the whole, a very positive experience.
I guess I shouldn’t listen to advice, or maybe I should consider the source… OR, maybe I should acknowledge that advice is not prophecy.
The fact is that his advice was perfectly reasonable given all of his experience. I had good grades (3.8ish or something like that), a decent SAT score (750 Math, 560 English), and reasonably good activities and extracurricular experience, but there was nothing special about me. What Mr. Maloney didn’t account for was how good I am in an interview, and something neither of us appreciated about me at the time was that I’m a halfway decent writer. As it turns out, Cornell required a lot of writing in their application (insert thank you to my Junior English Composition teacher, Mrs. Melba May McConnaughey), and Dartmouth required an interview (which went so well that the Dartmouth alum wrote a letter to Cornell that got me accepted off the wait list). My counselors advice was sound, it just wasn’t descriptive of how things turned out.
Advice is often based more on people’s own experiences and history than on your situation or your history. Lately, I have been asking friends and advisors about what I should do with my book, Pillows For Your Prison Cell and the No More Pillows retreats I’ve designed. One successful business man I spoke with is noted for his ability to turn around distressed businesses. His advice: Find churches with anemic or nascent youth groups and give them resources to help them grow. Sounds a bit like his method, eh? Another good friend is a trainer among other things, and he suggested that I should look into training other speakers and leaders to give my retreats to extend my reach. Is that advice for me or for him? Here’s the thing, these are both good bits of advice and I am currently investigating both approaches. But they are not everything.
The proverb says, “a wise man listens to advice.” It doesn’t say, “a wise man does what his advisors tell him to do.” Listen to advice. Don’t follow it.
The Proverbs are full of advice and specifically advice to listen to the advice of others (mom, dad, friends, and elders). I’ve learned in recent years to triangulate advice that I receive along with other sources of input, namely:
- Advice from other trusted advisors,
- Insight and inspiration from reading God’s word,
- Prayer and listening for the Spirit’s guidance,
- Wisdom from sermons and preaching I’ve heard.
When I follow this practice, the LORD leads me in the path he has laid out for me, and it’s awesome. Sadly, all too often, I ignore all of the above and go off on my own and do something stupid. That’s when I learn the harder way: through God’s megaphone- PAIN. But that’s a topic for another day.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? How about the worst? Have you ever ignored good advice and been glad you did?