Mittens for Snakes (The Value of Advice)

Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content, eRep, Inc.
Monday, May 27, 2024
Mittens for Snakes (The Value of Advice)

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Social media is flooded with advice. Live, laugh, love. Yada yada yada. Is the point of all this advice to improve people's lives, or to make the giver seem more healthy, wealthy and wise than the rest of us?

Are you a better person because of something you read on social media? Does an alliterative phrase presented in a creative font reveal the true yet previously hidden secret to happiness that will blow your mind?

"Leadership is someone who can't do your job telling you you're doing it wrong."

Advice followed in the right moment can be profoundly useful, often revealing its worth through the avoidance of a bad outcome rather than the gain of something valuable.

Advice ignored is as useful as mittens for snakes.

Some people make a living giving advice. Tony Robbins comes to mind. A few people take this expensive wisdom to heart and make the most of it, genuinely improving their situation. But that seems to be rare.

Most of the time, these influencers and motivational speakers are the ones reaping the biggest benefit.

"Buy my book 'How to Make Millions Doing Blah-Blah-Blah' and get the secrets to make your money work for you!"

Buying their book will make someone rich, it just probably won't be you. (Success rarely has an accurate blueprint or consistent algorithm, and the only reliable recipe for getting rich is to be born that way.)

Motivational speakers and social media influencers are a bit like psychics. Their advice is general enough to appeal to as many people as possible without being so specific as to be easily refuted or turn out incorrect.

"Be your powerful self!" (Easy!)
"Dance as if nobody is watching!" (Great for a cardio workout.)

Another common form of advice is the quote from a famous person, presumably wise beyond contention. If you posted a fancy-fonted quote on Instagram touting the value of cleaning your bathroom every week and attributed it to Maya Angelou, you'd get more likes than a "FREE BEER" coupon at a tractor pull in July.

"Everything I ever needed to know about human nature was learned through astute observation and by using the iWisdom app, available exclusively through the App Store." - Benjamin Franklin

Advice can be like an author's use of foreshadowing. They hint at the tragedy that will strike their book's protagonist in chapter 17. "Don't go in there," said the oracle. "The monster is waiting." If the main character takes the advice and doesn't go in there, the rest of the book would be quite boring and the author must keep their day job down at the car dealership.

Most peoples' list of biggest regrets take the form of things they didn't do but should have, rather than things they did but wished they hadn't. This is all just a variation of advice they didn't follow.

Let's say you see someone coming out of a cave, battered and scarred and bloodied, gasping, "Don't go in there. The monster is waiting." Would you ignore their advice and go in anyway?

This inability to follow advice explains how my life turned out from age 14 through 34, all because I didn't listen to the numerous warnings and advice given to me by my parents. I'd have a lot more money in the bank and one less divorce under my belt if I'd listened to what they were telling me.

"Tell someone there are a trillion stars in the sky and they'll believe you. Tell them the paint is wet and they'll touch it to make sure."

To be practical about it with reflection on my own life's experience, most of the advice given to me in person, especially from someone who loved me, was well-intended and often beneficial to follow. Conversely, I can't think of any advice given to me by these people that would have turned out badly if I had taken it.

On the other side, most advice I read on social media tends to be vapid, overly vague, and often a thinly disguised effort to raise the transparent esteem of the advice-giver rather than improve the situation of me, the reader.

So I view the fancy-fonted quotes from Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs and their ilk as visual entertainment, with my attention turning to the next cute graphic as I scroll by. These kind of quotes have the lifespan of a gnat's fart in a hurricane and about as much impact on the condition of the world.

"Don't believe everything you read on the internet." - Abraham Lincoln

Can general advice still be useful? Or should it be specific and tailored to the particular problem you're trying to solve?

You, dear reader, are unique. The breadth and depth of your life history to date, coupled with your current situation, is quite specific. No other person on this planet shares that experience and situation with 100% alignment.

Despite this article's intention as a semi-attempt at humor, there really is some wisdom to be found in this final piece of advice — about advice.

When advice is given, take it in, process it, and see if it's useful to you. Use that three-pound super computer resting in a custom-made waterproof hard-shell case between your ears to analyze its worth. Be aware that not all advice, no matter how well intended, is useful; some might actually be harmful (medical advice off the internet comes to mind).

P.S. Give a tad more consideration to advice given from those who have learned from personal experience. "Don't go in there. The monster is waiting."

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.

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