What was the worst advice and best advice that you have ever received? When I posed this question to my family, my husband immediately reminded me that the worst advice was from my mom: ”Do not floss because it creates gaps between your teeth.”
To this advice alone can be attributed countless painful hours spent in the dentist chair and tens of thousands of dollars transferred from my hands to the dental industry. (As I am writing this, I have made yet another appointment to see the dentist for a root canal.) On my first ever visit to a dentist in America ten years ago, I mentioned this somewhat nonchalantly to my dentist when he told me to floss my teeth daily. He looked at me half disbelieving, half horrified, and sat straight up in his chair and exclaimed “Lynette! You need to tell everyone in Singapore to floss their teeth!” He could not believe it.
What about the best advice? Two friends on separate occasions told me that whenever facing complex problems (especially matters of the heart), I should ask my mom for advice. They explained that mom knows you, she has your interests at heart, and has lived longer and seen more, and she will offer advice that is worth listening to. Unless it is regarding dental hygiene, they were of course right.
While talking to people around the office about this, and thinking about what constitutes good advice vs. bad advice, I also realized that there is a tendency for human beings to fall into “outcome biases,” where we judge if advice was good or not based on the outcome. Surely we should be able to do a better job at deciphering if advice is good or not based on better indicators rather than after it has happened (and it is too late) because we have followed it?
I met an acquaintance’s cousin once who had just graduated from college in engineering six months prior and hadn’t even landed a phone interview. He wanted some advice on how to get a job as his visa was running out in six months, and he would have to return to China. As we exchanged pleasantries, and I learned his name in Chinese, which was even hard for me to repeat (even though I speak Mandarin fluently), I asked him if he had an English name that he could put on his resume instead. I told him about my cousin’s success story years ago when he first graduated from USC and applied to jobs without success. And then he had an epiphany and added a western name to his name and got interviews at all of the companies to which he had previously applied. I told this new graduate that it wasn’t a matter of people being racist, but rather it was the rule of the path of least resistance. Would people rather call and interview someone whose name they could pronounce, or face the embarrassment of mispronouncing your name?
I was rather proud of my advice and was expecting a gushing return of gratitude for my pearls of wisdom, but instead I was met with stony silence. He pursed his lips and said “oh it depends. I hear a different viewpoint on the internet forums, and they are saying that I should keep my Chinese name and be proud of my heritage.”
At that moment, I knew I had spent too many precious minutes on him, and that he would remain proud of his heritage…in China. He had chosen to seek advice from “the internet” instead of from me who interviews and hires people as a major part of my job.
My two friends were on to something when they said that my mom could give me the best advice. She had met the most important criteria in that she knows the subject matter--me. Hence to judge whether advice is good or bad, you need to figure out most importantly who the advisor is. Does he/she have credentials/personal experience/past experience/research to back up the advice on the subject matter?
Perhaps the old ”know thyself” saying by Socrates offer us great wisdom in that we ourselves should be the best advisors for ourselves, that is if we know ourselves.
We need to be aware also that sometimes the term “giving advice” might be a euphemism for being critical. To what extent does an advisor become a critic? And in the current world we live in of social media, any word, picture, comment, and news of you, criticisms abound.
That is also why this is one of my favorite quotes from President Roosevelt in his 1910 “Citizen in a Republic” speech:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It is worth reading this quote a couple of times, and letting the words sink into your consciousness. I read this to myself whenever life seems hard and I feel like I am swimming against the tide. (In this industry, the waves keep coming!) It does not matter which industry we are or what profession we are in, but in our specific station in life, there are siren calls for us to do, to start, to make a difference. And we have a choice to say yes or no. Roosevelt’s words tell us to not heed the critic, the one with the pointing finger, the ones who say “I told you so,” but have never fought in a war themselves. No, we are to feel proud of being the one who is actually in the trenches, covered in dust who strives valiantly. And Roosevelt urges us to take comfort to know that when we try, we will come across adversities and shortfalls, and even so at least be able to know that when we fail at least we fail “while daring greatly.”
Have a great month ahead. As always I would love to hear your stories. Please feel free to share with me your thoughts, and your stories of great victories and great defeats.
RISK DISCLAIMER: Trading in futures products entails significant risks of loss which must be understood prior to trading and may not be appropriate for all investors. Past performance of actual trades or strategies cited herein is not necessarily indicative of future performance. The information contained herein is provided to you for information only and believed to be drawn from reliable sources but cannot be guaranteed; Phillip Capital Inc. assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions. The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Phillip Capital Inc. or its staff.