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When you’re trying to solve a really tough problem, your natural inclination is to ask as many people for advice as possible.

You hit up your spouse, your co-workers, your carpool partner, maybe even your mom.

If you’re lucky, they’re full of great and conflicting ideas. (If you’re not lucky, they’re full of lousy and conflicting ideas.)

In your effort to get a diversity of opinion, however, you often forget to consult your best advisor: yourself.

It’s a mistake I recently made myself.

As I often tell my clients, designing a career you love isn’t a linear process with an identifiable start and end.  You still have to have a system for evaluating whether new job opportunities are a good fit. This is, in fact, the number one way that overachievers get off course in their careers.

Unfortunately, being sensitive to the problem doesn’t always make me better at solving it when it comes to my own career. I’m juggling a successful and growing business, a part-time job writing articles about the science of human performance, a part-time job as an Air Force Reservist, and a tantalizing new job offer I’m not sure I should accept.

So I made the rounds, asking friends, mentors, and my stalwart spouse for their opinions on my situation. And while everyone gave me good advice, I still struggled to make any headway on a decision.

While writing last week’s post, I was searching through my archives for a specific link. I never found it, but I did discover that I had a lot of really good advice that I’d actually forgotten I’d written.

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it?  Some of these posts aren’t even that old!

And yet, as I skipped from post to post, I found the exact words I needed to hear, the perspective that helped me wrap my mind around my problem and start to develop a solution.

I don’t tell you this to brag, but to remind you that you really are your own best advisor–you probably just don’t have a mechanism in place to review your own ideas.

Because the truth is, the problem you’re struggling with probably isn’t a new one. My decision isn’t “Should I take this new job?” but “What are my real goals and priorities, and how do I ensure my over-achiever nature doesn’t get the better of me?”

Maybe it’s no surprise, but your best solutions usually come out when you’re helping someone else. It’s only when it’s your problem that you’re stumped.

There are a couple of ways of getting around that:

  1. Tackle your problem as if it belonged to someone else. You can talk to yourself in the shower or  get your spouse or a friend to role play with you. Make sure to arm them with your big objections and doubts so the conversation is realistic, but also empower them to find resolution and make a decision. You might be surprised how fast that happens.
  2. Every time you give someone else advice, make a note of one big takeaway. I picked one so that it isn’t overwhelming to do, but if you really came up with five dynamite ideas, write them all down. You can use a special notebook that you carry around with you (I love mine) or you can use a free program like Evernote (this is a great long term solution, since it’s easily searchable). Or, of course, you can start a blog (not for the faint of heart).

The great thing about this approach is that it reminds you that you are fully capable of solving the problem yourself.

Which is good news, because in reality, you are also the only person capable of solving your problem. Everyone else is just cheering you on the best that they can.

P.S. If you’re curious about which Everyday Bright posts I found helpful, here you go. I can’t guarantee they’ll solve your problem, but they helped lower my anxiety as I struggle with mine.

  1. How I Tamed My To-Do List, Stopped Looking Like a Flake, and Regained My Sanity
  2. Why Is Happiness So Hard? An Interview with Gretchen Rubin
  3. How to Stay Motivated When You Feel Like Giving Up
  4. Are You Trying Too Hard?
  5. Rejoice! The Top 10 Benefits of Being a Nobody
  6. What If 2012 Were the Last Year of Your Life?
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13 Responses to The Best Advice I Ever Received

    • On
    • November 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm
    • Carmelo
    • Said...

    It’s really strange sometimes how easy it is to tackle someone else’s problem and yet remain almost clueless about our own.

    I like to think solving our own problems is a process of removing the barriers we’ve built. Barriers to the solutions that we have within us. I believe we wouldn’t have a problem that we don’t already possess multiple solutions for. In other words, the “problem” has risen BECAUSE we have a solution that’s waiting to see the light of day.

    When we go to others for answers (not that we shouldn’t seek some counsel here and there) to the exclusion of ourselves we may end up further masking that solution that so badly wants out!

    Thanks, Jen … you always bring up tantalizing thoughts and situations.

  1. This made me laugh at myself. I just went through this last weekend. I was mulling something over all week and then on saturday I asked Cece (the beauty to the left) what to do because I was racking my brain.

    She said just pretend it was me. What would you tell me if I came to you with this problem.

    OMG! The answer just flowed out of me 100 miles a minute!

    So strange – we can give advice (amazingly useful and practical advice mind you) to anyone at the drop of a hat and it be exactly what they need to hear and yet tend to over think… or even worse… ask others for our own advice.

    This revaluation is really funny to me for some reason.

  2. Jen –

    First of all, I’m SO relieved to know that I’m not the only one who forgets posts she’s written … even in the not-so-distant past. I thought I was the only one with a hole in my head! 😉

    Second, thanks (as always) for this important reminder. We almost always overlook our own wisdom and insight, or we short-change it by giving someone else’s opinions and advice more weight than our own.

    We always know what we want and what we should do. We know at our core. But … getting to that core and finding some confidence to acknowledge and act on what we know … that’s the tricky part, isn’t it?

    I am learning more and more that the best thing I can do when I’m stuck with a problem is to stop talking about it and start listening … TO MYSELF. Carve out some time to be alone. Shut off external input and turn down my internal dialog. When I can do that, when I can really stop and listen and start to “play” with the problem … that’s when things suddenly become clear.

    I wish you luck with your own discovery and decision. I have no doubt you’ll get it sorted in no time … and whatever path you go down, there will be all kinds of good things waiting for you.

    • Actually, that feeling of relief is mutual. One of the difficulties of blogging is that expectation that we have all the answers. I hope my posts highlight that I don’t, I’m still finding my way like anyone else, and thus you don’t have to feel like an idiot because you don’t have a perfect life! That last message is mostly for me too. LOL

  3. Thanks Jen for your inspiration!

  4. Jen, I love it! And it’s so true to my experience; sometimes I’ll be searching through the AWCC archives and think, “Goodness, this is so relevant to what I’m dealing with now! It’s like this writer knows me or something!” :)

    It is a powerful thing to take your own advice, and I look forward to hearing about your decision too. Rooting for you all the way!

  5. Thank you for your straightforward honesty, Jen. Your reminder to stop running around to the experts and our BFFs is stellar. Taking time to listen to the gentle whisper of the truth sayer inside does take courage. But it’s worth it. Who else knows what truly makes our hearts sing?

    Thank you, too, for sharing your Gretchen Rubin interview again. I’m looking forward to stairclimbing at the gym to the upbeat tune of your mp3 download.

  6. I had a chuckle about forgetting older posts. I wrote one about a month ago and titled it exactly the same as an older post from 2011. I didn’t notice until I was on the admin side of Word Press looking for something.

    Anyways, I think your point about asking yourself about what our real goals and priorities are is spot on. Like most of us, I am juggling several things in life at once – but with one big goal/objective in mind. Whenever I decide on a course of action, I do so with those points in mind.

    • Bill,
      Yes, I also have a big goal in mind, but goodness knows the exact path to achieving it isn’t always clear. But I’m grateful for that vision (my definition of success). Without it, I would be truly lost.

  7. We truly are our own best coach, aren’t we? I love this advice, because I think we so often know what we really SHOULD do when confronted with a difficult decision, but fear/societal norms/old voices in our heads sometimes confuse the message. Taking time to truly and deeply reflect on our goals helps. Talking with a trusted friend or colleague helps too – not always in a quest for their advice – but to clarify our own position and goals by describing the issues. Thank you Jen!

  8. It is a really good idea to treat a problem as if it were someone else’s!

    We would be amazing at how great our own voice is to listen to…

    • On
    • November 14, 2012 at 10:06 pm
    • Mike L
    • Said...

    I like this idea,It put’s things in a new prospective for me.

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