I wanted to write something different this time, and in particular I’m taking a contrarian point of view here to some common advice that most people have heard.  These 5 sayings or concepts are not truly “bad” in and of themselves.  But I think they can be interpreted poorly by most people.  Consider how you might rethink some of these insights, and better apply some new interpretations to your own life.

Here we go with 5 bits of bad advice that most people have heard:

  • Everything happens for a reason.

This one is #1 on my list because it’s one of the most common phrases that people use to justify their own or others’ bad decisions.  “Oh you got a DUI and can’t drive for a year … well, everything happens for a reason!”

Now a slight tweak on this concept is to look for the silver lining in every circumstance, and that is something I certainly believe in.  But if you make a bad decision and get into some sort of trouble situation, it’s wrong to justify that by saying “oh well, everything happens for a reason.”

Yeah, oftentimes that reason is because you did something stupid.  Or maybe that reason is because you have a lot to learn in order to optimize your actions in certain areas of your life.  Ignoring these realities will only serve to ensure that you’ll get yourself into more difficult situations in the future.

Life is NOT about messing up over and over again just so we have stories to tell.  The essence of life is growth – consistent improvement, getting better at what we do, improving our outcomes, and becoming happier and more fulfilled in the process.

So don’t view “everything happens for a reason” as a justification for your mistakes.  Instead, humbly consider the reasons why something happened so that you’re capable of making better decisions in the future.

  • When making decisions, just go with your gut.

This is another VERY common bit of advice that I see floating around on social media.  The problem with this advice is that our very nature as humans is to act in accordance with long-held beliefs, biases, and habit patterns.  In “going with your gut,” you are keeping yourself trapped in similar ways of thinking and missing out on some obvious opportunities that might literally be right in front of you.

Our gut compares our past experiences with our current situation and makes decisions that are in accordance with our long-held beliefs.  In this age of advanced information and data, there are better ways to make decisions than with your gut.

One tool, of course, is EVIDENCE.  I once read a story about the NBA player Jeremy Lin, and how he was overlooked by many scouts because there were no other NBA standouts who fit his profile as an Asian playing the guard position.  In reality, the EVIDENCE of his ability was clear from his stats and the metrics about his physical ability.  But gut feelings took precedence over evidence for many people evaluating him.  Eventually, he did make it to play in the NBA and had a period of sustained excellence at a high level.

You may think certain things about yourself (or others), but the evidence in front of you contradicts your gut feelings.  In most cases, the evidence will bear out to be true.  Become more aware of how this concept can apply in your life.

Another tool for making decisions is what I would call “living into the future.”  Imagine if you were faced with a difficult decision that has 2 options, and you could somehow magically live through one decision for a while, then wave a wand and go back and live through the other decision for the same amount of time.  Then, you’d go back again to the present moment and actually have to make the decision.  Armed with the knowledge of what had happened, you’d be far more likely to make the better choice.

Well, we can sort of do this through our own tool of imagination.  VISUALIZING ourselves living through the process of making a decision is a powerful tool in making decisions.

If you’re faced with a difficult choice currently, consider one path or the other and ask yourself these questions:

  • How would you feel in the moment of decision?
  • How would others respond to your choice?
  • How would you feel at specific intervals in the future? A month down the road, 6 months, 1 year?
  • What regrets might you feel?
  • What outcomes are most likely in the long-run?
  • How would you feel in facing different possible outcomes?

By “living into the future,” you can help yourself make better choices in the present.

Two books I can recommend on this subject of decision-making:  “The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis is the fascinating story of 2 famous psychologists, and “Thinking Fast And Slow” is the quintessential work of one of these 2 psychologists himself.

  • We should all care less about what other people think.

I literally saw a post on social media a few months ago where someone was asking “Is there a book that teaches you how not to care about what others think?”  A common recommendation was the book titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k.”  I’ll admit I’ve never read this book, probably because the title just lost me.  Now I know the title is probably just an attention-grabber, and the book likely has some value, but I won’t read it on principle.

Not caring about what others think fosters a selfish, “me-first” way of thinking and acting.  This mentality also promotes uncomfortable interactions with others and increases conflict.

We SHOULD care about what others think because we are all part of a large system, working together as pieces of that system to create a world that works for everyone.  If you drive slow in the left lane because you don’t care about what drivers behind you think about it, you’re a selfish asshole.  You’re creating a threat – albeit a small one – to public safety, and you’re diminishing the life experience for others on the road.

If you clean off the counter or bar at a public eatery or coffee shop, you are being considerate of the person coming along behind you.  You are improving the life experience for others, with no diminishing of your own experience.  (In fact, the feeling of doing something nice will probably set with you for quite some time and actually make you feel happier).

There are seven billion people on this planet, and it’s VITAL to consider your impact on others.  The idea that “my actions don’t make a difference” is the first step in a downward spiral that would completely decimate our social contract.  What if everyone thought that way?  What kind of world would we live in?

Now, I might amend the saying in this point to be a little more detailed … We should probably all care less about what people think of our hair or our clothes or our personal appearance.  We should all probably worry less about what people think of our racial background, or our political or religious beliefs, or what kind of foods or sports teams or TV shows we like or don’t like.

Many times, people are insecure about having someone get to know them, when at the same time, the other person is just as insecure about having YOU get to know her or him.  Not caring about what others think – in its most positive interpretation – can mean being more of our authentic selves.  And being authentic can be a sort of “filter” on our relationships, effectively eliminating from our lives those people who are overly judgmental or prejudiced about some aspect of who we are.  It would serve most people to be less self-conscious.

But if you take this bit of advice to an extreme, you can become jaded and uncooperative with others in your life.  That’s not what we want.

Ok, here’s a controversial one …

  • Do what you love.

This bit of advice certainly has SOME merit, but I think it’s often misinterpreted by people and turned into an excuse for wasting time in activities that don’t add value in people’s lives.

I think “loving what you do” is a better spin on the same advice.  And we tend to love what we do when it has a powerful impact on OTHER PEOPLE.  Our minds are hard-wired to value and appreciate CONTRIBUTION.  Any time you do something nice for someone else, you will immediately feel better in your own life.

So what I think is important – especially in terms of choosing a career – is finding the intersection between something you enjoy doing and something that adds significant value in the world.  Having some concrete form of PURPOSE in one’s work is one of the most important keys to overall personal happiness.

I can offer an example from my own life.  I really enjoy the game of poker.  It’s competitive, fun, social, and extremely mentally challenging.  And if you’re good at it, it can turn out to be a “profitable hobby,” as it has been for me.

Many times, I have been asked why I don’t play poker professionally.  My answer is that this would be a terrible way for me to spend the majority of my time.  When I’m playing poker, I’m not really contributing anything to society.  It’s something I love, but it doesn’t add value to the world.  Therefore, in my view, it’s a hobby, and it should be prioritized as such in my schedule.

So, do things you love, yes, as hobbies/interests/pastimes/ways to spend time with friends or people close to you.  But when it comes to searching for a career, find the intersection between something you enjoy and something that enables you to contribute legitimate value to the world.  Otherwise, you’ll find eventually yourself with a mysterious longing for something more that can only come from contribution.

  • Always obey authority.

We start hearing this in the very earliest days of school, and it certainly has its applications as we are advancing through our educational system.  A kid who constantly causes problems in class is a hindrance to everyone else who’s there to learn.  But at some point as our intellectual capacity begins to grow, it starts to become important to ponder the ideas we are hearing from others.  Without this tendency, we would create a homogenous society with robot-like thinking and little ingenuity and creativity.

Jim Rohn used to teach: “Take advice, but not orders,” and then he mixed in this gem: “Make sure that what you do is a product of your own conclusion.”

Now I don’t think that people should be disruptive in a classroom setting for example, but we should all strive to develop our critical thinking and our ability to process information.  An important way to do this is have open dialogue with others whose beliefs might be different from ours.  Unfortunately, this type of healthy, respectful discourse is being gradually shut down in our society today, and I think this is wrong.

Find people in your circle who have differing beliefs, but are respectful about how they present themselves.  Take in what these people say, consider it, try to understand their perspective.

One of my podcast guests, Charlene Li, wrote this:

“Nurture curiosity and humility. The natural outgrowth of curiosity is humility, which gives you the intellectual integrity to acknowledge that you still have a lot to learn, and to also admit when you are wrong.”

As an authority figure at times, keep yourself open to the possibility that you might be wrong.  Marc Andreessen, the billionaire founder of Venture Capital firm a16z, has a mantra:

“Strong opinions, loosely held.”

Have conviction in your beliefs, yes.  But don’t be so stubborn as to hold onto these beliefs in the face of mounting evidence that you are wrong.

As a leader, be willing to admit when you’re wrong, and be quick to own up to your mistakes.  In doing so, you are teaching people to view you and others with a discerning eye, and you are helping people develop their own critical thinking.

In your life, don’t blindly follow the herd.  Take some time in your life for planning, and also for just THINKING.

I hope my point of view here has helped you to re-consider some of the ways in which you interpret these common bits of advice:

  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • When making decisions, just go with your gut.
  • Don’t care about what other people think.
  • Do what you love.
  • Always obey authority.

I invite you to write back to me or comment here about these concepts.  I’d be happy to start a dialogue about these ideas.

And feel free to listen to my podcast episode about this subject.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Hi Dan, I have been listening to your podcasts on a pretty regular basis – in the early morning when I am in the process of completing 10,000 + ave steps for a day. I have been so very impressed with your podcast – It is masterfully done – many of the participants I know, many of the Vector greats that have passed I knew, and much of what you are digitally sharing were included in many Cutco Vector meetings, observed by mentors – such as my parents, Earl Small, Don Freda, Al Laws, Ken Schmidt, Steve Weber, Willis Trott, Eric Laine, Marty D. Brek Brekken, Bill Cranford, Roman Malik, etc – I know – if applied, digested, and put into action – the information you are mastering from life and your Cutco/Vector experiences will bode well for anyone listening – with Cutco/Vector now, with Cutco/Vector past – like myself, and anyone that wants to apply the lessons to their lives if outside Cutco/Vector. I will be referring many to your podcasts to grow their activities, as well as, using them to renew my commitments to life’s goals. When I get to the after life – I will ask our country’s pioneers – like Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clarke … etc to extol where their efforts have led and hope in some way . that the Cutco/Vector Pioneers had some measure of results that have led to the amazing results and lives that are being built through the Vector experience. Cutco/Vector was the best working, learning experience that I believe I could have ever had and .. if available … would elect to do it all over again. I plan on beginning a podcast related to my hometown community of the Globe/Miami Arizona area and the amazing people that began their lives there. I humbly will be asking you for some advice on getting it off to a great start. Again, congratulations on your Cutco/Vector accomplishments and the many 1000’s of lives that your podcast will influence to be “their” best in life. I look forward to reconnecting in the near future.

    Reply

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