How I learned to stop giving unsolicited advice

Why do I do this? No one needs my opinion! I am as fallible as anyone else. I’ve made thousands of mistakes over my lifetime. (Possibly even millions; I also make mistakes of calculation.) I’ve said stupid things, spent my money unwisely, got into bad relationships, made parenting blunders. I’ve had parking fines. I’ve had accidents. I once left $200 in an ATM! I’m hardly qualified to tell people what to do.

Yet when someone has a problem, I often believe I have the answer. It’s not that I am the font of all knowledge, just that it is easier to solve other people’s problems than your own. And far easier to recognise when other people are making mistakes than to notice when you are messing up.

Why do I do this? No one needs my opinion! I am as fallible as anyone else. I’ve made thousands of mistakes over my lifetime.

After the Employment Oracle incident, I decided to stop giving so much advice. I know we all need to make our own choices and mistakes; it is the only way we can grow. I have learnt enormously from my own missteps over the years (I never again left an ATM without checking for cash) and want my loved ones to have the same opportunities. But it is hard! When I see them hurtling towards a metaphorical cliff, my instinct is to try to persuade them to change course. It’s very scary to just wave as they plummet over the edge, telling them, “This will be a marvellous learning experience!”

But wave I must. I am trying to be less like a seagull and more like a cow, chewing my cud in the paddock, calmly surveying the scene. I am trying to be more like my friend Alice, offering love and support, not advice. When someone vents to me about an issue, I do my best to bite my tongue. I practise saying non-directive things like, “I’m sorry you’re going through that” and “Let me know if I can help”.

Now, when my kids chat to me about their lives, I try very hard to just listen and not speak. If they seem to be really struggling, I ask them respectfully if they want advice before offering it. If they say yes – which they sometimes do – I share my thoughts as concisely as possible. If they say no, I honour their wishes, and leave them be.


It makes me anxious. I feel my words of wisdom bubbling up in my throat, desperate to save the day. I want to yell, “Do this and everything will be okay!”

But I resist and, since I’ve taken a step back, something astonishing has happened. Everyone around me seems to be managing just fine. Triumphs are experienced and celebrated. Mistakes are made and rectified. Eventually, the kid who was having an issue at work resolved it without my intervention. Apparently, I don’t always need to be the saviour. Even without my sage counsel, the world continues to turn.

It is pleasant to realise I don’t have to fix everything. Perhaps the only advice I need is to tell myself to stand down.

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