Life coaching is becoming a big industry. There are now over 13,000 life coaches in the USA and this doesn’t include the numerous therapists who function in this capacity. Annual revenues are approximately $1.5 billion.
A recent blog by Chris Guillebeau on the topic of advice caught my eye. Challenging the need for life advice, Chris raises some great questions and expresses well the mood of our age. We all want to break out, live large, adventurous lives. We are tired of people telling us what to do and how to live our lives. The spontaneous “hell yeah, let’s do it!” moments can be far too few. And they certainly won’t happen if we are always suppressing what we would like to do because we want to please broader society, parents and institutions. It is an amazing world—get out there and experience it!
So why would a person need, or even want, advice about life from someone else? Why not just be a rugged individual, make your own decisions, “do what seems best to you at the time,” learn the hard lessons through mistakes and move on?
You might have noticed that we have taken a different stance. In fact, we created our business Marigold Associates to offer informed, wise advice for individuals, families and organizations. This is the core of what we are all about. Why have we chosen this route? Why do we think good life advice is invaluable and can contribute enormously to better living, families, and work?
It’s not because we like telling others what to do. (We don’t like being told ourselves, so why should you?) It’s not because we think we have life “all figured out.” Just like everyone else, we are continuing to learn, grow and develop in our own lives. We can tell you that we have seen the powerful effects that good, well timed, thoughtful life advice can have on people’s lives, our own included. We have come to value it so highly that we created our business around it.
Here are a few thoughts about how we think about life advice and why it’s important. A fuller exploration will appear in our soon-to-be-released book on this topic. (Watch for it!) In the meantime, we offer these thoughts on why we need good advisors:
1. We are complex beings.
I recently took my French Bulldog puppy to the vet for her shots. The vet commented that she loves to work with animals because people are far too complex. She’s right—people are amazingly complex. One aspect of this complexity is that humans are divided within themselves; they have the capacity for both good and self-destructive things. We find this understanding within ancient wisdom, religious traditions, Freud, biographers. There are forces within us that drive us to do and behave in certain ways that we cannot always understand. Self-awareness comes from understanding these forces and the reasons for them, and then living differently as a result. The image of people as a blank slate, who are rational beings in full control of their lives and destiny is a modern white lie. We are not so rational or independent as we think.
2. Subjectivity blurs objectivity.
In the best of all worlds, it would be great if we were purely objective and rational beings, with all knowledge and understanding of our world. Then we could make decisions and act in ways that are sustainable and healthy. But the reality is that we are all limited in our point of view, which has been shaped by our culture, friends, socio-economic circumstances, education, biology/brain functioning, family, society. And we are prone to self-delusion. We all need advice to counteract the powerful limitations of our own viewpoint.
3. It’s difficult for a part to see the whole.
We are all part of larger systems that shape our character, personality and behaviors. These can include family, friends, loves, education, cities, states and nations. We are the product of these larger forces and they continue to exert pressures upon us. An example of this is the achievement orientation of so many Millennials. Their parents raised them with the understanding that the goal of life is to get A’s, so they learned do this well. They jumped through all the hoops, got the A’s and the high-powered career. One day they wake up, 5 years into a corporate law position, and realize they hate what they do and who they are becoming. What is worse is that they don’t feel like they ever made a decision to become an attorney, it just happened. But now what do they do?
4. Reaching the goal is a challenge.
Remember the goal is to live a good life and become fully alive, your best self. This is more difficult than it seems.
5. Why reinvent the wheel?
If the goal is living a great life and becoming our best self, the question is whether there is anything that can be learned so that we do not make the mistakes common to other people. You have user manuals for your car, cell phone, stereo; why not seek advice about living a good life? There is so much wasted potential and opportunity with this view of the world.
6. Experience is of limited value.
I realize saying this is anathema in our times when experience is presented as pretty much the answer to everything. But honestly, for experience to be of value it must also be reflected upon and interpreted. Because experience derives from life situations that are specific to a place (culture) and time, we cannot necessarily draw generalized conclusions from it. We can tend to project our view of the world or our experience on to people when it really may not be relevant or useful.
7. There is a distinction between information and wisdom.
There is a difference between these two and we need both. Information and knowledge are important elements but, like experience, they are of limited value. Wisdom is the essential ingredient that is often missing. Wisdom provides the perspective of the way the world works that allows knowledge/information its power.
While we think life advice does have a role in helping us live better lives, the person you receive the advice from is equally as important. I think we’ve all probably been given advice that we wish we’d never taken. Although no one is perfect, we think there are certain guidelines that can help us choose the right advisor.
Here is a list of qualifications we look for in our advisors at Marigold and in those advisors we ourselves seek for advice:
1. A very good education with advanced degrees.
We look for quality education and professional standards for our accountants, attorneys, physicians, so why not this area as well? I might know how to balance my checkbook, but I’m pretty sure Microsoft won’t hire me as their CFO based upon that experience. A quality education means that you have been immersed in a knowledge base and various theoretical models that create abilities in critical thinking, assessment, and the foundation for interpreting experience. What is sadly missing in many science and business degree programs are the humanities. Courses in philosophy, theology, psychology are all wonderfully beneficial since they are the disciplines that explore the human person most. Look for someone who has a quality degree that can think critically and has at their disposal various theoretical grids through which to interpret your life. But education alone is not the sole criterion that makes someone’s advice worth listening to. A quality education merely provides a solid place to begin.
2. Broad life experience.
Look for someone who has experienced diverse cultures, successes and failures, someone who has not had everything go their way and knows the role that pain and adversity play in shaping people. We also like our people to have lived internationally, since it can develop the capacity to see the strengths and weaknesses of the prevailing culture that we live in and struggle against.
3. Ability to see systems.
This something that is rarely mentioned, but is essential. All of us are shaped and constrained by these larger systems. Few people understand them and fewer still have the capacity to really see them functioning and their impact upon you. Most people and organizations lack this distinct perspective.
4. Comfortable taking their own medicine.
Have they done their own work and are they self-aware? Look for someone who is comfortable in their own skin, is self-reflective, authentic, open, aware. They can then listen to you and hear you.
5. Superb listening skills.
Listening is a lost art that is increasingly under threat as narcissism rises within our culture. To listen well we need to have a deep knowledge of the area being discussed, understand the world, have a breadth of knowledge and experience and an ability to see the systems in your life. They should be able to see the deep structures in your life and what makes you tick.
6. An appropriate model and process.
Do they have a way of working that matches the complexity of your life? Tools and questionnaires can be very effective, but they still need to be employed within your story, personality, and biology.
7. Maintains confidentiality.
Privacy and confidentiality are an absolute non-negotiable. Psychologists and lawyers understand this and have developed a code of ethics around it. For an advisor to be effective, they will need to know you intimately and deeply. The better they know you, your history, family, belief systems, biology, notions of work and contribution, the better advice they can provide. To open yourself up in this way without an agreement about confidentiality is unwise.
8. A perspective different from yours.
Finally, seek out someone who is outside your traditional relationships. Family and friends mean well and do have much to offer; however, they too can impose a view of you that may be limiting. They will offer you advice based upon their own experience of you, which is valuable, but it remains just another limited viewpoint that may or many not be valuable. Seek out a professional to help you acquire a broader perspective of yourself.
You only have one wild and precious life. The decisions we all make shape our present and futures. A good advisor will not make the decisions for you, rather they will help you to know yourself better, understand the world you live in and to see the systemic forces that are exerting pressure upon you. Good decisions for your life and work are based upon the broader knowledge and wisdom that is gained. And you will be on your way to that epic life that matches who you really are. Good luck!
And please let us know how it goes.
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