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The problem with most advice

Posted in the following categories: Personal Development

It was two years ago that I started thinking about launching a podcast.

At the time, a trusted friend and mentor cautioned me against it. He said, “For the love of God, don’t start a podcast. Everyone and their cousin is launching one. There are already too many podcasts out there. Do your own thing instead.”

I followed his advice.

Instead of launching a podcast, I started a written interview series. I would record interviews with my guests, transcribe them, and edit them down to their essence.

This was much harder than it might sound. People speak differently than they write. Good grammar, proper word choice, and other niceties often go out the window. Converting these oral conversations into written interviews required days of work, eating away at the time I had to spend on other projects. What’s more, in relying exclusively on a written format, I lost countless audience members who would have rather listened to the raw, unedited conversation during their daily commute.

Yet, I stuck with the written format because I trusted my mentor’s advice. It was only after fifteen grueling interviews that I gave up and pivoted to a podcast format.

Here’s the problem: We give advice like an air-traffic controller lands flights—with a strong dose of certainty. United 135, descend and maintain five thousand. Ozan, don’t start a podcast. Certainty is a virtue when all airplanes must follow a predetermined traffic pattern in landing. But in life, our traffic patterns are markedly different. What works for one person may not work for the other.

Some people should start a podcast, but others shouldn’t.

Some people should go to college, but others shouldn’t.

Some people need to take more risks, but others shouldn’t.

Some people need to stop eating gluten, but others don’t need to.

Some people need to work harder, but others are already flirting with burnout.

In conditions of uncertainty—in other words, in life—we assume others know something we don’t. If the powers-that-be already decided going to college or starting a podcast is a bad idea, we can move on. There’s no reason to second-guess their (seemingly) informed conclusions.

But their conclusions often are not informed. They’re shaped primarily—and sometimes exclusively—by their own experience, which isn’t representative. Put differently, they’re a sample size of 1—a single case study that represents the entire foundation for their disturbingly confident advice.

On the receiving end, we tend to equate confidence with accuracy. Sensational headlines draw more clicks and retweets. An article titled “In some cases, you may not want to start a podcast” won’t go viral. Complexity, confidence intervals, and margins of error don’t produce newsworthy sound bites. In a world that demands instant gratification, we just want the conclusion, the life hack, the silver bullet—without the nuances that complicate, well, everything.

Before you act on advice—even from a trusted source—please don’t do what I did. Take a moment and pause. Seek multiple opinions—particularly contrarian ones. Work to uncover both sides of the argument before you take the plunge.

In the end, starting a podcast was one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent memory. It led me down a path that eventually culminated in a dream book deal and introduced me to role models who’ve been deeply influential in my life.

Does this mean you should start a podcast?

If you’ve read this far, you know the honest answer: I don’t know.

Instead of trying to answer that question for you (which I can’t), I’ll cite an anecdote I love about the philosopher Epictetus. “Tell me what to do!” a student asked Epictetus. Epictetus corrected him, “It would be better to say, ‘Make my mind adaptable to any circumstances.’”

In the end, having an adaptable mind will take you further in life than blindly following the confident advice of any self-proclaimed expert.

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