Monday, January 03, 2011

The price of advice

We all receive advice. Sometimes we solicit this advice, sometimes we do not. Usually, it is given free of charge and in most cases; it is worth the price paid. There are the times when you think back on a bit of wisdom you were given and say, that was truly good advice; I wish I had followed it.

The degree to which you follow advice usually depends on who is giving it, and the state of the relationship between you and the giver. Let me explain.

I remember some rather sage words of wisdom passed down to me from my father. Some of which I followed, some of which I did not. Here are a few.

"There are plenty of broke horses in this world, why don't you go find one." This was told to me while I was wadded up in a heap, stuck halfway under my father's truck, after being bucked off a green two year old horse.

"Well, you better learn fast, I want this hillside cleared of brush by noon." After I said I don't how to drive a D-8 bulldozer. I think I was still in grade school.

"What the hell are you thinking; you don't use a gas engine inside a barn full of hay." It didn't seem that stupid at the time, but I was fourteen.

"Don't drink on an empty stomach; you won't worth a damn in the morning." He was right.

His advice was meant to be informational, or inspirational, or something. I took most of it, mainly out of sheer terror. Being a father, he was trying to keep me alive, when he wasn't putting my life in peril. I did learn a great many things from my father, but when I was a teenager, I started to think I knew it all. Fast forward thirty years, and now I am the one dispensing advice to my kids.

I remember a few years ago I was talking to my friend Butch; he asked how old my son was. When I told him he was fifteen, he said, “Walt, you are about to become the dumbest person on earth." Well, at least I was warned.

I believe this metamorphosis happens innocently enough. It all starts one day when your kids find out something you told them is not true, or they know something you don't. The gears of rebellion begin turning.

They think if mom and dad are wrong about this, I bet everything they tell me is a load of beans. When this new paradigm sets in, as a parent you just turned the corner from smart person to dumb person. Enter the know-it-all friend or worse, the know-it-all teacher who finds glee in bursting their young intellectual bubble. In many cases, these new influences are the ones full of beans, but they have convincing arguments, and point to "facts" or other sources to back up the point of view. It can be a confusing time for young people.

This is when their cool, slacker buddy tells them to forget their engineering degree to wander across Europe for a year. Forget about college and go to work for a non-profit so they can help save the world. Conversely, this might be the time when you as a parent tell them they have give up on their dreams of becoming an artist, musician, professional athlete, mime, kangaroo trainer, etc, and get a "real job."

Somewhere in the middle of all this, they ask for advice from people they know and trust. Here is where it gets tricky; sometimes they go looking for the advice they want to hear. Honestly, there are no right answers, but there are some that are far worse than others.

College can be a great decision. However, working as an assistant manager at Taco Bell to pay off your sixty thousand dollar college loan for a degree in art history may not be the smartest move. Earning a degree with "engineering' at the end of it, probably will. Passing on college for a career in a field that you are passionate about is a tossup. If you can pay the rent, and keep the bills paid doing something you love, that is a wonderful thing. When you are sixty five and have no retirement, this might be the price you have to pay for all those years of enjoyment.

When you finally hit twenty five or thirty, you start to rethink the advice you took, and the advice you passed up. I have found the best advice comes from people who have been down the road you are traveling. Or from folks who didn’t and regret it to this day. Sometimes there isn’t any substitute for years of experience from a wise person.

Here are two things I do know; don’t take diet advice from a fat guy, and don’t take financial advice from a guy living in his car.

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