Can We Trust the Famously Successful? 6 Ways to Filter Advice

I enjoy learning about famously successful people, but thanks to my clients I’ve learned to filter advice they give.

Even well-intentioned advice from celebrities is not at all helpful.

filter advice - we can't always trust the famously successful
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Why we need to filter advice

Sometimes, the advice is conflicting. For example, several years ago, career-minded women were told to “lean in” but also that they “can’t have it all.”

Other times, the advice doesn’t quite work. For example, I find that women are often told they should “be fearless.” But, that sort of advice can backfire rather than build confidence.

From what I have observed, the heart of the problem is this: what gets attention and who is featured in the media tend to be spectacular and extraordinary. As a result, we don’t get to hear about “normally” successful people. We aren’t likely to learn how to address the more typical, everyday stuff we encounter. The sensational or “newsworthy” stuff doesn’t usually apply to most of us.

[This is why I asked not-so-famous but talented women I admire to give me their best time-management tips.]

It is also hard to glean practical ways of improving your own day-to-day life when you may not have access to the same privileges and opportunities as those at the top. Moreover, it can be discouraging to learn you don’t even have access to the tools that helped them succeed.

Steps to Filter Advice

Having helped my clients determine and achieve their own successes big and small, I recommend the following:

  • Consider the context of the advice: Always keep in mind that the advice people give tends to have more to do with them and their history than with you and your future. As Austin Kleon has said, all advice is autobiographical.
  • Find role models that are a year or two or a step or two ahead of you. Sure, celebrities and people at the top of their game can be inspiring. But, you’re more likely to make positive changes or tweaks when your goals are within your reach. You would never try to teach a child learning how to count how to solve an algebra problem. Why set up unkind expectations? At the same time, I’m not suggesting you set your sights low. Just keep in mind that even when it seems like others are taking ‘‘leaps” or making fast progress, it is actually the case that they made a lot of baby steps over a longer period of time. We just didn’t get to witness the hard work before the overnight success.
  • Take only what rings true. As you read, hear stories and get advice, heed what resonates with you. Often, it’s what confirms what you’ve already been doing, but pushes you to take it a step further. Sometimes it is something you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t yet had a chance to or simply can’t get to right now. If you can tackle it now in some small way, start there. But, if you can’t, set it aside to see if it withstands the test of time.
  • Leave what is not helpful. If you decide the information isn’t relevant to you or repels you in any way, give yourself permission to let it go. Women often feel compelled to try to do everything they can. But, it’s far more effective to focus on what you can do and to do that well. Reject the notion that you have to “leave no stone unturned.”
  • Rather than asking your role models for advice, observe them. What people say doesn’t always match what they do. And, sometimes, people don’t recognize what they did to become successful. Look at how they are living their lives now. Ask what their recent successes have been and how they have achieved them. Or, inquire about their current struggles and how they are attempting to overcome them.
  • Find different role models for different aspects of your life. Nobody is perfect, and no one person perfectly matches you and your circumstances. You need a varied group of advisors–a personal board of directors. If you like the way someone dresses, ask that person to go clothes shopping with you. If somebody else has a demeanor you appreciate, observe, and analyze that individual’s way of communicating. You may appreciate one person’s management style and another’s parenting style.

Your turn

Consider the previous advice you have received.

  • What was helpful to you and why?
  • What turned out to not be helpful to you?
  • Is there advice floating around in your head that you suspect doesn’t serve you anymore?

If you find that the advice you receive overwhelms or confuses you, try sorting through the various messages with someone you trust. It’s critical that the person cares for your well-being but doesn’t necessarily have a stake in your outcomes. For example, a work colleague, boss, family member or friend who tends to get jealous, may not be the right person to talk to.

If you need someone to talk to, I would be happy to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

An older version of this article was first published in February 2020.