Most of us these days are bombarded with people wanting to offer us advice. You probably get regular invitations to online summits where dozens of enthusiastic advice-givers are vying for your attention, alluring you with downloadable gifts and free offers. The internet is exploding with new blog posts every day about the 5 Most Important Tips to Brain Health, or to living longer, or better sex, or better sleep.
For better or worse, I have actually got to know many of these advice givers over the years, and we are a motley bunch! There are many people alive today whose hearts are overflowing with wishing you well and compassion, and who have genuinely useful suggestions they have tested on themselves and many other people. And then, as you probably know, there are also plenty of people just out to make a quick buck, and who have hastily thrown together a 10 steps formula which has never been put through the fire-test of direct experience.
So perhaps the most important piece of advice any of us could hope for these days would be Who do you listen to? How do you distinguish between a real expert, with an open and loving heart, and a wanna-be primarily driven by self-interest? And that is the piece of advice I am going to offer you today: Who to listen to for advice.
A few years ago I went to a conference where the attendees were entirely people who had written books, who lead seminars or offer online trainings. It was a gathering of advice-givers not accessible to the advice-consuming public. One woman scheduled to give a presentation had made plenty of money advising people how to magnetize their perfect partner. She had written a book, done many online courses, and defined herself as “a leading authority.” She started up a business helping people to call in the perfect one, soon after she had herself met a new partner. Her entire teaching was based upon her own experience, which was at that time still in the honeymoon phase.
Of course everyone thinks they have “called in the one” when they are still in the honeymoon phase. I am sure you can anticipate what is coming next: an accident waiting to happen. After the book came out, and after the online course was launched, and after thousands of people were avidly following her method, her relationship imploded. She did not have the necessary skills to maintain intimacy past the honeymoon stage.
She told us this story at the conference in an impressive display of self-effacing honesty, and then summed up the situation by saying, “It was a PR nightmare.” I would not have described it that way myself. So she got together with her “team” to figure out how to best capitalize upon and market the situation, and so made her next book and online course about how to create a peaceful divorce.
I think it was at this point that I threw up in my mouth.
The conclusion that I came to about her story was that the entire thing was premature. She had started to teach classes on relationship long before she had enough seasoned and sustained success in that area of her life to really have anything to offer other people. Similarly, the time to evaluate whether a divorce is really peaceful would be ten or fifteen years down the road, not immediately after it happens. But unfortunately the world of self-improvement, personal development, or whatever else you want to call it, is overflowing with people eager to offer you premature advice like this — and all too willing to take your money if you are willing to listen.
Let me tell you one more story, and then I will give you my best shot at how to decide who to listen to.
A few years ago I was at a festival in Sweden. I really like festivals, better even than conferences. I like the tribal feeling, I like waiting for food in line outdoors, hoping it will not rain. I was too young for Woodstock and I have spent the rest of my life trying to make up for it. Anyway, at this festival, where I was also a speaker, there was going to be a very, very, very special guest. In fact, they shut down everything else at the festival that day so that the entire 1,200 people gathered would be there for this guest. She was a nun from India who had been a lifelong celibate. She became a nun at 14 and had lived a life of purity, chastity, and meditation ever since.
There was a woman sitting quite close by to me who was, very visibly, about eight months pregnant. Once the nun had finished her invocation, and her blessing, and her chanting, she invited questions.
My pregnant neighbor struggled to her feet and a microphone was rushed to her by an adoring devotee. “I’m going to have a baby soon,” she announced. That statement was about as redundant as “I’m talking right now into a microphone,” her condition was written loud for all to see. “I’d like to ask your guidance on how to raise my child and to be the best mother that I can be.”
Now all eyes turned on the saintly nun to catch the pearls of wisdom as they dropped from her lips.
As far as I am concerned, the only sane and honest answer to that questions would have been, “Honestly, dear, I’m about the last person on the planet you should ask about your question. I’ve never had children, I’ve never been a mother, and in fact I’ve never so much as kissed a man. So you’d be better off asking somebody, anybody, who has had kids.” That would have been the thoroughly appropriate answer, one I would have appreciated and respected. But no, instead, Shri Shri Holy Holy Nunji embarked upon a 20 minute discourse on how to be a good mother, and my pregnant neighbor lapped up every word of it.
I was aghast.
I don’t know why, but we all do this quite a bit, don’t we? We ask single people about how to have great relationships; we ask people still in the honeymoon phase about how to create lasting love; we ask people who have been sued multiple times about integrity; and then we ask holy men wearing beads about how to be successful in business. It is almost like we want to be led astray, just for the fun of the ride.
So here are a few suggestions about who to turn to for advice and inspiration:
1. I suggest that you pay less attention to what the teacher has to say, to their academic training, or their 7 point method, and instead ask, How do you live your life? What are the challenges you have overcome? What have been your triumphs? What is still a cutting edge for you? Learn from people who live what you want to know, instead of people who just talk about it.
2. Look for advice from someone who has not only mastered this area in their own past, but who continues to be stimulated and excited by it in the present. Somebody who made a lot of money decades ago but who has been retired for years no longer has that passion alive. The be-there-done-that attitude will convey information, but will not get you passionate yourself.
3. On the other hand, if someone is still struggling with an area of their life or if their triumphs are very recent, (like a relationship expert still in the honeymoon phase), best to look for someone with a longer track record.
4. Beware of one-size-fits-all solutions for everybody. The 7 Steps to Financial Freedom or the 12 Steps to Perfect Happiness are generally going to benefit the bank balance of the writer more than the well-being of the reader. We would all love for things to be cut and dried like that, but they are not. Someone who can offer you general guidelines to find out what works best for you will be of greater help.
So there you go: Yet one more piece of unsolicited advice available on the internet. And now, to practice what I preach, I will tell you where you can count on me as an expert and where you cannot.
I am really good at helping people bring creative projects all the way from the faintest tickle of a new idea to the successful completion and launch. I have written 9 books and created 14 different online courses, and I have successfully supported hundreds of people to do the same, as well as to launch new companies, new products, and new social initiatives. I have a knack for supporting people to be original and brilliant. This field is a good one for me to advise others on because it is still exciting to me to this very day. I have done this successfully for more than 25 years of my own life, and I am still doing it today–I am still excited, I am still engaged, I am still practicing.
Another area that you can count on me for great advice is in intimate relationships. One of the greatest triumphs of my life — more than the 9 books and the 14 online courses — is my marriage. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have this in my life. My relationship history in the past was a disaster. The way that Chameli and I feel about each other today is close to religious worship. We laugh together, we make love together, we share a beautiful home together, we delight endlessly in each others company. That did not happen because of our conditioning or biological inheritance—it was something we consciously created and that we have been able to pass on to other people. That is also a good area for me to support others in. When I wake up every day, and she opens her eyes, and looks at me from the pillow on the other side of the bed, my heart still quickens. It did today.
And finally, another area that I am really good at coaching is conscious masculinity. For similar reasons to the first two, I have deeply explored what it means to be a man in today’s world, I am still in the process of discovery, and I have coached other men successfully.
Following the formula I present above, here are some areas that I do not coach people in:
Spiritual seeking no longer gets me excited. Without doubt, awakening to your true nature as infinite space, silence, stillness, and love is about the most important transition that anyone can go through. But I just cannot get excited about making that the focus of a coaching relationship. I can weave awakening into a bigger context of cultivating brilliance, but when people want to primarily focus on spirituality, I refer them to someone else. Important as it is, I just got tired of talking about it or thinking about it.
Another area I am not good at coaching is personal integrity: keeping your word, keeping on top of your finances, making promises and keeping them. I think this is incredibly important, if not one of the most important ingredients for a life that works well, but I am still learning about this myself. It would be premature for me to claim to be an expert.
If you would like to learn more about my own coaching practice, you can read about it here.