Why Giving Advice Makes You Uncomfortable

I’ve been in the advice game a long time — well over 10 years. Before I had my own business, I worked in the consulting world, sometimes as a consultant, sometimes in support of those advising clients. You could even say that my entire career has involved advice.

Here’s what I rarely admit: I've had a love/hate relationship with advice.

My Facebook relationships status with advice would read: It’s complicated. I worry I’ll come off like a pompous ass. I worry my thoughts on a subject are wrong, that I’ve lead someone astray. I worry I don’t have enough expertise to share my knowledge. I worry that sometimes maybe it's just an ego trip.  

This topic is wildly uncomfortable for me: like trying to keep your pants buttoned after a big plate of burritos, a margarita and a pile of those free chips and guacamole uncomfortable. I’m pushing through my discomfort because I’m sure some of you, even most of you, have wondered about giving advice. Advice often depends on having expertise.

You worry that you don’t know enough.

Maybe it’s what’s holding you back from packaging your work into a suite of services or from writing that book. Expertise is a funny thing. If we're self-taught, it's easy to feel like we don't know enough. Because we acquired our skills by doing the work, we doubt our knowledge. Our deepest fear is that our independent study outside the traditional educational system doesn't qualify us as experts. And only experts can give advice.

By not learning traditional ways many self-taught professionals come up with unique approaches. But unconventional approaches aren't always readily accepted. This can make us double down on our feelings of being a fraud. This can make your belief in your skills plummet.

Many of my clients have been software developers with truly novel approaches to the technical and people problems they've encountered. Even though he'd spent 5 years focused on a particular technical challenge, because he didn't have a C.S. degree, one client thought he needed to learn more before giving a talk on the subject. A programmer with 10 years of experience wrote prolific blog posts about a new approach, never sharing them fearing his lack of formal education beyond high school meant he'd be laughed at.

Both of these independents were stalled by the fear they weren't smart enough or educated enough to give counsel to others.

Giving advice can trigger the feeling of being an amateur that lies inside us.

You're not alone. I'm a member of the phony club too. Being asked for advice felt odd for many years. Even when the advice is in an area I know something about — transitioning from an employee to a business owner, being self-employed and marketing yourself — I still want to make sure that I’m being useful. On days when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing, I worry that I'm not enough of an expert yet.

Here's the rub.

In order to do the work and have the impact I want, offering advice is part of the deal. If you work for yourself (or want to), this is probably true for you too. To other help others, I couldn't stay stuck. I had to figure out a way around my complicated feelings about advice.

Getting comfortable with giving advice

I made peace with my inner phony because I truly want to help people — especially those who want to know how to be independent. It’s the reason Bet On Yourself exists. Giving people information about working for themselves is my reason for getting out of bed even when I want to stay snuggled in its warm covers. Focusing on what I want to accomplish in the world helps. So does focusing on helping others.

I also learned to recognize when feelings of incompetence began to form like storm clouds closing in on me. Instead of ignoring them, I dealt with them. I realized that they were just thoughts. That negative opinion about my skills wasn't a truth, but rather a thought. Finally, I reminded myself that I was in control of my thoughts. Rather than letting them become obstacles, I found ways to transform my thoughts. I looked objectively at all of my experience and let go of my idea of what an expert looked like. I even came to see my unconventional approach as an asset, rather than a limitation to overcome.

I get it. It's really hard.

We want to have all the facts. We don't want to look like an ignorant ass. We worry about how to respond when someone makes critical jabs at our opinion. We worry we're going to be one of those people - you know, the ones who have no idea what they're talking about but prattle on anyway. But to work for ourselves, we must push through these concerns.

Focusing on the people I want to support and transforming my thoughts has helped calm my fears of being a fake. These days my relationship with giving advice is far less complicated, even harmonious at times.


P.S. Around every Instagram corner or tweet is someone giving advice. We all know that person who took one course and are suddenly offer expensive coaching sessions.  Or the one who read a book and now gives talks on it all over the world.

You are not this person. You didn't set out to become internet famous. You set out to help others. You have real experience. Don't let that person force you into hiding.