By Josh Cho
The more I experience the world, the less I seem to know.
Last night on the Marguerite, I chanced upon a friend coming back from a Tea Festival in SF; upon conversing, I experienced a repeat insight: Every element of life was an object of fascination for someone.
The very keyboard this piece is being typed on. The display of pixels on the screen. The posture that is my body on this chair. The gradient of the color on the wall, which the fool that is me cannot describe as more than “white”.
Every aspect of my day-to-day probably has a cult following around it. Emoji-Con was last weekend. People gathered to talk about Emojis.
Geez, I used to think. But recently, I am seeing more and more of the beauty of nerd-ship. Taking any task to a point of craft is art in and of itself.
Perhaps this is why I chose to cast a wider net of interests. Instead of being an expert in one thing, I choose to be decent in many things, and see the connections.
And in surveying these varying landscapes, the world is reinforcing that I don’t know anything. To know, I needed to ask those who have already gone before me.
That is the shortcut: to ask those who have come before you.
And I love shortcuts.
Ever since youth, my parents would criticize me for always looking for a way to exploit any situation. To bypass hard work, to give myself spare time to play video games. I always tried to outsmart the competition, instead of putting more hours in.
But without the right direction, running forward doesn’t mean anything. With my time, I try to find the right direction as often as possible. Run a lot of experiments, fail a bunch, have lots of existential crises, somehow bounce back, etc.
Whenever I get especially lost in moving forward in life, I interrogate those who have come before me in the art of life. Those further down my intended path. Guides in my journey forward.
For this reason, I have always sought the best mentors and best advice. Thanks to the web (and podcasts), I can access super high quality advice from people like Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, and…
Casey Neistat. Well, his advice defeated my algorithm of searching for mentors and advice.
His advice is to *never take any advice.*
At first, I felt this defeated my entire premise. But long term nibbling on this anti-advice proved extremely useful because most advice in the world — other than the anti-one — turns out to be trash.
The ratio is surprisingly terrible. In the fields that I am acquainted with, I have heard bad advice given out left and right.
But I do not agree with Casey to never take any advice; some is good. You just need to be able to tell.
How can you identify bad advice? To start, speed of detection is key. Let bad advice waddle in your brain-water any longer and the whole pond is ruined.
This is my working algorithm.
First, I look at who is giving the advice. Are they the person you want to be *in that realm*, and are they free of any ulterior motives?
If you want advice on cooking, ask a chef. Don’t ask a programmer (unless they also happen to be a great cook). See if they gain anything from giving you particular advice. Avoid asking your boss, employee or any incentive-wrangled individual.
This is the meta-advice. Get advice from those whom you aspire to be.
Second, determine how eager they are to give you advice. The super eager ones — their advice tells me more things about them than about me. They most likely have an ulterior motive, perhaps deeply psychological.
The best advice I have received was a sentence or two, after the other person had heard the full length of my story. They would ask incessantly, to the point of understanding the richness of my predicament.
This leads to the third: Quality of advice is not dependent on the length of the advice.
Asking for advice is fantastic. Go to those further down the path. Imbibe their advice fully, understand their world and believe in the advice.
Then, critically analyze using the above algorithm. Good advice is mind-blowing. Bad advice is mind-dampening.
Blown minds lead to coherent action. Dampened minds lead to existential crises.
Ask the right people, and filter accordingly.
Contact Josh Cho at joshcho ‘at’ stanford.edu.