Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: The trouble with advice (YNaija FrontPage)

This is Jay, every day, no compromise

No compass comes with this life, just eyes,

So to map it out you must look inside,

Sure books could guide you but your heart defines you.

Beach Chair, Kingdom Come. Jay-Z (2006)


This week, I want to share a surprising lesson I am learning as a person, an aspiring leader and an entrepreneur.

 Advice, even on the rare occasion it is good, may not help you very much.

 You see, when I was first starting out with my company, I loved advice. I put together an advisory council of really smart and accomplished, older people who I figured would help me find the money tree. The naïve entrepreneur I was imagined that, if only I would put in a lot of hard work and follow through on exactly what they told me, I would find it. It’s a lot like doing school right? The old and wise teacher knows everything.


 I wound up spending almost a year, following lots of advice that I didn’t even entirely understand in the hopes that it would take me to boatloads of money.

 And of course there was none.

 The good thing however is that I learnt so much from the many mistakes this “advice” led me to that I was able to finally figure out how to make my business work essentially by incessant trial and error –which is really the only way to learn certain lessons. There is after all a reason why experience is still the best teacher.

 Beyond the fact that advice is so cheap and ego-inflating (after all, who doesn’t enjoy playing wise elder? I know I do), it has become an everlasting time wasting abundance, there are a couple reasons why as in my experience, a lot of the advice you get is probably useless.

The first reason is that most of the time, when you ask for advice, you really don’t know where you actually need help. You don’t even have a whole lot of a clue about what you don’t have a whole lot of a clue about. At the end of the day, you either end up with a lot of random thoughts but little insight.

The second reason follows from the first one. Since you don’t know what advice you really need, you are probably asking the wrong people for it. Looking back, one of the more astonishingly dumb things about the advisory council I put together was that I was somehow blind to the fact that the circle of people I was asking for advice had about the same level of experience in my space as I did – none. No doubt, now it seems pretty obvious that I should have had a more experienced CEO in my space advising me, but then it also seemed pretty obvious that they would either not give me the light of day or be the first to “steal my idea”. The trouble with asking the wrong person for advice, even when they are smart is that you could end up mistaking one smart person’s opinion for advice. It usually goes downhill from there.

The last reason why a lot of advice is useless is that even when you get the right advice, from the right people, you might still need to make the same mistakes you were warned about to learn the right lessons. Expensive as experience’s tuition is, there are some lessons only it can teach. In my life, I have had the privilege of walking into certain mistakes, and not for lack of forewarning by older, wiser, more experienced mentors. Of course, experience ruthlessly brands these hard won lessons on my chest so I know never to make the same mistake again.

Now, this isn’t to say all advice is bad or that there is no benefit to it. However, it is important for you to realize that there is only a small subset of advice that really does make a difference.

At the end of the day, success comes from creating your own path.

And uhm no, this is not advice.


Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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