Today in the United States, millions of families took off work and ate a large meal with each other. People flew and drove for countless miles to surround themselves with the people that they are thankful for. We call this day Thanksgiving, and if you think it is a strange tradition, look up what we do the day after, Black Friday. For some people, large family gatherings are normal, and the day is predictable and manageable. Most families are put under the stress of travel or hosting, and this day is chaotic.
I live 1,760.5 miles away from my family’s home in Chesterton, Indiana. I hardly ever have large family gatherings, usually only one or two a year. For the most part, my life is spent in the office or in the apartment. Large gatherings of friends and family are very special for me these days, because in a few hours I receive the kind of social contact that I only experience once or twice a year.
This year, like last year, I did not go home for Thanksgiving. I stayed in Arizona, and woke up to an empty apartment late in the morning. Like last year, I was invited to my good friend Andy’s house for Thanksgiving. Andy was my former boss, and even though I haven’t worked in his department for over a year, he still invites me to his house. I get to sit on his back porch, eat his incredible food, and listen to the conversations that float between the members of his family. This event is one of my favorite parts of the year, because after spending months focusing on surviving from one week to the next, I get to relax and be welcomed by another person’s family.
My favorite part of the day is spending time talking to each person at the party. I get to listen to their stories and ask for help on decisions that I have to make in the near future. I don’t think they realize it, but everything people tell me at this Thanksgiving plays a huge role in my life and choices.
This is what I learned today, and what I do to use the helpful advice as best I can.
In sailing, you never go in a straight line. Wherever you may be going, you must alternate left and right to use the wind to guide you.
With my life, I feel like I’m usually sailing with just a focus of navigating around the nearest rocks and gales and obstacles that I can see in the next five yards. Andy’s Thanksgiving party gives me a few hours to not worry about the next obstacle; to ignore email and breathe for more than five minutes. I get to talk with brilliant people who only want the best for me, which feels like receiving information from a blimp that can not only see where my ship is, but tell me about where my ship is going, and even give me advice on where to steer the ship.
I take every piece of advice I hear at Thanksgiving to heart. Every conversation imbues meaning and guides my character for when I have to sit back at the wheel and focus on navigating again. Learning how to apply that advice is hard, but I’ve learned how to take these things and use them to make my life better.
Advice for using advice
Listen to everything - There is good reason to listen to everyone’s advice. Really the only thing you can do wrong is discount someone without even hearing what they have to say. For the most part, people are trying to give you help, for free, that they want you to use to make your life better. They are boiling down the mistakes they’ve made into useful pointers for you. I’m not saying all advice is good advice, or that you should take every piece of advice that lands on your doorstep. It’s just that sometimes the best advice comes from the most unexpected places.
Use it or lose it - If the advice comes from someone whose opinion you value, and you want to apply it in your life, don’t wait to do it. Start as soon as you can, because the sooner you try it out, the sooner you can figure out whether it’s good advice or not. The longer you wait to implement a piece of advice, the less applicable it will become, and the harder it will be to ask for help in applying the advice. I regret the advice that I did not take in the past, and realize now that it is too late to turn back and use it.
Be humble - Both of the former tips play into this point. You must listen to everyone, even if you don’t think they are qualified to give you advice. Taking advice is also very humbling, because you must trust the ideas of another person, even if you think your choices are smarter. You can nod and promise that you will follow advice, while secretly just going back to the same rut that you walk in every day. Or you can admit that you might be wrong and try out the advice. It often is very low risk for you to at least read the description of a book that your friend recommended. If it’s dating advice, you can at least test it out once to see how it goes.
Having people give you advice is a lot like receiving recipes or learning about plays that other sports teams use. You can either keep playing your plays and making your own recipes from scratch, or you can learn from those tools and use them to make yourself better. By giving you advice, people are offering you to stand on their shoulders. It might be a good idea to see what it looks like from up there.