To Get Great Advice, Listen Carefully to the Advice You Receive

David Burn
3 min readApr 25, 2024

When your career stalls out or your business derails, it can take time to recover and to the best of your ability piece things back together. It may take much longer than you expect. I know this because three years ago my brand messaging agency faced its greatest challenge in its 14-year history. It was the sort of thing that made me pause and ask, why do I even bother with this sort of work? There must be a better way to earn money, I reasoned.

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. I recently examined several startup opportunities which would move me from providing professional services to providing products. Opening a coffee shop, a bottle shop, an art gallery, or a boutique hotel — these are some of the things that Darby and I have been exploring. At the same time, I continue to look for a high-performing team where my experience, vision, and mentoring are needed and welcome.

“Travelers,” acrylic on paper by David Burn

When you’re weighing a lot of options, it can be hard to know where to put your focus and tough to choose a direction. It’s the kind of thing that leads you to seek the advice of friends, family, colleagues, and others who might help provide some of the missing clarity.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t seek much advice. I was interested in the lessons that my friends and colleagues might offer, but I was also confident in what I knew and the path I was on. Eventually, that changed. I lost confidence in myself and at times, in others. I became increasingly isolated and underemployed. I felt disoriented and angry. I replayed past work transgressions and let those memories eat me up.

To work my way out of this mess, I started reaching out to people that I trust and respect. I started asking questions and listening intently to the replies. I read books and articles and watched instructional videos and inspirational speeches. I spoke to a professional counselor.

The world today is rich in advice. Our coaches, teachers, friends, spouses, parents, kids, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, doctors, pastors, and people in line at the grocery store all have advice to lend, much of it well-meaning. Online — where anyone and everyone is an expert — advice is now a massive industry. Internet addicts may take in more advice before breakfast than our grandparents received in a year.

When advice is this plentiful, knowing who to listen to and which parts of their advice to focus on is key. When I request the advice of a trusted friend or mentor, I listen intently and take notes so I can revisit them as needed. Some of the notes that I am revisiting at this moment say, “Action begets more action. And don’t be afraid to fail.”

The person who said these things also said that I reminded him of the old Tarzan movies because Tarzan never let go of one vine until he had a secure hold of the next one. Sounds reasonable! The vine that I won’t let go of is my identity as a copywriter and creative director. He said, “Don’t confuse your identity with your role.”

He’s a smart guy and I’m fortunate to know him. I agree that it’s time to let go of the old vine and fly freely toward the next one. And yes, it’s scary to think of all the ways that I might fail. It’s scarier yet to know that I’m failing now by not stretching and reaching with all I have for the next big opportunity.

The advice I am giving myself now is to seek less advice and pursue more action. Not acting is never going to lead to anywhere good. Even if I choose the wrong path, and need to reverse course and go again, I can do that. I can overcome my fear of failure and provide things that are needed in this world.

One last note for all advice seekers and givers…advice is almost always filtered through the provider’s own lived experience. Which is to say, what worked for them might not be the right choice for you. That’s why you have to sit with the advice and let it simmer. Even when it’s great advice, you still have to fit it into your own world and go from there.