Challenge Everybody (Or How I Lost $150,000)

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A friend of mine once asked me if I would give him advice on his finances if he won the lottery.

My response was simple: “Don’t take financial advice from someone who has less money than you.”

Let’s say you come into $5 million. Would you then take investment advice from an adviser who earns less than $100k/year? (Most advisers earn far less than that.)

I definitely wouldn’t.

I’d trust myself more than the adviser and I hope you would too.

But I’d also trust someone who has a proven record of making a lot of money. This could be anybody. An entrepreneur, Warren Buffet, a grandmother. It doesn’t matter who it is as long as they’ve had success with large sums of money.

This concept holds true for anything in life.

If you’re a prospective basketball star would you take advice from coaches who haven’t coached future college and NBA stars?

If you’re an entrepreneur would you take business advice from people who haven’t run successful businesses?

If you want to be a world class chef would you train at a fast food restaurant?

If you want to get fit are you going to take advice from a fat person?

Bad Advice Breeds Bad Results

It seems like common sense, yet most of us, myself included, take advice from people who have no business giving advice. Usually, at least in my case, it doesn’t work out positively.

For example, years ago when the housing boom was hitting hard everybody was saying to get in now because housing prices are going to keep rising. Deep down I knew that wasn’t true. But what was happening was so crazy my thinking became unclear and I joined in on the frenzy.

It also didn’t help that I was earning more money than I knew what to do with.

So I purchased a house that is now worth ~$150,000 less than when I bought it. (I rented it out last year so I could live anywhere.)

To write that makes me sick to my stomach, but I’m not one to run away from the truth.

Who To Blame For Bad Advice

I could blame the people I was taking advice from. I could blame the President, the banks, the real estate agents, my family, and my friends.

But there is only one person to blame for that mistake.

Nobody put a gun to my head. I didn’t have to listen.

And ever since then I’ve told myself “never again.”

Challenge Everybody

These days I challenge all advice I receive.

Buying that house was an expensive lesson, but I don’t regret learning it in the absolute worst way. It is tattooed into my hippocampus. I will never forget.

Where Does Bad Advice Stem From?

Ninety-nine percent of the time (guesstimation) bad, unwelcome advice comes from three places:

Parents

Other Family Members

Friends

Granted, all of these people are well intentioned.

But intention means nothing.

How you live your life should be up to you.

“I’d rather go my own way and fail miserably than go their way and make it.” – Henry Rollins

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take advice from anybody. I’m saying we need to be careful who we’re taking advice from.

Persuasive people can easily lead us astray.

People you respect can do the same.

How I’ve Overcome Taking Bad Advice

1) Accept the advice with gratitude. Most people don’t mean any harm and like to chime in whether they should or not. Accept their advice. Thank them. Then…

2) Analyze where the advice is coming from. Is the advice from someone well suited to giving you that specific piece of advice? Yes? Great, consider it. It might be very useful to you. After all, the easiest way to learn something is from someone who has already made the mistakes for you. If they can save you from making a mistake or two that is perfect.

BUT, and it’s a big CAPITALIZED BUT, if they are giving you advice based on opinion and speculation then what you should do is simple:

Forget It!

It won’t be easy. Especially if it’s a Parent, family member, or close friend. But forget it anyway. Be congruent and stick to your guns.

If you fail without their advice you will only be able to blame yourself. No ill feelings towards the well-intentioned advice givers. And if you succeed, it will be the result of your own genius.

Make a pact with yourself that you will flat out not accept advice if it’s coming from someone who shouldn’t be dishing out those specific life lessons.

Does that mean you shouldn’t take advice from me?

Yes and no.

Don’t take my advice in areas you don’t think I have the proper experience.

For example, although I always get pretty good deals on flights, I’m not the best person to ask about that. For the most part I use FareCompare.com (BTW, their CEO Rick Seaney is awesome) and what I’ve learned from Chris Guillebeau’s travel products.

But I can tell you how to travel cheaply, how to eat vegan on the road, how to live anywhere, among many other things.

Take my advice in areas I have experience. Everything I write on this blog is based on personal experience.

It’s pretty black and white.

Do you have examples of situations where you took advice from the wrong person and it worked out unfavorably?

Do you have examples of situations where you took advice from the right person and it worked out favorably?

Or do you have examples of situations that contradict everything I’ve stated?

Leave it in the comments. I’m incredibly interested.

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P.S. I just realized the photo to this article makes no sense. Originally it was called “Who To Listen To” but I changed it at the last minute and forgot to change the photo! haha ;)



45 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Karol,

    I took advice from someone a couple of years ago, when I decided to reapply for university after leaving my previous course. I was initially studying physics, but after a year I decided that it just wasn’t for me. I worked on and off for a few months until I had a conversation with the conductor from a choir I used to sing in, who I guess I could describe as a mentor figure. She advised me to apply to study music, knowing that it was something that I’ve always had an interest in.

    I knew that I didn’t want to study performance (since I enjoy performing as part of a group rather than on my own), so I had doubts that I would find the right course. She reassured me, however, that it would be possible to find a degree programme that would fit my needs.

    Two years later, and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m half way through my second year, with plans to continue my study in Montreal next year (I’m from the UK so this is a big deal for me!) and I’m really enjoying the course.

    Without my mentor’s advice I would probably be stuck in a job that I didn’t like, or settling for a degree course that doesn’t really fit what I want to do. I was right to listen (she’d seen many others in a very similar position to me, so was in a position to give valuable advice).

    I think this is a prime example of listening to advice from the right person. Thanks for the blog post – it’s a good lesson to learn.

    Joe

    P.S. Thank you for the postcard, it was a great surprise!

  2. Hi Karol,

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about challenging advice that you are given, but I would challenge your statement that, “If you’re a prospective basketball star would you take advice from coaches who haven’t coached future college and NBA stars?”

    I don’t think that you should automatically dismiss financial advice from someone that makes less than you. If you look at your statement above, you don’t say that you shouldn’t take advice from a coach who wasn’t good enough to play college basketball or professional basketball. You focus on his ability to coach really good players.

    The real question is whether they actually have the knowledge to be able to give you sound financial advice. I would agree that most financial advisers are not that great.

    • Right, so I could rephrase as “don’t take investment advice from someone who doesn’t know how to invest” or “don’t take debt relief advice from someone who isn’t actively getting out of debt or already there.” But I think you understood my point. ;)

  3. Complement example: I joined computer engineering because during the course tour the professors (and with a PhD on computer engineering) told us that we would be learning lots of coding techniques; for the last couple of years the relation of computer stuff/non-computer stuff is around 1:3.

    The lesson? Never follow advice from your seller!

  4. Hi Karol!
    I’ve been getting a lot of advice on how to improve my songwriting recently, and I’ve been thinking some of the same things you’ve discussed here. That’s why I trust you for advice. Generally I find that if I follow advice that articulates a somewhat vague thought I’ve already had, it tends to end well. Or at least with me being stubbornly satisfied even in defeat (like the quote from Henry Rollins) =D

    Good post!

    • Thank you Vanessa! Songwriting is such a personal thing I don’t think taking advice from most people will suit you well. That said, learning the rules makes it easier to break them. :)

  5. “Don’t take advice about where you want to go in life from people who have never been there!” I love my parents. I realized at about the age of 18 that they were not perfect! They are great parents but I was the only one who had to walk in my shoes. As we take our individual paths in life I believe it is important to listen to your inner voice more often than other people. If you must seek out advice, find the best, with experience like Karol said! Thanks

    • Thanks Randall! Although our Parents mean well, usually they don’t know what’s best for us as much as they like to think they do. :)

  6. Ha. I’ve had a similar experience during my poker days. I had more money than I needed. Long story made short: I trusted the wrong person and lost a large sum of it in the stock market.

    It’s funny how events like that can completely change you and make you sharper. It hurt like hell when it happened, but it’s a valuable lesson that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

    • Thanks for sharing Henri! While I’m sure there are better ways to learn these lessons, at least learning them this way we’ll never forget. :)

  7. Cool article. I live by this. Although with a twist. Two points:

    1. Whenever my gf asks for my advise I tell her to talk to a professional. If it’s about computers, xbox, or body mods I’ll give my 2 cents. Taxes? Talk to a CPA. Itallian culture? Talk to an Itallian. Etc. Pisses her off =)

    2. I listen to a lot of people, even if they’re not experts, but I research what they’ve told me and then form my own opinions. It irks some people that I just don’t flat out trust them, but I also tell the same thing when I offer advise. “don’t just take my word for it. Ask others, and google it =)”. A lot of time you can find good advise in a collective answer.

    Piece!

    .: Adam

    • Didn’t you get “never again” tattooed on your wrists? Or am I thinking of someone else?

      As far as #2: Yes, good point. I listen to what people offer as well. But, for the most part, I will do my own research and find my truth.

      Thanks man!
      Karol

  8. The worst advice I got from a trusted techie was that I
    should use a wireless router to prevent malware infection.
    When I tried to buy one, the honest salesman told me it’s
    baloney and added that if I don’t have a network which
    is the case, someone would just steal bandwidth from me!

    • Hi Poch,

      Thanks for sharing …

      Nobody will steal bandwidth from you if you set a difficult to guess wireless password. So the salesman was wrong and your trusted techie was spot on! (Assuming you have a firewall on the router.)

      Cheers!
      Karol

  9. I can relate to the whole ‘taking bad advice when it’s wrapped up in good intentions’ thing. About 6 months ago I went to a real estate investment seminar with a family member. The whole thing was very interesting and I ended up buying a $700 home study course after the family member suggested I get it. The only down side is I was 22 years old with only $1,000 in the bank. No bank would loan me the money needed to make use of the study guide and so it just sits there on my shelf.

    However, I did learn a very valuable lesson. First, the person selling it said that the $700 course was a discounted ‘special’ price and that it was normally much higher. I later learned that it was only $100 higher on average, but that the course was being sold for around $200 on Ebay. Second, I learned that I should really take at least 48 hours before making any major purchases just so I do not succumb to emotional buying. My gut was telling me not to buy it because the price was too high for what I was looking for, but the advice of the family member won out. The family member just wanted me to be a successful investor, but I bought the right course at the wrong time in my life. Perhaps, in a couple years I can learn something from it once I develop my online business, but for now it will remain a thorn in my side and a great reminder to think twice before making a large purchase and following the good intentioned advice of a friend/family member/etc.

  10. Ha! I read that post already. My only problem with that is that after 30 days I’ll have completely forgotten the ‘thing’ that I wanted. Which might not be too bad except for the fact that I’ll continuously be thinking what it was I wanted until I go insane trying to remember it : ) Thanks for the link though, definitely a good suggestion.

  11. I didn’t notice about the photo until the end. Funny as I’m experimenting with no photo on my blog post this week. People are just attracted (or not) by the headline after all. The image is just fluff really…

    Sorry to hear you lost that money. I hope the prices go back up and you get it back. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and sell at a loss if it’s holding you back. When it comes to money I’m quite risk averse. I think diversification is the key. Yes, I have kicked myself for following bad advice. Now I hear people but they don’t make the decision for me. I do that and I take responsibility for it too… for better or worse…:)

    • Thanks Annabel. Yeah, it may very well be fluff, and finding photos is my least favorite part of editing, but I strongly dislike how my posts look without a photo.

      The prices will go back up in 15-20 years. :) haha! (actually, that’s not funny!)

  12. Hello Karol,

    You are absolutely correct that the worst advice comes from three places:
    Parents, other Family Members, and Friends. I know all of these people are well intentioned.
    I have already burnt my fingers rather hand taking advise from my mom. You know Failure has many fathers so one wrong decision and we try to find out who gave us the wrong advice? I think there is no one to blame but ‘me’ or ‘us’. Where was our super intelligence level when they provided the advise probably on a long vacation.
    I listen to everyone but I take my own decisions. I take calculated risk and move forward with one decision.

    Bye for now,
    Cheryl

  13. One of my favorite cartoons is this investment counselor sitting at his desk , with a client sitting across from him. The client says ” Actually, I’d be more inclined to take your financial advice, if I could stop wondering why you are still working for a living.” LOL

  14. It seems that every time my gut feeling tells me certain advice should not be followed, one of two things happens:

    I follow it anyway because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or because I’ve fooled myself into ignoring my gut and then the situation turns out negatively.

    Or I don’t follow it and I am thankful that I didn’t once I realize what would have happened.

    Yet somehow, it is still difficult to walk away from advice sometimes and I occasionally make the same mistake of listening to someone I shouldn’t.

    Walking away from the advice of those close to us is similar to the practice of saying ‘no’. It’s often terribly hard to do but often so very necessary.

    • Thanks Earl. Yes, it is difficult saying “no” to people. I’ve followed my gut and been wrong, but I’d rather that be the case than blindly follow someone’s advice and be wrong. :)

  15. Karol,

    I ended up on the other side of the $150k coin from you, thankfully.

    I had this idea percolating for a blog about minimalism and gardening. I started writing. I got a domain name. Everything was great. I wrote one of the very very very first posts about having a small garden plot at my house, and how we used special techniques to maximize our yields in compact spaces.

    And then a friend told me about a house for sale–an old farmhouse, on a 3-acre lot, selling for way less than I thought it should. We (my wife, young daughter, and I) toured it and left with kind of an icky feeling in our guts–like something wasn’t quite right.

    And then, as these things usually work, I spent most of the next week trying to talk myself into the purchase. More land, bigger garden, bigger ego, you know the drill. We toured again. Still felt not exactly right.

    I went home and read that original entry. I’ll copy the exact text:

    “…And that’s our journey–to realize that yes, we do have enough (actually, more than enough), and that we need to revel in it instead of resisting and always striving for more and more.”

    So I took my own advice. It turned out to be good–the house probably needed 50 or 60k worth of repairs before we could have thought about moving.

    Thanks for the reminder to always listen to my own advice.

  16. Great post Karol.

    I do a lot of creative work with film, animation, and writing, and I usually share my work with my peers as I go- and they usually have advice for me on how to improve it. The thing is most of the time those people have little or no experience in what I am doing so sometimes their advice is no good.

    A solution I have found is this: I write down suggestions people give me. At the end of the day, I look over them again and then throw them away. The next morning I start fresh, only allowing the really good ideas to stick with me. Typically I find that this works pretty well to filter out the crap.

  17. Did you ever think about the opposite? Right advices coming from people you should trust, but you don’t?
    Think about fat cardiologists and bad-breath dentists.
    Man, NOW MANY we see around today!

    • I did have an enormously obese regular doctor once and I didn’t believe a word he said. But I don’t trust most doctors in the first place so that’s not exceptional. :)

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