Why you shouldn’t always trust advice from experts

expert

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I was sitting on the floor with my 4-month-old black lab puppy in my lap, sobbing. She was happily chewing a bone, oblivious to the fact that I was heartbroken because I was planning to give her away.

Scarlett, my puppy, was a bit of a hellion. She had a habit of attacking your feet when you weren’t looking, and she would bark at you for what felt like hours without stopping.

She didn’t care for kids, or scooters, or skateboards, or anything that darted around in an unpredictable fashion.

If you rolled her over on her back, she would shriek and fight like a chimpanzee being murdered (I swear I’m not exaggerating. I have witnesses!).

This dog was nothing like the sweet, loving, cuddly puppy I had imagined. She was completely unmanageable. So obviously I brought in professional help.

The dog trainer who came to my apartment only visited a few times before she pointed at Scarlett, who had been busy attacking my feet again, and said, “That is NOT normal. You will never be able to trust this dog. She’ll have to wear a muzzle around kids for the rest of her life.”

She suggested that I take my puppy to a shelter she knew of and then start over with a different breed; something more suited to me.

This woman’s advice broke my heart. I couldn’t imagine just giving my dog away, regardless of how difficult she was. But what else could I do? She was the expert, not me. If she said my dog was broken, then she was … right?

Well, not so much.

My parents encouraged me to get a second opinion. The new trainer rolled his eyes and said, “She’ll be perfect in 3 weeks. This is normal stuff for a smart, spirited lab.”

And he was right. After working with the right expert, Scarlett was a completely different dog than she had been the month before.

That was seven years ago. She still doesn’t love weird things with wheels, but she happily plays with babies and kids of all sizes, and she loves rolling over and getting belly rubs. No screeching necessary.

Sometimes I think about how I almost gave her away, and I shudder. Because how many people did take that terrible dog trainer’s advice? How many perfectly decent dogs ended up homeless (or worse) because of her?

The truth is, this kind of stuff happens all the time. We put our faith in experts, simply because we assume they’re more knowledgeable and educated, and dismiss our own intuition — often to disastrous ends.

SOMETIMES PARTS JUST “WEAR OUT”

A few years ago my mom was experiencing consistent knee pain. It wasn’t debilitating, but it was enough that she knew something was off.

She went to her general practitioner, who took a look at it (without bothering to give her an X-Ray), and said, “Eh, it’s just old age. Parts wear out! Take some painkillers.”

My mom, even though she’s in her fifties and I’m in my thirties, is probably in way better shape than me. She’s a lifelong athlete who plays tennis competitively. To be told that her knee was just “wearing out” was a huge blow. It might mean giving up something she loves; something that makes her who she is.

Even though she was worried that her doctor was right, she couldn’t dismiss the feeling that something felt wrong, so she went to an orthopedic surgeon who took an X-Ray and said, “You’ve torn your meniscus. We can do a non-invasive surgery and you’ll be recovered in no time.”

Today, her knees are fine. And she’s still playing tennis all weekend long — I’m pretty sure she’ll still be running circles around people on the court into her eighties!

YOU SHOULDN’T BE A HERMIT

Meg, one of our awesome former PPVE participants, recently sat down with a job coach, hoping for some advice about how to search for good employers and how to stand out to them when she does find a good one:

“When I brought up that I’d like to work remotely, the job coach suggested that because of my tendency to be a hermit and avoid people, I should work in an office with other people. Thing is, I’d really prefer to work from home or a public space and use my free time to socialize. BUT, I’m tempted to take the coach’s advice because now I’ve second-guessed myself.”

As a coach, there’s nothing that makes my blood boil quite like bad coaching. Actually, let’s be honest, what Meg experienced was not coaching. It was advice (and not very good advice, at that).

Advice is what happens when someone tells you what they think you should do, based on their worldview and experiences. It often doesn’t take your preferences, personality, values, or experiences into account at all.

Coaching is what happens when someone treats you as the expert on your own life, listens without an agenda, and asks you questions (often that you haven’t realized you need to be asking yourself) that help you tease out what’s right and aligned for you.

This job coach completely dismissed the fact that Meg is an introvert who feels genuinely good about the prospect of working remotely.

Instead of actually listening to Meg, she labeled Meg as a “hermit” and told her that her preference was wrong. All of which makes Meg unnecessarily question her own desires and feel ashamed of who she is. YUCK.

If Meg hadn’t been able to share this story with us, she might have ended up miserable in an office, feeling guilty and trying to ignore the fact that she’d rather be by herself. Crisis averted, thankfully.

IT’S SO EASY TO HAND OVER YOUR POWER

In a world where we’ve been cultured to always respect authority, bow down to degrees and job titles, and make decisions that are based in logic (rather than our intuition or feelings), it is REALLY easy to hand our power away.

And, to be fair, there’s an uncomfortable truth to all of this — it’s more convenient to dismiss your own intuition and trust experts, instead.

If we hand over our authority to an expert, we don’t have to think for ourselves. We never have to struggle with figuring out how we feel or what our intuition is telling us. We can outsource all of that messiness to someone who will just tell us what to do, which sounds way easier in the moment.

Except, if it isn’t clear by now, allow me to say:

No one is more of an expert on you than you.

It doesn’t matter if they’ve been to school for a decade, worked with thousands of people, or acquired huge fame and renown in their field — they will NEVER know you better than you do.

So, let’s not hand our power over to people who will never know what it’s like to be us. Let’s become our own damn experts. Let’s agree to the following:

  • You don’t have to trust an expert, ever. Regardless of their accomplishments. Titles and degrees don’t say a lot about someone’s character (or their abilities, for that matter).
  • If you get a vibe — you just don’t like someone, even if you can’t figure out why; or you feel something is off, even though there’s no “evidence” — then listen to it. Your gut instincts count MORE than someone else’s expertise.
  • It never hurts to get a second opinion, particularly when the stakes are high.
  • You don’t need to poll everyone in your life before you make a decision. You’re capable of making good choices all on your own (for more on this, read Kristen’s blog about making your own decisions)
  • If it’s a choice between doing what feels good, right, and aligned for you versus listening to an expert who recommends the opposite of what makes you feel good — always do what makes you feel good.

YOU are the authority on you. Period.

When have you trusted an expert instead of yourself? What happened? Come share with me in the comments!

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)


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12 Comments // ADD COMMENT

12 comments

  • Rich Morgana

    Hello Rachel and Kristen, Once while job hunting, I sat down with a recruiter. He told me that my resume should be totally revised (with instructions which he gave me) and he could open many new doors with all of his vast contacts. I did as he asked and faxed the updated resume to him.

    When I called back, he told me that he received it but didn’t have a chance to review it. I waited one week and called him. He told me that same thing.

    After that, I went back to my old format and saw another recruiter who did not suggest revising anything. Within 2 days, she called me with a job possibility. I went on 2 interviews and was offered a position.

    I agree with you; don’t always listen to “experts”. Thanks for a great column.

    • Rachel East

      Hi Rich,

      Thank you for sharing this! It’s a great example of why, very often, we already know how to do something, but we end up second-guessing ourselves and letting another person change our work (even though it was perfectly fine to begin with!). I’m glad you were able to get that job and prove that your way was totally fine!

  • Eryn

    Love this, Rachel! Generic, one-size-fits-all advice has NEVER worked for me.

    And so glad you kept your pup!

    • Rachel East

      Thanks, Eryn! I can probably count on one hand the number of times blanketed, general advice works for anyone! And I’m glad I kept my puppy, too. 😉

  • Michael

    I think you nailed it when you said that we’re vulnerable to bad advice and coaching due to being trained when young to listen to authority. Really,the only reason that happens is because adults want to control kids. I realized that when I was considering being a teacher in college and worked as a teacher in the summers for summer education programs.
    I’ve been having to clean out a lot of bad advice lately, to try to get to a point where I’m purely living off my own instincts.
    The world’s a strange place due to stuff like this, like people giving bad advice and trying to assert to you that you should be more like them all the time or you’re wrong. It’s like everyone is their own math teacher who thinks they alone have figured out the formulas and then they assume that you’re wrong and need their math.
    Oddly enough, the smartest people I’ve ever met are the people who just smile and say “the world’s complicated, I can’t figure it out.”
    You’re right on point, as usual, sharing that lovely intelligence of yours. 😺

    • Rachel East

      Hey Michael!

      Yep, I think what you’re doing is spot-on; it’s sort of like detoxing yourself from alllll of the advice and opinions and outside influence that you’ve leaned on throughout your life. It’s quite a process! It can take a long time to unravel it, layer by layer. And I totally agree that the wisest people are the ones who don’t make many assumptions and who fully admit everything that they don’t know!

  • Grace R.

    I was raised to respect authority (which usually just meant my “elders”) so as a high schooler and undergrad it was difficult for me to trust my own instincts. I worried that I was just shopping around until I found an opinion that suited me, but that wasn’t actually the case, because I don’t mind being challenged if it’s truly going to help me grow! I finally realized the dangers of taking bad advice when I was figuring out what to do after graduation and got an overwhelming amount of “you should go to grad school and study X” type advice, because multiple people assumed that as an English major I would end up being a teacher. I hate teaching. But when I brought that up, they just said I would be well suited for it – never mind that my feelings completely UNsuited me for it!

    • Rachel East

      Hey Grace,

      Yeah, if you want a flurry of opinions, asking people what you should do after you graduate is a doozy! It’s always interesting how logical and linear people’s advice is–like in your case, they assumed that because you majored in English, you should therefore become a teacher. I see why *they* think that makes sense, but like you said, it doesn’t take into account whether you even like the idea of being a teacher, or whether it’s suited to you at all! I’m glad you saw that that wasn’t the right path for you.

  • Stefanie Naden

    I have TMJD and so many dentists would only give me advice about the symptoms and not discuss the real root cause. Alleviating jaw pain and headaches became my personal mission and it’s taken me down a path of discovering how to live a healthy life. I’ve recognized that clenching my jaw is caused by my not feeling able to speak my truth and let go of stress. I still have work to do, but it feels so much better knowing that the solution to my pain is freeing myself from my fears. Thank you for your blog because you are always helping me inch closer to finding my truth!

    • Rachel East

      Hey Stefanie,

      This is such a good example, thank you for sharing! YES, there is such a huge lack of interest and respect in the medical industry, in general, for the underlying issues of someone’s dis-ease, particularly if that issue might be more emotional or energetic than physiological in nature. And yet, SO much sickness starts with our thought patterns and stressors that it’s almost criminal to ignore that aspect of health! I have a lot of experiences with this on a personal level, so I clearly get fired up about this subject! 😉

      P.S. If you’re interested in alternative methods of healing, I HIGHLY recommend Anthony William’s book Medical Medium. That book (and following much of the protocol in it) has helped both me AND Kristen heal some deeply chronic ailments that no medical science was ever able to help us with (and in fact, their advice almost always exacerbated the issue). I know he has some stuff to say about TMJ, so it might be worth your while! 🙂

  • Michael Wood

    In short, you shouldn’t trust advice from “experts” because it may be selfishly motivated. Many people say things because they want something, not because they compassionately care about your fate and destiny. Honestly, many “experts” are just trapping you in their self actualization schemes, giving you bad advice because they want to be seen as the expert helping people in the world. Sadly, they don’t care as much about actually having or developing the talent and skill to be said expert.

    Great blog. Definitely related to this.

    • Rachel East

      Hey Michael! Totally. A lot of “experts” need you to see them that way to gratify their own egos. It’s so important to remember how much the ego fuels “expertise.”