Most cliché advice falls into one of three categories:
It’s a cliché because it’s true. Example: “Always consider the source.”
It’s a cliché because it tells us what we want to hear. Example: “Follow your dreams.”
It’s a cliché because it’s catchy. Example: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The problem is that most people never stop and consider the advice they’re offering or receiving. One of the reasons we offer bad cliché advice is that we know how we’ve applied certain advice, and things worked out well for us.
However, what we don’t know is how other people are going to personalize or apply that same advice. While certain words may have encouraged wise action on your part, it may lead others to utter foolishness.
Here are three clichés that are actually terrible advice:
Trust Your Heart
The heart is a very confusing thing. You can’t easily define it. We all tend to have multiple emotions pushing us in various directions. So, which impulse is your heart?
I know how inspirational it can be in a movie for someone to “have lots of heart,” and then, “follow their heart,” to great success. But in the real world, “Following your heart” is really just mumbo jumbo for trusting your fleeting emotions.
Think about the greediest, most impulsive or immoral people you know. Do you really want them to follow their hearts?
The Bible paints a harsh picture of the trustworthiness of the heart.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Throughout Scripture, it’s made clear that every single one of us are sinners. There’s a toxin in our system called sin, and it continually leads us astray. Blindly choosing to follow our hearts is fairly close to choosing to follow your sin nature.
Better advice: Trust the advice of people who know and care about you.
No one should live life alone. We need community, and we need the advice of people who can see our blind spots.
When it comes to making major life decisions, we often have huge blind spots. Run your options by someone you can trust, and let them filter through what your “heart” is leading you to do.
Do What You Love, and the Money Will Follow
Oftentimes, people will advise high school graduates to pursue a career doing something they would enjoy doing even if they weren’t paid. Maybe this would be good advice to give a responsible 30-year-old, but it’s terrible advice for a teenager.
When I was 18, I liked playing video games, making music, creating movies and writing. Nearly 15 years later, I’ve made zero dollars playing video games, a few hundred dollars making music, a few hundred dollars on video work and pretty close to no money writing.
All in all, I’ve made about one month’s mortgage payment doing what I loved when I was 18.
Also when I was 18, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to be a teacher. My sister was student teaching in her final semesters in college, and I just could not fathom why anyone would want to do that. Eight years later, I was in my final semester in college, student teaching. Six months after that, I was sending out resumes to schools in an effort to get a job as a teacher.
The moral of this story: I had no idea what I would enjoy doing as an adult when I was 18. Few 18-year-olds have enough life experience to be able to reliably predict what they will love doing 10 years in the future and all the things they love doing are not reliable career paths.
Better Advice: Pursue a career path in a direction you are interested, where you can actually get a job!
Just because you love something doesn’t mean there is money to be made there. Many of the areas where people have lots of passion are extraordinarily difficult to make money doing. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do things you love, but not all of our passions provide a living.
Follow Your Dreams
I’m all for working in the direction of your dreams, but dreams are called dreams for a reason. Unless you have very small dreams for your life, your dreams are very unlikely to come true. I’m not being a downer. I’m not trying to be super negative. But, by definition, dreams are difficult to achieve.
There is value in exploring your dreams. I played in many bands in my early 20s. I’ve spent countless hours writing and brainstorming plots for movies. But, as life progressed, and my dreams never found traction, those areas became my hobbies.
I still make music and movies and write, but I also have a job that pays the bills and feeds my family.
Better Advice: Explore your dreams, but don’t follow your dreams unless responsible people you respect advise you to.
My friend who was in a successful band is one of the most talented singer/musicians I have known in my entire life. Back when he first announced he was moving to Nashville to pursue his dreams, I thought to myself, “That’s a good idea.” It wasn’t just that he had a passion for music, it’s that everyone acknowledged that he had the potential to succeed.
If you’re throwing responsibility out the window to chase a dream, you better be doing so because someone not emotionally invested in the decision also thinks you can make it.
Whenever we seek advice, it is vital that you ask people who love you enough to tell you something you don’t want to hear. Far too often, our society encourages giving people false hope by promising success for everyone. Unfortunately, we don’t all have the same talent or work ethic. We can’t all achieve dream-level success.
That isn’t to say that we need to settle for a mundane life, but it does mean that we probably shouldn’t define success based off of shallow standards like popularity, fame and fortune.