What to do with all of that advice you’ve been getting.

As a performer, advice seems to come from everyone: teachers, coaches, conductors, directors, friends, colleagues, family (FAMILY), complete strangers…and over the years I’ve observed how that information is processed. Some solicit relentlessly and then feel overwhelmed by all of the different opinions. Some feel caught in between two mentors (like a teacher and a coach) who give differing opinions. And some think they don’t need any advice at all. With so many people offering advice, both solicited and unsolicited, how does one decide what to do with all of that information? Here are some thoughts and ideas about all of that advice you’ve been getting:

Be discerning.
No matter how incredibly valuable the advice usually is, no one gives 100% useful advice at all times. Decide which parts are useful to you, and let go of the rest. Not every single thing will work for you or will apply to you, and what is helpful to one person may not be to another.

If you’re asking for advice, you should also be discerning in who you ask depending on what kind of information you want in return. For example, if you ask everyone on social media to help you pick your headshots, you will most likely get responses based on which photo people think is a “great picture” of you, which may or may not be a good headshot. Most people are not well-versed in aspect ratio, the proper use of lighting, the importance of focus and eye energy, etc. They may also have no understanding of your industry and what the current industry standard/trend is.

Consider the source and the relationship to the information.
Some people are highly knowledgeable about some things and not about others, and a lot of times this is contingent on how relevant their current connection to the industry is. People who are very knowledgeable in some areas but haven’t really been involved with what’s going on in your field recently can only give advice from what they know – and that advice might be 20 years old. While that works with some things, like technique, style, and tradition, it may not be helpful when it comes to things like auditioning, marketing, and mindset.

Anyone my generation or older didn’t grow up with a computer in their house since they were born. If someone hasn’t taken into consideration the major shift over the past 10-15 years in learning styles, attention spans, and the way one’s brain gathers information, there may be a disconnect between the advice offered and how beneficial it is. Nine times out of ten, advice such as “You need to practice harder” is not helpful; oftentimes one is practicing very hard, just not efficiently or productively. Unless people have taken the time to understand how to disseminate information based on the changes that have taken place over time, they tend to give advice solely based on what worked for them rather than considering the possible need for adjustment.

Does the source know you and your situation well? Is the source compassionate, or perhaps bitter or jealous? Could the source be giving advice based on previous personal events that don’t really apply to you? Is the source more interested in your talent than in YOU? Does the source know anything about your industry? Is the source on an ego trip? These are all things to consider, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all. A complete stranger can give life-changing advice. And someone you’ve known for years may say something that’s not particularly helpful. Each piece of advice should be considered for value based on a multitude of factors.

Kindly take everything in and decide what’s useful later.
Sometimes people get defensive or dismissive of advice, which usually causes some form of awkward conflict energy between giver and receiver. This happens a lot with smart people – they process information very quickly and come to an immediate reactive decision as to whether something will work or whether it is useful or not. This also happens between family members…

When we take someone’s advice into consideration, even when our initial reaction is that it’s not going to be helpful, it allows space for both the giver and the receiver. This can save you an enormous amount of stress, as the giver doesn’t feel like the advice is being dismissed without thought and you will have no reason to become agitated either. This was definitely something with which I struggled, and I still work very hard at taking that space and eliminating an immediate, reactive response!

Go ahead and ask, and then be responsible.
Many times people feel like they shouldn’t ask for advice – they feel like they should have learned already, or that they would be a bother, or they think they already know everything they need to know. This is a fact: no one is successful by themselves alone. It just doesn’t happen. And it doesn’t mean that you’re stupid or foolish if you need help. It may poke at your ego, and if that’s the case, do yourself a favor and get over that.

Once you’ve asked for advice, though, you have to take some responsibility. Constantly asking people for advice without processing it and making an action plan is a waste of everyone’s time. Keep a notebook of things. Some advice may be helpful, but not until five years from when you got it!

Be respectful amidst conflict.
It’s frustrating to people when they give advice and it’s immediately challenged by other people’s advice. It’s also frustrating to be on the receiving end of conflicting advice and feeling like you have to choose between two mentors. In cases like this, you don’t need to feel stuck in the middle. Instead, invite a dialogue about the differing information. For example, in the situation mentioned above between a teacher and coach, one could say something along the lines of this to the teacher: “I’d like to talk to you about that. My coach has recommended that I do X here, which is different than what we’re talking about. What do you think about that?”

The teacher may have a technical reason for requesting something different, or the teacher may not have considered the perspective that the coach offered. Regardless, an explanation of some sort should ensue. A similar conversation can be had with the coach, who may just need to know that you’re doing something for a specific reason as opposed to you doing something out of ignorance.

Consider the frequency.
If you’re not sure whether a certain piece of advice is relevant, consider whether it is something you have heard frequently. If it’s new, then ask some sources you trust to give you their opinions. If a bunch of different people are saying the same thing, it’s probably something you should seriously take into account. Conversely, if you have only heard that advice from one person and no other knowledgeable source agrees, you can probably let that go.

Be grateful.
Sometimes you are going to get advice that’s a real game changer. Sometimes that advice will be encouraging and inspiring, sometimes it will be unusual, and sometimes it will be hard to hear. If it was something that was really meaningful, let that person know! It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with information and with life and to forget to be thankful. Everyone appreciates being valued! And I’ll start: today’s grateful shout out goes to someone who gave me advice over 20 years ago when I was just starting out – Robert Grayson. He said, “You have a unique voice. Four out of ten people are going to LOVE you.” This gave me great perspective on the business, and he was absolutely right – over the years I had slightly more rejections than I did acceptances, and those who accepted me hired me repeatedly. So thank you again, Mr. Grayson, for the insight. It was much appreciated and I’ve shared it over the years with others many times.

What advice have you been given that was really helpful? Leave me a comment about it on my Facebook page

And P.S. – If the advice in this post is not useful to you, just throw it out as well 🙂

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