When Everyone Has an Opinion: How to Navigate Receiving Life Advice in Your 20s

Graduating from college, landing my first job, starting a new relationship, completing a graduate degree, moving to a new city: I’ve experienced all of these life events in the last three years. At 25 years old, I find myself in a liminal space of adulthood. I’m old enough to be established professionally and begin to embrace adulthood’s financial and personal expectations, yet young enough to still be renting with roommates, not raising children, and enjoying the perks of being relatively unattached.

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Alongside the freedom that comes with this mobility comes unwarranted advice from peers and family members alike. For instance, a few years ago, it was fun to field questions at a family cookout about my college classes or clubs I was involved in. Now, it seems each family member has an opinion on which city I should move to next or how long I should stay at my current job. I often welcome this advice, but sometimes it becomes exhausting. Here are a few ways I’ve navigated these conversations: 

1. Be open to suggestions

Being young, I recognize that I have much to learn and that with age comes experience. This allows me to embrace advice from my older colleagues or relatives who often offer professional or personal guidance based on their own life experiences. For instance, I once became frustrated with an older supervisor at my job who advised me not to start a doctoral program at 23 years old. I felt that he was being too harsh and didn’t believe in my abilities. However, the more I researched programs, I realized he had a point: The more years of work experience I had in my field, the better my research goals would become for doctorate-level academic work. 

Though my first reaction to opposing opinions is one of stubbornness and deflection, later, I was grateful to have been open-minded enough to consider these other options. 

2. Be confident in the decisions you’ve already made

During my first year out of college, I felt somewhat embarrassed to tell some of my friends and family that I was going into two years of post-graduate service work to teach high school English. Many reacted as though I was letting my degree go to waste or making a financial misstep. At first, I began to internalize these opinions and second-guess my decision, resenting the program. While my other friends were making money and splurging on trips, I was living simply and working long hours. 

However, after completing my first year, I arrived at family gatherings with a firmer rationale of why this was important in my life. I was learning how to live intentionally in a community with close friends, and professionally, I was being challenged in my leadership and collaboration skills. I could speak confidently with relatives or even friends about why I made this decision, articulating that although I wasn’t necessarily succeeding financially, I was succeeding in immersing myself in a completely new environment that would prepare me for any future career. This allowed me to answer questions calmly and not feel criticized because I had already embraced and fully accepted my own decisions.

3. Ask more questions

In conversation, I’ve realized I often defend myself or elaborate without considering the other person’s perspective. Once, when I was applying to new jobs, I had a family member offer strong opinions on certain cities where I thought I might land. At first, I constantly defended my reasons for wanting to be in that place, adding detail after detail and justifying each aspect.

Further in the conversation, I tried instead to focus on asking questions: What was your experience like in that city? How did your job and lifestyle dictate where you live? Did you feel a strong tie to family or to a pull to discover new places? This transformed the conversation from an interrogation to a dialogue, and allowed my family member to paint a fuller picture of her life. With that information, I could better understand why she advised strongly for or against certain places.

4. Take advice with a grain of salt

Of course, you’ll want to take the advice of trusted family, colleagues, and friends seriously. However, it is impossible to please everyone. The first time I applied for a new job, I think I called every single trusted friend and close family member asking them what they thought I should do. It was not only this exhausting, but also overwhelming to pick and choose who had the best thoughts. Over time, I’ve learned to balance trusting myself with only asking a few people for advice. I am much better now at receiving advice, pocketing it, and moving on without dwelling too much or overthinking my decisions. 

At the end of the day, I know that most advice-givers are well-intentioned. However, at a time in my life where many decisions must be made, it is healthy to establish boundaries with yourself and others. Over time, I’ve learned which friends are my go-to’s for certain situations, and which family members that I might be better off not including in important decisions. It is a privilege to have options and a privilege to have people in my life to lean on for support. 

Originally published on November 16, 2020.

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