The Worst Advice Anyone Ever Gave Me

I think we focus a lot on really great advice — but I had a really hard time singling out a singular line or two of awesome advice. Great advice had always come as a combination of lessons learned, talk throughs with friends, and life.

Bad advice, though. That resonated. Bad advice is the worst.

So, I wanted to talk through at least one lesson I had to learn on my own, and the best advice nuggets to come out of it.

“The Devil I Know Is Better Than The Devil I Don’t”

A few years ago, I knew within one month I had taken a job that was all wrong for me. I would call my friends and family in tears, wondering what to do. “What if the next thing is worse?” they would lament, among other things. So I stayed. And things got worse. “The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t,” everyone would remind me.

This advice sucks for so many reasons. We’re afraid to change a shitty situation because we think we have the tools to deal with what we have right now. But that thing we’re not sure of? We don’t know if we have the tools for that. So we suffer and dig ourselves deeper.

Dan Gilbert’s Ted Talk on The Surprising Science of Happiness points out that the modern human brain is the only brain that can simulate something without it even happening. As Gilbert says, we can have experiences in our heads without even trying them out. It’s why Ben and Jerry’s does not have liver and onions ice cream, because without even trying it — you know it will be disgusting.

The problem is, we have a negative Impact Bias: the simulator is bad, so people expect bad things to have a bigger impact than they actually have. Gilbert found that we have the tendency to overestimate the “hedonic impact” of future events: not passing a college exam, not getting that job, we think it’s going to have a much greater intensity and duration than they actually have.

This is why we stay in shitty situations. We think about that shitty situation that might happen in our next job/city/etc. and we think we’ll never get out of it. The possibility of it going bad is too much to handle.

It’s a gut-check. You know if a situation is bad for you. The devil you know may very well be worse than the devil you don’t. The possibility of other options, like the ability to be happy — that’s what we’re missing out on when we stick around in bad situations.

This can be applied to the decision to start your own business, move to another country, major in English instead of going after medical school. Yeah, you gotta weigh the pros and cons and make sure you have options. But when you’re happy, when the work you do resonates and the community you live in feels like home, you’ll be successful.

So do it. Find another job after a month. Break up with that jerk who says no one else will love you. Try that new restaurant. Do something different if you’re unhappy. The angels out there are way better than any devil I knew in the first place.


This post was based off of a talk I gave at the 2012 BarCamp Omaha: A Field Guide to Starting Over.

Amanda Rucker, AIGA Nebraska Director of Programming

@Amanda Rucker is AIGA Nebraska’s Director of Programming. She is in charge of all things communications and several youth programs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Information Science and Technology. Thus far in 2015, she has fulfilled her dreams of becoming a gardener, a part-time bike commuter, and full-time beer snob. She enjoys practicing piano, photography, and lazy-vegetarianism. She moved to Omaha nearly three years ago, but she’ll still remind you she lived in San Francisco prior.

Amanda also writes for Coop and Exposure.