Whose Opinion Should You Listen To?

Bad advice can send you way off course.

When I was thirteen I had squint teeth. Like, really squint. It was a space issue. Apparently I have quite a small mouth.

Watch me eat tacos sometime and you’ll see exactly how much that’s held me back.

So, squint teeth. And braces. Actually, dental surgery first, then braces. That was a fun summer.

Orthodontics in Scotland in the nineties was like having a car park in your mouth. Its major influences seemed to be Brutalism and the scaffolding they put up when the roof blows off an Ikea.

There were even rubber bands connecting my upper and lower jaws.

Their job was to coax particularly reluctant teeth into the right position. My orthodontist gave me a lot of instructions about how to attach them and the importance of wearing the rubber bands around the clock.

I silently wondered what I’d do if I put a forkful of baked potato into my mouth in the school canteen and it pinged right back out again. I held it together until we got to the car then had a massive wobbler.

My Mum, seeing me so upset, said “It’s okay sweetheart. You don’t have to wear the rubber bands.” And we went home to eat comforting foods that could be consumed through a straw.

I’m telling you this for a reason.

When you’re doing something difficult and uncertain – running a creative business, for example – the people around you will sometimes give their opinion… and it will not be helpful.

They won’t mean to give you bad advice. A lot of the time they’re only doing it because they love you. They hate seeing you stressed, broke, exhausted and scared. They just want you to be happy.

Recommending you stop doing the difficult, scary stuff often seems like the quickest route to getting the happy you back.

But maybe all the difficult, scary stuff you’ve been doing was just about to pay off.

Maybe you’re half an inch from success.

Maybe you aren’t, but if you stop now you’ll never know.

But there’s a second type of opinion that can lead you astray. Some people have a gift for making theirs sound like fact.

They’ll say things like “Stores only want sale or return and won’t even consider buying your work up front. You just have to accept it.”

Or “You have to pay your dues. Expect to struggle until you get your foot in the door.”

Or “In this economy, all anyone cares about is price. If your wholesale price is even a whisker above average, you’re dead in the water.”

Or “You don’t have the luxury of being picky about the stores you sell to. If they want to stock your work, you say yes.”

Or “You have to get on Instagram. That’s where all the retail buyers go now. No one reads pitch emails anymore.”

When these people speak, reality bends.

It suddenly feels like they’re right, of course they are, and how dumb were you to not to see it? That can eat away at your confidence and blow your business off course.

Have you ever watched The Good Wife?

Catch it if you can because it’s very good, and because there’s a character who can teach you how to deal with this.

She’s a judge with an odd little quirk – she hates it when lawyers make opinions sound like facts. It instantly gets her hackles up, and that’s something a lawyer never wants to do when they’re suing for eighty million dollars.

So the lawyers in the know have a strategy. They say “in my opinion” after practically every statement they make. Google “Good Wife in your opinion video” to see what I mean.

The next time someone gives you reality-bending advice, try mentally adding “in your opinion” to the end of their sentences. It works.

So, learn from my mistakes.

I listened to a well-meaning, please-stop-sobbing-now, let’s-go-home-and-watch-Thundercats opinion from my mum about the rubber bands, and it earned me a serious bollocking from my orthodontist.

(That’s British for a stern lecture.)

What can you learn from this? You’re the expert on your business. Outside input can be helpful, but it’s your opinion, and the action you take based on your opinion, that really matters.

Or to put it another way, listening to bad advice can cost you a whole heap of money.

In my opinion.

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