The Fat Doctor Problem

A few weeks ago, I took an Uber from my apartment to a friend’s place in the Mission. On the way I was making small-talk with my driver. We started talking about his recent divorce and how it’s impacting his finances and his mental health. I felt bad for the guy.

He started giving me advice. It was pretty much what you’d expect – women can’t be trusted, never get married, not worth the risk, etc. It nicely illustrated something I’ve learned over the last few years:
Pay attention to the person behind any advice.

If you’re doing anything at all, you’ll likely be inundated with advice. Well-meaning friends, family members, co-workers and mentors will al chime in with their thoughts about things you should do. A lot of this advice will come from people smarter, richer, and more successful than you. How do you weed out the good advice from the bad?

My best heuristic for taking advice is simple: look at who it’s coming from. If that person is someone you’d like to emulate – if you want to be in their shoes when you reach their age – listen to their counsel. If not, ignore it.

This can be a bit more nuanced, but the general principle is useful. My taxi driver for example: I’ll listen to his input on anything he tells me about getting around the city, cool neighborhoods or restaurants worth checking out. He knows that stuff, and I’d love to have the same knowledge of San Francisco that he does.

His track record with women though? Not even close. I don’t want to be a 40 year old, twice-divorced father of two. Forget that. Why listen to someone who’s mental model of the world has gotten them to a place you don’t want to be?

Yes, this means you miss out on some good advice. You ignore the thoughts of some very smart people, especially those your age. It doesn’t matter. There are enough smart, successful people out there living the life you want to live. Find them, and take their advice to heart.

I call this the “fat doctor” heuristic. If my doctor is fat, I’ll ignore anything he or she has to say about eating habits. I’ll take that advice from someone who’s healthy, thank you.

Apply this rule of thumb everywhere. You’ll soon find yourself seeking better advice, and ignoring bad advice you previously considered.

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