Are You Living Your Life or Someone Else's?

Your own experience, instincts, and common sense will inform all your important decisions.

learn more about Steve Tobak

By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

My parents worked for decades at jobs they hated. They were miserable. It was painful to watch and even more painful to experience everyday of my young life.

Naturally, I grew up knowing that, whatever I did for a living, it would have to be right for me. It would have to be fun and rewarding or I simply would not do it. That would not be negotiable.

Nobody had to tell me that. I learned that lesson the hard way, through first-hand experience. And staying true to that course has served me well. The career path I chose – every decision, every twisty turn, every step of the way – turned out to be perfect for me.

The question is, are you living your life that way – in a way that's best for you and no one else – or are you following what others say you should do and how they say you should do it? In other words, are you living your life or someone else's?

Everyday you're bombarded with unsolicited advice telling you how best to live your lives: How to succeed and how to fail. Which traits are good and which will come back to haunt you. Why you should be a morning person and take naps. How to behave, how to eat, how to sleep, how to be productive, how to be inspired, even how to be happy.

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Since that can be overwhelming, I'm going to do you a big favor today. I'm going to lift a giant weight off your shoulders by telling you exactly which of that advice you should listen to and which of it you shouldn't. That way, you never have to think about it again and can go about your life more focused and certain that you're on the right track.

Ready? OK, here goes. Ignore all of it. And yes, I do mean all of it. The reason is simple. Your own experience, instincts, and common sense will inform all your important decisions. Granted, you will occasionally need advice from others who have more experience than you, but that's not unsolicited advice. That's advice you ask for.

Look, everyone who's pushing unsolicited advice on you has a vested interest in you reading it, hearing it, or acting on it. One way or another, they all have skin in the game. In other words, their actions are driven by self-interest, not your interest. They do it to benefit themselves, not to benefit you. So you can't trust it. And you can't trust them.

What you can trust is yourself: your experience, your gut, your thoughts, your feelings, and those you choose to ask for help. How your life turns out is entirely based on the choices you make. Those choices, those decisions, should always be in your hands. And that includes whom you choose to listen to when you need advice.

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If that sounds a bit scary, let me set your mind at ease. You actually have a built-in system for that sort of thing. It's a pretty effective system that's evolved over millions of years. It's where epiphanies, critical insights, and flashes of inspiration come from. It's called your brain. And through a complex set of mechanisms, it's always there to help you turn your own knowledge, experience, and instincts into answers that are right for you.

The problem is that too many of you are choosing not to use that built-in system. Instead of getting out and experiencing the world, listening to your feelings, and figuring things out for yourself, you're letting others who are only out for themselves tell you how you should run your life. Frankly, that's just nuts. Every decision you make that way is a bad decision.

Don't get me wrong. Information can be good. Communication can be good. But there is such a thing as too much information and too much communication and we reached that point long ago. It's become easier to search online for answers than to get out and experience and think things through. It's easier to blog, post, or message than to sit quietly and listen to your feelings.

It's become so much easier to simply Google it and follow the crowd than to actually experience, think, and feel for yourself. It's just so easy.

Everyday I see people make critical personal and business decisions based on what others tell them to do. Everyday I see enormous amounts of content that contradicts what I've experienced, learned, and determined to be true. And everyday I feel concern for every one of you who follows that nonsense instead of living your own life, as only you should.

If you liked this article, you'll love Steve's new book, Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur, available everywhere.

Related: Success Is Not a Goal. It's a Way of Life.

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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