Are You Following An Idiot?


No, I don’t mean on the road – although it often seems as though I am (Perhaps the driver behind me is having the same thoughts).

What I mean is, are you seeking, receiving and/or following advice from people who do not have the results in the area(s) of life that you seek?  For example, do you ever seek (or get) financial advice from a broke or even in-debt family member?

I met a business professor at our local community college who said, in response to my critical comments about personal debt, “Debt is a way of life.” His meaning was clear: Debt is necessary and useful in life. Here is a guy driving a 15-year-old car, living in a ramshackle home that is clearly in need of repair, and being satisfied with making his career teaching at a two-year college. His results are below average; we should not seek to emulate people like that. We can learn from them, but not follow them.

But many do.

Imagine the numbers of his students who are going to follow right along. They would be far better off if they skipped his classes altogether and read a couple of Warren Buffett’s books. (Debt is a four-letter word. More on that one later.)

And there is always the guy next door (your brother-in-law?). He has an impressive home, two great cars, fun motorized toys and takes frequent vacations. When he give financial advice (and he gives a lot), people listen – many take his advice. What you don’t know is that he is mortgaged to the hilt, owes on both cars, and has financed his vacations with credit cards. And is paying off old credit cards with new ones. Still want to follow him?

OK, we have now decided to seek professional financial advice. Good move. You either saw an ad or got advice from a friend. Here we are in her office. The layout in her office is very professional, as she is. She is knowledgeable, interested in you, and seems to have it together. You ask a few questions, and get good answers. Is there a key question that you haven’t asked yet? Have you asked to see her personal finances and how they have changed over, say, the last five years? If that is what you want done for you for the next five years (at a minimum), don’t you want to follow someone who has done that for themselves?

A writer who has 14 best-selling books in the areas of marriage, relationships, and personal growth has been married five times (maybe more by now…:) ). This person has shaky academic credentials, and unenviable matrimonial results. Why would anyone follow her advice when it comes to marriage? But thousands – tens of thousands of people or more – do. It is likely because the book purchaser does not know what her track record is, and is dazzled by the number of best sellers.

The rule is simple: Find people who have what you want; do what they did, and you will have what they have.

I always want to get advice from people who have the results I want.  For example, if I had to cross a minefield, I would follow exactly in the footsteps of someone who has gotten across–with all the important body parts still attached. In the same way, as I navigate the minefields of life, I want to do the same thing; I want to follow someone who has succeeded. I (no longer) want to get general financial advice from my broke brother-in-law, or investing recommendations from a financial “expert” who has not created the results that I want for myself in his own life. Or get personal finance advice from a less-than-successful business professor. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of the personal choices these people have made. I might enjoy having a conversation over coffee with any of them; I might even pick up a (painful) lesson here and there. I just don’t want to follow their advice, for fear of getting their results.

So, where can you go to get advice from successful people who are willing–even eager to share it? Is there such a place?

A good start would be with your friends – and friends of friends. Find the people who have what you want, and talk to them. Most of them will be delighted to spend time with you. And go to the library. Centuries of wisdom on all facets of life are there for the learning. And before you start to read, learn about the author. Is that person worth following? Have they created the results I want?

If the answer is “yes” follow them. And do what they did. And you will get what they have.

Will Luden
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