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What I Learned Sitting in Washington Square Park With a Sign That Says 'Free Advice'

What the heck is advice, anyway? I’ve been ruminating over this question because for the past few months, I found myself in a position where people were looking to me for the answer.

It started in July, when I challenged myself to be larger than life. I was tired of playing it safe, being scared and caring so much about what other people thought. I made a commitment to be bold and daring in my life by using the skills I am most passionate about: listening, problem-solving, and connecting with others.

And the answer was crystal clear. I was going to offer free advice in Washington Square Park! I made a sign that said, “Free Advice” and headed to the park the very next day. I sat there for three hours and spoke to about 30 people. It was so rewarding that I committed to go to the park as often as my schedule would allow. Here I am, almost one year later and it’s still going strong.

Suddenly, my whole world revolved around the concept of advice.

“What kind of advice do you offer?”
“What makes you qualified to give advice?”
“How can you give advice on any topic?”

Answering these questions multiple times a day sharpened my point of view. It has forever changed the way I give advice to my friends, family and even strangers in the park. Now I would love to share it with you.

Many of us (including myself!) fixate on a personal issue and continue to look at it from the same vantage point. Then we wonder why we’re not seeing improvement or change. This can lead to frustration and stress, which can then affect the way we connect or disconnect with others in our daily lives.

To verbally explore a topic with someone whom you have no history and may never see again is quite liberating. There is no past between the participant and myself, so it allows for a clear conversation. This is why a typical conversation often lasts just 5-10 minutes. During the discussion, I won’t tell anybody what to do or what to think. Advice is not about adding information, but rather chipping away at our fixed ways of being so that we are exposed to a new perspective. Once a new insight is achieved, we can brainstorm a plan of action that sets the self-discovered thoughts into action.

This method of giving and receiving advice allows for an authentic experience. Self- discovery is much more powerful than receiving an answer from someone else. No one can take that 'aha' moment away from us because it derived from within. That doesn’t mean other people can’t guide us on that journey. To ask for help, learn different points of view and have the support of loved ones are beautiful gifts. But it should not take the place of learning about our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. In the moment of hardship, it may seem easier to take actions based on what someone else thinks, but in the long run, that can lead to more problems because we’re only running farther away from ourselves.

I invite you to ask yourself, “What does the word ‘advice’ mean?” I had never thought about it before but in doing so, I’ve learned so much about myself and how I can better support my friends, families and strangers. I now have the power to choose how I will give advice and what I will do with advice when I receive it. I invite you to take on that same power of choice.

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