How The Type Of Advice Someone Can Give Can Change Over Time
This is a more general, and more abstract, article. It's not so much about social skills, as about the process of reading advice and self-help information and knowing where it's coming from. I'm not even sure how helpful it will be to read, it's more just something I've been thinking about and wanted to write down.
At the time this article is being published I've been writing this site for close to four years. It's felt like a fairly long time to be giving advice about a particular topic. I think this has given me a certain perspective on the advice that I see other people giving. In particular I've noticed that the advice someone can want to give on a topic can be influenced by where they are themselves in terms of their familiarity with their topic.
In other words, I think the advice someone gives can change over time. I wouldn't say that the advice they give at one point is better or worse than it is at another. I do think however that depending on where someone who is reading or hearing the advice is at themselves, it may not be the best fit for them.
Here are a few ways I've noticed people's advice tends to change over time. Knowing this may help you put the advice you come across into perspective. If you give advice yourself, it may also help you have more awareness of how you do it.
As people become more skilled in an area, they lose touch with the basics and their advice can get much more general and abstract
I've seen this in many other writers. I've also noticed a tendency to want to do this myself, but I've tried my best not to do so too much. When someone starts writing about a field as a beginner themselves, I've noticed their advice tends to be more detailed, broken down, and nitty gritty. When you're new to something, putting things together for yourself from the ground up, this is how you naturally think, and if you write about it, this is what you'll tend to cover.
When I first started figuring out social skills, I pieced together a lot of very specific little things, and when I put down what I learned into this site a few years later, that is what I wrote about. Of course, it wasn't totally clear cut, I was writing about more abstract concepts from the beginning too, but there was a lot of more technical information.
Then, as someone starts to become proficient in a field, they can start to take all the basic little steps for granted. With time they may even start to forget what it was like to be a beginner, or lose touch with how it felt to not have certain abilities. I've noticed this happening myself. Certain social skills and ways of looking at the world come much more naturally to me now, and my memories of what it was like not to have them are getting a little fuzzy. Sometimes when I'm reading through older articles on this site, which go into detail about my previous frames of mind, or mistakes I used to make, I go, "Oh yeah. I forgot I was like that. Wow, was I really that bad?!"
It's weird how with time we're capable of losing touch with how we used to think. People do it all the time though. I think most people have been in a situation on the job where their boss was getting annoyed with them for not picking up a new skill fast enough. It was like their boss forgot how hard it was to learn themselves, and assume that because they know it now, everyone else should know it too.
Moving to more general advice
Once someone internalizes the basics and moves into more advanced levels of skill, I've noticed they can want to focus on the bigger picture. They'll want to figure out a handful of profound, succinct principles that tie all the advice about a field together. Like I said, I see this in other advice givers pretty frequently. At the beginning they're writing about quite specific sub-topics, but as the years go by, they start talking about the 'Seven keys' that can be applied to solve any issue in their area.
They may even start to see writing about more specific topics as a little pointless, when some more general concept could cover all those things. Their attitude may be that since specific tactics naturally flow out of larger scale principles, if you help people out with the bigger picture the little things will take care of themselves.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to come up with broad principles. I think they can be very useful at times. I write about many myself here. I also think people naturally want to organize and simplify things, so general concepts have this innate appeal.
I think beginners often need that drilled down, specific information though. Sometimes they need to learn some tactics as well before talk of larger strategies can really sink in. I also think if an advice giver gets too broad and abstract, his ideas can become vague to the point of being unhelpful. For example, I could take everything I know about people skills and really ponder on it, and distill all my knowledge down to the single principle of, "Just love and accept other people." I'm exaggerating to make a point here, but hypothetically I probably could do this and make a case for how that statement really does encompass all my advice. Now when people read that little maxim it may give them this little jolt because it seems so simple and wise. But really, if a woman is having trouble with a potential new friend who always cancels plans at the last second, I think "Just love and accept other people" really doesn't give her much that's concrete to work with. It would also be helpful if someone just explained to her why people can be flaky and some ways to handle it.
I've mentioned this elsewhere on the site, but I think this is also the root of how people with naturally good social skills can often be so unhelpful about how to improve them. They often give vague advice like, "Just don't care what other people think" or "Just be yourself". They've lost touch with what it's like to be a beginner, and they've summed up everything they know into a handful of broad statements. However, they're doing it all on an unconscious level.
On this site I've tried to be conscious of these tendencies. The odd time I've found myself thinking, "Man, some of the articles here are way too specific, I just need to take them down and put up a handful of pages that sum up all the core principles people need to know." Then I remind myself that as a beginner I appreciated reading basic, detailed how-to information, and that other beginners would likely appreciate the same kind of thing.
I mentioned earlier about reading things I wrote on how I used to think and going, "Was I really that bad?" I'll also catch myself reading the same things and, on some level, I won't be totally able to relate to my own previous mindset. I'll finding myself thinking, "No way. No one's really that bad. No one really thinks like that. No one really needs advice that basic. I'll take it down." Then I think, "Hey, I wrote it, so it must have been true for me at some point. And it's probably true and helpful for other people who read this site. Just because I can't relate to it as well anymore doesn't mean no one else can."
They place less value on things that used to be important to them
Sometimes people are quite focused on things they don't have yet. They may think having those things is really important, put a lot of effort into getting them, or even feel bad because they don't have them yet. It's easy to think of examples: Money, relationships, friends, sex, careers, success, recognition, even something much simpler like seeing a particular movie.
Once they've gained those things they may relax about them a lot more. They don't occupy as much of the person's mental space. They can even take them for granted in a way. For example, someone in their late teens who is isolated and lonely may feel really torn up about it and constantly work to fix the problem. Once they've developed a social circle, they don't really have to think about the issue anymore, and can enjoy what they have.
People can go a step further and start to de-prioritize the thing they once cared so much about. This can be reflected in the advice they give. Someone may tell you that a certain area isn't important, or worth pursuing, but they're speaking from a position where they've already experienced it and moved beyond it.
For example, a person who has made a lot of money may decide that it isn't important to him anymore, shift to a simpler lifestyle, and start painting instead of working on business deals. He may start telling people that wealth isn't everything. And hey, maybe money really isn't that important. But someone who's young and poor may need to first make some money and discover that for himself. It's easy to say an area isn't important when you're secure in it and don't have to worry about it anymore.
Another example would be relationships. If someone is experienced with those they may be able to say things like, "Ah man, other people can take a lot out of you. Don't worry about it too much. Just enjoy your own time. Whatever you do, don't sink all your time into trying to have a million friends or date a ton of people." Easy to say if you've been there, but not really realistic for someone to follow if they're feeling desperate and alone.
As people become more happy and successful over time, their advice can get more spiritual and new-agey
I haven't noticed this in every writer, but in enough people in the self-help field that I wanted to comment on it. Again, of certain authors I've followed, when they start out they mainly focus on more practical, grounded topics. Then, as the years go by, they start to achieve more success. Their priorities change like I mentioned a second ago. With some people it seems once they reach a comfort level in terms of their jobs, relationships, etc., they shift in a more spiritual direction.
Here's where you can see certain writer's advice slowly take on a new-agey flavor. They start experimenting with new belief systems, or writing about more esoteric practices that they're dabbling in. Life is pretty good for them so they talk a lot about love and connecting with everyone and the universe.
That area isn't totally my style, but there isn't really anything wrong with this. It's just a change I've noticed that can happen with some advice givers. The 'goodness of fit' idea comes back here. A beginner may not get as much out of the new agey advice, especially since it also tends to be more vague and abstract at the same time. On the other hand, a more advanced person in that field may appreciate the shift in focus and be happy to follow along with it.
The topics people are interested in writing about will change over time
This last one is really basic, almost not worth even including. If someone writes about a certain field for a long time, their interests within it will naturally shift around. For example, a self-help writer may spend a year or two writing about how to be successful in one's career and make money. Later their interests may evolve and they'll start talking about fitness and dieting. Again, nothing wrong with this. It's totally natural. The only disclaimer I'd add is that a beginner who's first discovering this person's advice may need to realize that just because the writer is no longer in the place of caring as much about a certain area, that doesn't mean the novice has to go along with that and have the same priorities.