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tim ferriss
Tim
Ferriss learned that bad advice can be just as valuable as
good.

Michael
Buckner/Getty


  • Bestselling author and star podcast host Tim Ferriss
    had a guidance counselor who told him not to apply to
    Princeton, which he eventually graduated from.
  • Another faculty member taught him to consider the
    downside of every decision, and Ferriss has maintained the
    practice ever since.
  • The experience taught him to think of a person’s motive
    when they give advice.

When Tim
Ferriss
 was a senior at St. Paul’s, an elite boarding
school in New Hampshire, in 1994, he met with his guidance
counselor to discuss his future.

Years later, the bestselling author and star podcast
host would consider a piece of advice from that counselor to
be the worst he’d ever received, he told Business Insider.

It was simply: “You shouldn’t apply to Princeton.”

Ferriss originally told us what the experience taught him in an
interview in 2015,
and expanded upon it in a recent interview
for our podcast
Success!
How I Did It
.”

Ferriss had transferred to St. Paul’s from a public school on
Long Island, where he grew up. Neither those credits nor the ones
from his year abroad in Japan had carried, and he was making them
up over the summer. The guidance counselor found the idea of
Ferriss applying to Princeton to be a waste of time for the both
of them, especially since the counselor was motivated to play it
safe — his success was measured by how many of his students got
into their first choice schools.

After the guidance counselor left him feeling discouraged,
another member of the faculty, Reverend Richard Greenleaf, told
him he had to apply. Months later, Ferriss was accepted to
Princeton and eventually graduated in 2000.


Listen to the full episode here:

The experience taught him two things about receiving advice that
influenced his entire career.

Understand other people’s incentives when they give you advice

Everyone, no matter how selfless, has a personal reason for
offering you advice — even if it’s as pure as wanting to see you
happy or to avoid seeing you hurt.

In Ferriss’ example, he says that the guidance counselor’s
performance was judged by the success rate of his students’
college applications. Because Princeton was a reach for Ferriss,
the counselor assumed the inevitable denial would make him look
like a poor adviser. On the other hand, Rev. Greenleaf told
Ferriss to follow his heart because he achieved job satisfaction
by seeing his school’s students excel.

Consider the downside of taking the advice versus not taking it

Greenleaf told Ferriss, Ferriss told us: “I think you should just
apply. What’s the downside?”

“And ‘What’s the downside?’ has become a question that I’ve asked
myself ever since,” Ferriss said. “Like what’s the worse that
could happen? I apply and I don’t get in. ‘What’s the best that
could happen?’ I spend a few days or a week working on it, and I
get in! Well that’s a very asymmetrical risk/reward, so I
applied.”

Ferriss’ new book “Tribe of Mentors” is a collection of advice
from 140 impressive people, but Ferriss noted  that
advice should only be worth pursuing when the person giving
the advice had firsthand experience and no selfish or cynical
motive.

“It’s worth considering their advice if they’ve gone through it,”
Ferriss told us.

This is an updated version of a story that ran on November
19, 2015.

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