A stranger’s advice is usually worth what you paid for it.
I know this because last year I spent months dedicated to helping 6 people solve their biggest life dilemma on a TV show/social experiment called ‘The Audience’. It was a sometimes ugly, often gut wrenching process that dragged 50 strangers through the emotional muck of someone else’s life struggles, in a last gasp attempt to help them move on with their lives and find happiness.
You have to be desperate when you’re willing to let 50 people follow you around for a week, strip you emotionally naked, and grill your closest friends and family like Columbo on cross examination. You have to be at a point when the advice of your closest friends didn’t work, or is split down the middle. For these 6 people, life had literally stopped, and every new step in their life hinged on a decision they couldn’t make. They had stopped living, because a problem they couldn’t solve was in the way.
Inviting a group of strangers into your life isn’t something to be taken lightly, and the weight of 50 people silently judging every decision they had made in their life quickly overwhelmed every person we tried to help. Even our most diplomatic attempts to balance the investigation came across like an inquisition, every question an insinuation that somewhere along the line they had made poor, self- serving decisions in life. It was a necessary evil to help us understand their situation, but it was as painful to participate in as I’m sure it will be to watch.
Imagine your mother in law telling you how to live your life, and multiply it by 50.
Anyone would be excused for flipping off ‘the fifty’ at that point and instructing them to go pound sand. I would have, and sometimes did, but it speaks to how much trouble they were having solving their problem, and it humbled me very quickly.
Fifty vastly different people brought a tremendous array of perspectives, but with it the inevitable reality that we wouldn’t always get along. Conflict in the group only grew once we got emotionally invested in the problem.
Once we got to work on a problem, we immediately started dishing out the type of advice that you get for free. We had no stakes in the game, only our own philosophies and judgements about how life is to be lived. We simply slapped those on the particular issue, wiped our hands of it, and patted ourselves on the back for being so clever. Useless twats, and I was the proudest peacock of them all.
Three days in, however, things had changed. As we unravelled the journey this person had taken to get to this point, we started to understand the stakes a little more, we began to realize the consequences that each path would incur, and we started to grasp the full weight of the compromises that had to be taken.
What was worse, however, was that we started to care.
By this point, these people had stopped being unknown random people, we would spend 5 solid days with them, poring through their lives deepest secrets and vulnerabilities. We would grill their loved ones and families for clues that might help us understand more. We would end up learning far more than we had expected, and often we were shocked by what we uncovered. We were there for our objectivity, our reason, and our perspective, and by day three we had become so emotionally invested that we lost all of them. By day 5, we had journeyed so far into the problem that most of us would go home and hug our families, no longer worried about our own problems, and with a renewed appreciation for the things we had.
Once we cared, the stakes became real, and everything changed. We changed.
To this day I don’t know if that made the advice we gave better or worse, but I know that it stopped being worthless. At that point it stopped being a judgement of all these people’s past decisions, all their personal hang-ups, and every bit of baggage they had been collecting throughout their lives, and it became a collective effort to stop the cycle, help them to stop looking back, and start to move forward.
The greatest mistake in life is to make no mistakes at all.
The dilemmas we faced had no middle ground. There was a choice between a path to take, and one to abandon, and the path not taken would haunt them for the rest of their life. In each choice they made, there would be a bucket of regret served alongside, and no matter how many people we threw at the problem, that would never change.
They say you should walk a mile in another man’s moccasins, and we probably logged 20. All i got was sore feet until i realized that this process taught me an amazing thing about life, and it was the one piece of advice I needed to hear.
Advice is only worth the action it inspires. There are no wrong decisions. Your ability to squeeze every bit of happiness and satisfaction from the decisions you make is the secret to their success.
The Audience – premieres tonight at 10pm on W Network.
Let me know what you thought of our decision.