Ryan Martinsen

Listening to Advice

While preparing my talk on unhappiness at work I looked up old emails that related to the work situations I was going to be speaking about. Maybe things weren’t as bad as I remembered?

Nope. It was all worse.

One thing became very clear to me while reading those old work-related emails:

I ignored a lot of great advice from a variety of people, including those I specifically looked up to as mentors.

There were a number of people who were good at calling my bluff when I complained about work. They called me out. They told me I was being dumb. They told me not to act rashly. They were right about nearly everything and I ignored most of their advice.

I have gotten better at listening to these people. If they think I’m making a mistake at work, I try to listen. I still ignore good advice from time to time, but I’m proud to say that I ignore it less than I did before. Usually, my ego is the problem.

Find people who will call your bluff and not let you get away with anything. Don’t ignore them like I did. They may go away if you don’t listen.

Disclaimer: Some advice is crap. Some good advice may not apply to you at all and will just end being a distraction. Lots of advice will be layered with guilt, expectation, or selfishness. Figuring out the differences isn’t always fun.

Related: Realistic Role Models

Realistic Role Models

I find looking up to people like Steve Jobs unrealistic and unobtainable.

When I look up to famous people I get overwhelmed and discouraged. I know they’re human, but their accomplishments are massive. I don’t know them. I can’t observe them directly.

What works for me is observing someone I know personally, someone who is much better at a thing than I am. Seeing a friend react well to a situation in which I typically react poorly is helpful in a way that no famous role model ever can be.

Here’s an example of how this works in my life. I’ve recently written and spoken about how complaining made me unhappy. One of the things that helped me stop complaining was to watch people I know who don’t complain.

Two of my friends, Justin Hileman and Joel Martinez are insanely good at not complaining or gossiping about people. Whenever I complain or gossip around them they stay silent, change the subject, or say something positive. They don’t do this in a trite way. It’s entirely genuine and I find it easy to relate to my life.

I am often inspired by the many wonderful things the super successful have done. But does it help? Yes, of course it does. But the danger lies in how I react to my inevitable failure.

It’s too easy to give up when I try and fail to learn from experts. I’ll obviously never be like them. I’ll never have a super successful product. I’ll never have super ripped abs1. I’m going to complain and alienate friends forever. It’s too depressing to see how much of an epic failure I am. I may as well give up now.

It’s much easier to keep trying in spite of failure when I’m learning from someone not that different from myself2.

There’s so much to learn from the very imperfect and not wildly successful people around me. It’s not overwhelming. It’s not discouraging. It’s attainable3.

Related: Listening to Advice


  1. I don’t actually care about this, but it might be something you care about. I’m sorry. You’ll have to keep seeing my flabby abs at the swimming pool for the foreseeable future.
  2. With apologies to my friends if they think they’re way better than me. Please let me live with my delusions.
  3. This, obviously, comes with the added bonus of rubbing it in your friends faces when you finally become better than they are. I kid. That’s not how this is supposed to work. Please don’t do that.

Talk: Unhappiness at Work (video)

I spoke at ng-conf 2016 a few weeks ago on unhappiness at work. It was a huge honor to be able to be a part of such a spectacular event.

Here’s the video of my talk:

My slides can be found here. It includes a bonus slide I took out at the last minute. Note: since it’s an HTML export from Keynote it works best in Safari1.

My talk was based on my blog post about unhappiness at work and a follow up post about complaining about work.

It felt weird being one the few non-technical talks at a super technical conference, but it was a blast and I’m so grateful for the opportunity speak there.

If you have any interest at all in Angular (which I use at work and is the bee’s knees) you should check out the rest of the talks from ng-conf 2016.


  1. I’ll probably re-do the slides in HTML when I have some time for it. As is, Keynote does some weird stuff with GIFs, including inexplicably playing horrible horrible sounds in Chrome. Sorry!

Previously,

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