Giving and receiving advice

What advice would you give to a young adult today?

We ask a version of this question to each of our guests on the NetVUE podcast, Callings. The answers are varied, alternating between encouragement and gentle warning, the pragmatic and the more idealistic. In a “bonus episode” to round out season one, we compiled those words of advice in an episode called “Vocational Advice for Undergraduates.” The advice-givers include Darby Ray, Eboo Patel, Amanda Tyler, Rabbi Rachel Mikva, Father Dennis Holtschneider, and Shirley Showalter. 

At just over 30 minutes in length, the episode offers a taste of the other, hour-long conversations and our hope is that you will go back and listen to the ones that pique your interest, if you have not already listened to the earlier episodes.

Because of its brevity, and because the advice is directed at young adults, you might also consider using this episode in your work with undergraduates. Here are some ideas for how you might do that.

Click here to listen to the episode “Vocational Advice for Undergraduates” (September 2021).

Invite students to listen to the episode, taking brief notes on the advice that is offered. Encourage them to react to the advice as it is given – does it strike them as insightful or off the mark for some reason? Which piece of advice seems the most helpful or relevant to them given what is going on in their life right now? Encourage them to spend some time reflecting on how they might apply that advice to their own life. This can be shared through a short written assignment or through an informal discussion.

Alternatively, you could ask them to listen to the podcast in pairs and to follow up with a dialogue, responding to some of the advice that is given, and then to make a brief report on the fruits of the dialogue.

If a student has a strong reaction against the advice that is offered, encourage them to reflect on why that is. Perhaps they agree with Shirley Showalter’s advice to beware of advice from others.

Create a scenario where they are put into the position of the advice-giver. Ask seniors to write a letter to first year students or have first-year students come up with advice for themselves five years ago. Or have them think prospectively, offering advice to their 50-year-old selves.

Ask students to imagine a situation in which they are receiving advice from someone who is very different from them. This could be the basis of a creative assignment where they describe the scene and the exchange between the two people.

This could also be an occasion to talk about advising and mentoring on campus. What do students expect of their advisors? From whom do they seek out advice? What do advisors need from their advisees in order for the advising relationship to be productive?

Encourage them to think about advice (receiving and giving) in a critical way. When can it go wrong? How can we discern good advice from bad?

To make this assignment more complex, consider the readings in Leading Lives That Matter that address the question, “To Whom Should I Listen?” (first edition). In the more recent second edition, the editors have combined two previous sections under the title, “To whom and to what should I listen as I decide what work to do?” Here is a list of the readings that can be found in the second edition in that part:

  • Will Weaver, “The Undeclared Major”
  • Amy Tan, “Two Kinds,” from The Joy Luck Club
  • Tayeb Salih, A Handful of Dates
  • Lois Lowry, from The Giver 
  • Willa Cather, “The Ancient Ones,” from The Song of the Lark
  • Albert Schweitzer, “I Resolve to Become a Jungle Doctor”
  • Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, from the screenplay of Good Will Hunting
  • James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

For good reasons, we are often wary of taking advice from others. Many people, including those who love us and want only good things for us, are less than capable of offering advice that isn’t self-serving or skewed by some kind of bias. Our situations are situated, and particular, and sometimes even well-meaning advice simply doesn’t suit.

If you want to take the discussion to another level of analysis, have students read the selection about authenticity in Leading Lives That Matter by Charles Taylor who historicizes why we prize individuality and might be suspicious of advice from others. This selection is central to the anthology’s attention to the competing languages that we use when thinking about meaningful lives.

The podcast can be accessed through BuzzsproutSpotifyGoogle PodcastsApple Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.


Related posts on advice, advising and mentoring: Letter to a Young Colleague (September 2021), Advising is Teaching, and other Truisms (May 2021), The Gift of Intervention (December 2020), Holistic Mentoring in Times of Crisis (July 2020), Office Hours and Fear of the Unknown (December 2019), Care for the Whole Person (June 2019), and Terrible Advice (May 2019).


Hannah Schell was a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Monmouth College in Illinois from 2001-2018. She is the author of “Commitment and Community: The Virtue of Loyalty and Vocational Discernment” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed. David S. Cunningham (Oxford University Press, 2015), and, more recently, “Loyalty in the Time of Catastrophe: Anthropocene Reflections” (co-written with Mark Larrimore). Currently the Online Community Coordinator and the editor of this blog, she is also a campus consultant for NetVUE. Click here to see other blog posts by Hannah.

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