Judgement for the young: an idiot’s guide

Judgement is something I lacked when young. Sure, it led me into doing some silly things, but it’s not that sort of poor-judgement I regret. We all need our war stories and my lack of judgement – especially under the influence of alcohol – led to me collecting my fair share.

But that youthful and exuberant lack of judgement is irrelevant. Lacking judgement when young leads to poor decision-making, which can have life-long consequences for our careers. Not only can we pursue inappropriate career goals, we can make some disastrous errors when deciding between two (or more) paths for our future.

Yet poor judgment is perhaps inevitable when young. We lack the wisdom of experience and, often quite rightly, dismiss the guidance of others (perhaps our parents) as the lectures of a previous and out-of-touch generation.

Nonetheless, bitter irony has it that our early decision-making years are the most vital for our future, making strong judgement a key need at the very moment we’re most likely to lack it. Advice is therefore advisable, despite the fact many young people react negatively to the advice of others, perhaps assuming they’re being condemned or criticised. Indeed, we can get to the stage where every nerve in our body wants to avoid or reject advice: often for no better reason than the fact it’s coming from them (parents/teachers/siblings/the confident).

That said, seeking advice is an awkward dilemma even for those that have developed good judgement. It has obvious benefits, but also hidden dangers. If we source counsel from our elders we risk being herded towards their (perhaps vicarious) goals, which are unlikely to fully match our own. Yet we’re also vulnerable when seeking advice from peers – perhaps those we perceive possess stronger judgement than our own. Maybe they’ve spotted our listlessness and are keen to press-gang us into becoming a crewman for their goals.

This was certainly my fate – in fact, so poor was my judgement I’d willingly subject myself to such enlistment: even seek it. Why not? This person clearly had clear objectives and knew how to pursue them. Outsourcing my decision-making to them felt like the best available option, perhaps thinking some of their Midas-touch was bound to rub off.

Alas, this is the fate of far too many – meaning they seek counsel (or receive it unsolicited) without the necessary tools to be anything other than the recipient of the other person’s prejudices or needs.

To me, the reason for this is obvious. Perhaps due to poor confidence or fear of failure, those seeking the advice of others usually lack strong goals.

Without goals, they have no direction. And without direction they cannot plan. And without plans they have no benchmark by which to judge others’ advice. This destroys their judgement – making them, at best, drifters (perhaps resentful of others in a Holden Caulfield type way), and, at worst, fodder for the motivated (including on the criminal fringes).

Yet developing strong judgement is easier than we think. There’s no alchemy – it’s simply the application of strong goal-setting, which entails the following (further explained in both my current books):

1)      Establishing your true values. What do you really – unshakingly – believe in? This may take time to establish. Think hard, and then write these values down – they should be your guiding principles throughout your life,

2)      Picturing yourself in a decade’s time. Yes, 10 years is a long time, so we can really change our life in that period. So let’s work out what the end-result really – really – looks like.

3)      Again, write it down. Don’t just visualize it. Get it on paper: using present-tense language (Year 10: I’m living in a five-bedroom 18th century rectory on the north Norfolk coast with my wife, two kids, a dog, cat and donkey).

4)      Do the same for the milestones. Crucially, those 10 year goals are 10 years away. So we have time to achieve them. But what are the necessary milestones? Work your way backwards – year five, two, one – where do we have to be at each anniversary to make that 10-year goal a reality? Write down the milestones too.

5)      Don’t stop at year one. That one-year anniversary is pretty close. So what about in six months? What must be in place to meet that one-year goal? And what about three months, two months and one month? Yes, yes: write it all down.

6)      This is starting to look like a proper plan, but we’re not finished. We should divide the one month goal into tasks: things to research, people to meet, forms to fill in. And then we should convert those tasks into weekly goals, before calculating our next step and how we’re going to achieve it. Important: only for the very next step has the word “how” appeared. For all other steps, the “how” is irrelevant.


We now have one hell of a path. One that will improve our judgement 100-fold. In fact, so strong will be our judgement that we can seek counsel from anybody (even our dreaded elders) because we’re now asking the right questions. No longer are we asking “what do I do?” or even “should I do this?” Now we’re asking “how do I do this?” and “can you help me achieve this step?”

We’re stating firmly our intention to do something. We’re just wondering whether they can be an aid to our execution. We’ve recruited them, in other words, which is quite a turnaround.


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