06/30/2011 07:38 EDT | Updated 08/30/2011 05:12 EDT

For the High School Graduate: When Should You Take Advice?

Earlier this year there was an article in the Globe and Mail about giving advice. I have to confess, I didn't read the article. I know, shame on me. But I also confess, I wasn't all that interested in reading the piece, because I've never been very good at taking advice -- even the really good stuff.

To give advice or not, to listen to advice or not, is a personal thing, very much based on a whole bunch of circumstances. For example, your own temperament, the situation in question, how confident you are about yourself, how you feel about the person from whom you are seeking (or receiving) advice and their motives (like, if they have one).

And while I think this is true throughout one's life, I think it's particularly true when you're crossing the bridge from being a teenager to being an adult. This is a time of life when you're really trying to become your own person, for real, as the grasp of your parents diminishes and you become more in charge of the decisions you make and actions you take in life.

My encounters with the amazing teenagers with whom I work provides a view onto a vast landscape of experiences; teenagers who are wholly confident in their decisions and are able to hear advice, filter through it and carry on bravely.

And other teenagers who feel utterly paralyzed, as they quest to make a perfect decision (if only there was such a thing) and advice sometimes just makes things harder.

While many times parents' and other adults' advice can be amazingly helpful, truth be told, at other times, their advice is what keeps many teenagers feeling immobilized. They don't want to disappoint people or fail. These teenagers often (not always) value the words of wisdom being offered to them left, right and centre by thoughtful family and friends, and yet, these words of wisdom can sometimes muffle the teenager's inner voice that's trying to express what it wants to say.

This week, I found myself disclosing to a teenager some of the academic pit stops I made on the long and winding road to becoming a social worker; and believe me, it was a long, and winding road! But thank goodness! If I had taken every piece of sound advice that every loving adult or friend had ever given me, I'm sure I wouldn't have ended up where I am today; in a profession that gives my life purpose and meaning... and also pays my bills. How good is that?! But I also have to thank my parents, who let me discover who I was by travelling that path. Even though I know they didn't agree with all of my choices.

Sure, I definitely would have avoided a few unsavoury and difficult situations had I taken much of their advice, but truth be told, those challenges and experiences tested my metal and made me stronger. I am who I am because of the totality of those experiences. And so are you! And you will continue to become who you are because of all of the great, good, hard, challenging, exciting, demanding, difficult situations you face in life.

So, my advice (see, I can't help it) to teenagers who are just graduating from grade 12 goes like this; it's scary and exciting out there. And it takes a long time to figure out who you are, what matters to you, what energizes you and how you are different from your parents, teachers, and friends. But remember, you are the captain of your own ship in life. And, like any good captain, realize that advice, like the wind and the sails, can work for you and against you; just do your best.

Use your gut, your intelligence and your skills as your guides to determine how best to use the wind and the sails at your disposal.