“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” – Steve Jobs

When we’re young, we look to more experienced mentors for advice. Later on, we become the advisors. At least, that’s how it should be. Today, the market for advice is flooded. Everyone has an opinion on everything, regardless of whether they have the knowledge and experience to back it up.

Against the overwhelming cacophony of the digital masses, judging who to listen to and having the discipline to shut out the rest of the noise are critical skills for success. They’re becoming more important all the time. But it wasn’t always that way.

When I was an up-and-comer back in the Dark Ages, it was relatively easy to tell whose advice was worth listening to and whose advice you could ignore. That’s because you knew these people. You worked with them. Whether they were your family, friends, teachers or bosses, you had time to assess and deem each individual worthy or not.

There were also relatively few public figures. Back then, it took a lot more work to publish a book and getting on TV was a pipe dream. Leaders had to make their messages crystal clear if they wanted them to count. You knew what they stood for. And you could make an unambiguous determination of the value of their wisdom.

When John F. Kennedy told us to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” everyone got the message.

To say it’s a different world today is the mother of all understatements. The blogosphere, social media, self-publishing, broadband networks and mobile devices have forever opened the information floodgates. Anyone who wants to be heard, can be heard — and make a few bucks on the clicks and ads in the process.

We passed the point of media madness and communication overload long ago.

Amidst the millions of terabytes of content and the countless hordes of professional coaches, opinion leaders, growth hackers, personal performance gurus and leadership seminars and webinars, you don’t have to be Tony Robbins or Tim Ferriss to know that the advice business has become big business.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of it is complete and utter nonsense. I don’t envy today’s up-and-comers. It’s nearly impossible to determine who actually knows what the hell they’re talking about and who is just out to make a buck and a name for themselves in classic “fake it ‘til you make it” style.

I have a better idea. Here’s some advice on how to find real knowledge and wisdom, instead of a load of useless fluff. If you’re wondering which of those two categories my advice falls into, good; you’re catching on.

Experience is the best teacher

From the day you’re born to the day you call it quits, the most prolific and unfailing teacher is your own personal experience. It’s all about trial and error. Mentors are fine, but lessons are best learned on your own. Hard fought victories will give you self-confidence and heartbreaking defeats will make you strong and wise. Life lessons are lessons for life.

Trust your gut

The more time we spend cycling information through our frontal lobes, the less in touch with our true feelings we become. Your greatest source of inspiration is your inner self, but it’s difficult to tap into these instincts while staring at a computer screen, talking or texting. You have to be still. Quiet. Passive.

Question everything

Questioning generally accepted principles, common wisdom, postulates and theories is called the Socratic method. It’s the essence of critical thinking and the scientific method. Abandoning it led to the Dark Ages; embracing it brought us modern western civilization. Be skeptical, especially of self-promoters with vague, self-proclaimed titles.

Don’t follow leaders

Bob Dylan is among the most poetic and prophetic deliverers of one-liner wisdom. “Don’t follow leaders,” from 1965’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, is among the most insightful anti-advice I’ve ever heard. It actually inspired the title of my first book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow. They don’t. They lead. So should you.

Follow the money

I would be circumspect of anyone whose bio begins and ends with how many speeches they’ve given, books they’ve written or people they’ve influenced. If their success is based entirely on how much money they make off the backs of hard-working people like you and me, they’re just salesmen.

What do you think of my advice? Does it make sense or do you remain skeptical? Either way, my job here is done.

A version of this originally appeared on fortune.com.

Image credit Frederick M. Brown Getty Images

  • Monty Gry

    One of the biggest obstacles in any business career is learning what/who/when/why to trust. Even a bigger obstacle is your best point, trust yourself. There are tons of guys out there whose main objective in life is to separate you from your money by selling a dream. That dream is that no matter what your circumstance, education, level of intelligence or any other factor that YOU can become rich and successful. Just buy what they are selling. I knew a guy who I sold against. I was glib….he was glibber, but he couldn’t get his customers to trust him like they did me. I always outsold him. But he got hooked into one of the more prominent sales training agencies. He made a bunch of money…and was their top trainer. I ran into him about 3 years ago. We are the same age and he looked 20 years older than me. He was broke(4 marriages and a drug and drink problem) and he was happy to see me. He confided that after many years on the road he finally woke up one morning and said to himself….”I can’t fool them again today”. I helped him get a job with a local company. Took him 30 years to get humbled. He lapped up all that phony salesmanship in the various books of the 80’s and 90’s. It is soulless and I could cite other examples….it is sometimes dangerous. I told him that my best close was simple(and I have used this for years). If I had done my job and the product and price were right….my close of “Just Buy IT” is not obnoxious…just is reality.

    • Steve Tobak

      Sad but all too common story about that guy. I actually feel sorry for those who get caught up in that nonsense, even the “successful” ones. They have to live with themselves. Instant Karma and all that.

  • Monty Gry

    And as an aside we had a guy here in Baltimore who was part sage, part raconteur and all around fun guy. His definition of an “expert”? ”A GUY FROM OUTTA TOWN” He, of course borrowed it from Mark Twain…but this guy said it funnier.

    The realness of the saying is pretty deep. Sometimes we have the solutions to our own troubles. But most of mankind suffers from some self doubt(at least all of the sane ones). A lot of people have the tendency to believe an outsider who has no idea of all of our issues……but he sells a one sized fits all bunch of mumbo jumbo or a big bottle of snake oil.

    People without self doubt are either way off the reservation or super beings.

  • Kristen Carter

    Hey Steve! You are SO RIGHT about this, that it’s hard to even make a comment. After reading tons of these books (refuse to spend the money on an event), I have decided to roll back my cynicism and jaded view of these people, and just let them have their space (which they are going to take anyway). I just don’t need to be in it.

    • Steve Tobak

      No you don’t, Kristen. Stay skeptical.

  • Steve Tobak

    You know, I just have to tell you folks: my weekly columns at Fortune lasted less than a year, but my editor, Lauren Covello, was hands-down the best I ever had. The result was hands-down my best work, at least I think so. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

  • Brad

    “Life lessons are lessons for life.” (did you originate this?)

    “You have to be still. Quiet. Passive.”

    Thursday I fly out to spend a long weekend with my daughter (at college in Tennessee) in Alabama to see the Vols play ‘Bama. Yeah so we have scant chance of winning, I don’t care, I get a weekend with my daughter, a college game, and my home team gets time without me around…..they will all be better for this and so will I.

    I believe in 2 practices in leadership.

    1) Chaos to Order – Order to Chaos – Know when you have to shake up complacency and kick creativity and risk taking in gear and then you need to slow down, galvanize commitment, focus on systems and processes. Too much of either spells doom.

    2) Loose and Tight – Manage the cadence of controlling the business and knowing when to loosen your grip (this is the most challenging for my inner control freak….also the most beneficial when well -wielded) and knowing when you have to tighten it to get the house in order and clean up the BS

    This weekend will be practicing number 2…..it is time to let loose.

    • Steve Tobak

      Hmm … I guess so, unless I read it somewhere, which is pretty unlikely. As a former columnist, I’m sort of a stickler for proper attribution.

  • Anurodh Sharma

    I think your advice is sane and sober, thanks Steve.