Steve Merritt grew up in Iowa dreaming of a life of social activism. When he told his high school counselor that he wanted to find a solution to world hunger, the counselor scoffed and said he needed a more practical career plan.

Following that advice, he ended up in the cable television industry earning lots of money and little personal satisfaction.

Eventually Merritt turned his growing discontent into a life-changing event and today he happily heads up a community garden project in California.

Merritt’s story is a great reminder of the dangers of well-meaning advice.

Here are some things to consider when receiving advice so you can sort the wheat from the chaff.

Rule #1: Consider the Source

The most important thing about receiving advice is that you know your source and trust them. I was once reading a newsletter written by a woman I have watched build a lovely business.

One of the articles really struck me as special and I e-mailed her suggesting that she send it to some other publications. (Okay, I confess that violates my own policy of giving unsolicited advice.)

She wrote back saying that she had thought about submitting some of her newsletter material to other markets, but someone had told her that she couldn’t do that since it was already published.

I was flabbergasted. Who would have given her that erroneous advice?

If it was a professional writer giving the advice, they would have known about resubmitting material. If it wasn’t a professional writer who told her this, why would she have listened?

This isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve all probably allowed inaccurate advice to influence us.

Sometimes it happens because the advice-giver sounds authoritative and so we look no further. At other times, maybe out of laziness, we accept negative or discouraging words as an excuse for not giving something a try.

And sometimes we just don’t know if the advice is accurate. (This is a particularly new and thorny problem caused by the Internet where advice is posted but not edited or verified.)

Rule #2 : Get a Second Opinion

While too many opinions or too much advice can serve to confuse us, if you’re exploring unknown territory, some serious research is in order before setting out.

Get advice from people who know what they’re talking about—and then get a back-up opinion or two.

I once got e-mail from a woman who said that all of her life she’d wanted to be a professional caricaturist, but everyone told her she couldn’t make her living doing that.

I asked her if she was getting advice from other caricaturists.

Having numerous opinions from uninformed sources doesn’t make the information accurate. Having several opinions from experienced sources is another matter altogether.

Rule #3: Make the Most of It

When you ask the advice of another person, your initial role is to be a quiet listener or to ask clarifying questions. Whether or not you act upon the advice is a matter for a later time.

When you’re trying to make a decision or need information so you can proceed with a decision you’ve already made, seeking outside input is just part of the information-gathering process. Sifting comes after you’ve got all the information collected.

When you are the recipient of advice, whether you use it or not, don’t forget to say thank you. I mention that only because I’m stunned by the number of people who don’t bother with this courtesy.

The world is full of teachers, experts and amateur advisors—with varying qualifications. Jess Lair once said, “When I’m working on my life, I want the very best teachers I can find.”

Finding the right ones to help you learn what you need to know so you can move forward in your own life is not to be taken lightly. The experience of others can save us time, add deeper insights, prevent us from making costly mistakes.

Ask those who can help, not hinder, your success.