When I walk into Capital One Café to meet Lucas Y. Woodley ’23, I find him in a room at the back of the café, tucked away from the ambient chatter with his laptop and a cup of coffee. Dressed casually in a gray cardigan and jeans, he greets me with an open smile; our small talk feels oddly like catching up with a friend. It quickly becomes apparent to me why many of his peers nominated him as Best Advice-Giver.
But when asked if he would consider himself someone people have always turned to for advice, he laughs abashedly. “I don’t think so,” he says. “I don’t know how often people seek advice, in a genuine sense, so I think it would probably be arrogant for me to assert not only that people so often genuinely seek out my advice, but that they’re actually coming to me for it.”
Woodley, in the home stretch of his double concentration in Economics and Psychology, says that he’s always been fascinated by how our minds work, an interest that has directed him toward multiple pursuits. He teaches high school students financial literacy with the nonprofit Financial Mile. He co-leads the Harvard College International Negotiation Program, which applies conflict resolution frameworks to dialogues on controversial topics like gun control and abortion. He’s applying to Ph.D. programs in social psychology and hopes to become a professor. And on the day-to-day, he offers support to people who come to him with their problems.
I ask him why so many turn to him for advice. Again, he takes time to think before responding. Finally, he says: “I listen to people. Or I try. And I think that’s usually a precursor to giving good advice.”
But Woodley clarifies that he doesn’t see himself so much as an advice-giver as “a facilitator.” This means first asking clarifying questions about the person’s troubles, then helping them figure out their goals and possible solutions.
“Sometimes people can come in, and it starts off as something as nebulous as ‘I’ve had a bad day.’ So okay, well, what does that mean? What about it was bad? When you say bad, how does that make you feel?” he says. “If you just start jumping into a bunch of generalized advice that works on average for the average person — which really means it doesn’t work great for any single person — then I don’t think that often leads you down the right path.”
Next, Woodley says, he tries to figure out the person’s goals in that particular situation. Oftentimes, people simply want to vent and aren’t seeking a solution. But if they do want advice, Woodley proceeds to ask questions that help the person clarify their goals, their past responses to similar situations, and the barriers preventing them from addressing their problem. If he’s been in a similar situation or knows someone who has, Woodley says, he’ll share an anecdote and ask the person what they think about the solution in that case.
From there, Woodley asks further questions to help the person develop a plan of action and identify specific ways to bring those plans to life.
Woodley begins chatting with our photographer, and I see this process unfold firsthand. Woodley offers sympathetic comments and asks clarifying questions as our photographer talks about his academic pursuits and learning to ask for help from professors. At the end, Woodley even offers a piece of advice: “When you don’t know something, the only way not to find yourself in that position later is by asking the question.”
Much of his approach to giving advice draws on the therapeutic psychological idea that talking something through helps people clarify their thoughts. And it doesn’t just benefit the person he talks to. Woodley recounts a time when a friend came to him with her relationship troubles, and in the process of talking through it with her, he identified reasons he hadn’t previously considered for why his own relationship has been so strong.
But fundamentally, Woodley says, he just wants to help people. To him, making change in the world doesn’t necessarily mean grandiose actions; rather, “the personal and specific situations are the opportunities where I feel like I’ve had the chance to make the greatest amount of change,” he says.
This understanding stemmed from reflecting on the impact teachers, mentors, and friends have had on him.“Seeing their advice so positively affect me and then, at a later point, realizing how meaningful I find those moments and those relationships is probably what opened my eyes to the fact that maybe I can have that same impact.”
To his fellow seniors who are stressed about closing this chapter of their lives and embarking on their post-grad journeys, Woodley offers one piece of advice: throw yourself fully into whatever it is you choose to pursue.
He posits that most stress comes from a fear of failure, and he says people have two options in that situation: “The first is to handicap yourself and to let yourself do a poor job of whatever that endeavor is. Your other option is risking the failure, and in doing so, offering yourself the chance to succeed,” he says. “If you want to give yourself the opportunity, then go after it with everything that you have.”
I ask Woodley if he has any parting thoughts. He leans back, folding his arms over his chest, and takes a moment to think. Finally, he sits up and tells me about a study that asked people ages six to 90, “What’s the one thing you learned throughout your life?”
“When people looked back upon their experiences, the thing that they remembered most fondly were the instances where they took advantage of the opportunity to help somebody else,” he says. “If the collective experience of people is anything to go off, then that might be a good goal to try to orient yourself towards. When you have the opportunity to help someone else, try to do so.”
— Associate Magazine Editor Kaitlyn Tsai can be reached at email@example.com.