The best (and worst!) career advice you’ll ever hear

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Whether you’re fresh out of college or staring at a mid-life crisis, making decisions about your career is stressful! With so many conflicting factors to consider, how can you possibly know if you are choosing the Path to Prosperity or the Road to Ruin? Success Street or the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? Achievement Avenue or Loser Lane? (OK, I’ll stop now.)

And that’s why so many people turn to career advice: They need someone to 1) make life decisions for them, and 2) blame if things go wrong.

Unfortunately, things frequently do go wrong because:

  • Not all career advice is good
  • People frequently ignore the good career advice
  • Not all career advice (even the good kind) is appropriate for everyone

Recently I Googled “career advice” and these two links turned up right next to each other:

Talk about serendipitous! All the career advice anyone needs is right there in a pair of adjacent links. OK Google, you can take the rest of the afternoon off.

But then things get tricky: One particular piece of advice is offered as the best and worst the writers have ever received.

Here’s Motley Fool’s Daniel Kline on why “Do what you love” is the best career advice. This comes from Kline’s business-owning grandfather, who never actually said those words (thus diluting my narrative), but demonstrated them through his actions:

When I entered the working world, my grandfather never expected me to follow in his footsteps. Instead, he was supportive of me as a writer and talked about how he had to pursue the direction he did while I could follow my dreams.

Yet another Motley Fool writer, Selena Maranjian, considers “Do what you love” to be terrible advice:

One of the worst bits of career advice I can think of is the old chestnut, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” It certainly sounds nice, and what could be more reassuring than the premise that if you just do what you like, you’ll be OK? It’s flawed reasoning, though.

It can be better to invert the order of this piece of advice — first think of some careers that offer the kind of pay that you’d like, and then consider which ones best fit your skills and temperament.

Ah, pragmatism, the arch-enemy of dreaming. Then again, dreaming is the arch-enemy of your retirement fund. So many trade-offs! Still, I’d call “Do what you love” excellent advice overall, as would Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”) Indeed, I would encourage anyone to strive toward doing what they love.

That being said, “Do what you love” must be tempered, or informed, by some reality, as Selena infers. This would include an objective assessment of your skills and the demand for them. There is no shortage of phenomenal musicians out there who have day jobs because the market supporting live music isn’t large enough for them to make a living. Same goes for most creative fields; that’s why musicians, novelists and artists give lessons, teach or work in advertising. They have to make a living.

Here’s some more of what I would consider good career advice:

Get out of your comfort zone. People who are afraid of learning and experiencing new things slowly make themselves obsolete and irrelevant because they fail to realize that the world around them can change. The developer who scoffs at mobile programming, the project manager who refuses to use collaboration software, the marketing pro who hates social media — all set themselves up for career disaster.

Pay attention to the world around you. If you aren’t aware of how your industry or profession is changing, you can get caught flat-footed and unemployed. When that happens, your comfort zone shrinks and eventually disappears. Not so comforting! “Every year or two, spend some time really thinking about your career,” advises career coach Christie Mims. “Go out and warm up your network, check out new opportunities, and do some salary comparisons. You make smarter career decisions when you have real data.”

Be kind to (and patient with) yourself. This one’s really important, and it comes from Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse: “Don’t take yourself (or your career) too seriously. Plenty of brilliant people started out in jobs they hated, or took paths that weren’t right at the beginning of their careers. Professional development is no longer linear, and trust that with hard work and a dedication to figuring out what you want to do with your life, you, too, will be OK!”

I’ll finish up with some bad career advice:

Do what someone else thinks you should do. During my freshman year of college, my adviser suggested I major in accounting and then get a law degree. Why? Because that’s what he did! I only wonder how many of my fellow students ended up being unhappy accountant/lawyers — or worse, college advisers passing down horrendous, solipsistic advice to students.

Don’t take chances, and don’t make waves. For some employees there is security in anonymity. Why stand out for the wrong reasons? But anonymity in the workplace is an illusion; in reality, people who don’t speak up or aren’t recognized for being above-and-beyond contributors of ideas, extra work, enthusiasm, etc., become quite visible when it’s time to trim the payroll.

Aim low so you won’t be disappointed. Dream-killers are a dime a dozen in this world. You say you want to move to New York to break into theater? “Well, lots of people want to do that.” Yeah, and some of them actually become successful! As NHL hockey legend Wayne Gretzky reportedly said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

So take your shots.

If anyone wants to pass along other good (and bad!) career advice, leave a comment below.

Comments

  1. very good post. I am sure the job seeker like me we love it. Thanks

    Like

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