The uncomfortable truth about career advice
Follow your passions
Work smart, not hard
Job hopping is a career killer
Keep your salary private
Ask for forgiveness, not permission
Focus on results
Be a team player
You’ll regret unlimited vacation
Work-life balance should be your priority
You’ve heard this advice from your parents all your life, or if not them, then likely a teacher, friend, or mentor. The only problem is, some other teacher, friend, or mentor probably told you the exact opposite advice with equal conviction.
Take job hopping; some successful professionals will say it’s best to stay in a given position, establish a reputation, grow your network, and rise within a company. Those same people will tell you to stick it out through the tough times, that you’ll be rewarded handsomely for your loyalty – and anyway, no one likes to see a resume packed with new jobs every 1-2 years.
Then another beloved mentor will tell you the exact opposite; they’ll admonish you for sticking in a single job too long – don’t you know switching jobs is how you gain the biggest promotions? Isn’t it obvious that the most impressive workers learn from a variety of mentors in different companies, incorporating diverse systems, methods, and approaches into their career toolkit?
Even advice as innocuous as “don’t settle” has been muddied, with a slew of articles calling for “quiet quitting” wherein people settle for the bare minimum at work.
What does it add up to? All of this advice – well-intentioned, clever advice – just leaves your mind reeling and your choices no more clear than they were previously. Instead of gaining confidence in your decisions, you’re probably more confused than ever.
What is there to do? Not believe anyone and go with your gut? Or is there a better way forward?
Everything is logical but nothing is helpful
Counter-intuitive as it may be, there’s logic to both sides of each piece of advice.
Following your passions is great, sometimes. Following your effort is great, other times. Working smart is an excellent plan – unless you need to work hard to pick up a new skill, or put in late hours, or scrape through before that deadline. Settling can be what’s right for you at one point in your life, while charging forward may be right at another time.
In the end, it all depends on who you are, what you want, and where you are in your life.
Wading through the nonsense
Regardless of profession, seniority, experience – it seems safe to say that we are all desperate for mentors. We want someone who has walked our path before to warn us of glaring mistakes and lead us toward brighter futures. We want to know that our dreams are not only possible, but realistically attainable. And more than anything, we want a roadmap to reach them.
It’s then no surprise that we consume advice with such voracity. Advice, after all, makes our lives that much easier. We don’t have to make the same mistakes to learn the same lessons as our role-models. What a gift, right?
The thing is, “good advice” assumes that there are right and wrong choices. It sets up a dichotomy that leaves us desperate for answers.
In reality, there are few “right” or “wrong” choices – just different destinations. Job hopping will take you one place, continued loyalty will take you another. Either option can lead to a successful, fulfilling career, full of unique challenges and triumphs.
What people are really saying when they offer advice is “here’s what I did and look – I didn’t fail.” Think of it this way; when you hear two conflicting pieces of advice, it just means that both options can lead to success
Some wisdom worth considering
Wisdom that comes in the form of a story, rather than an over-simplified platitude, should carry more weight. That’s because good stories are not black and white; there’s no “do this, not that.” They’re all about shades of subtlety, wins and losses, lessons and regrets.
Another indication of “good” wisdom? Advice that focuses on how to approach a problem, rather than the solution to the problem itself. The more tools we have in our repertoire to help us think critically, to help balance our thoughts, the more confident we’ll be in our ultimate decisions.
Any advice that deals in absolutes is unlikely to be useful – even though it can feel as though this is the most useful advice of all. It’s comforting to know that you’re 100% doing the right thing. Yet that kind of certainty is almost always a fantasy, and any advice that plays to that fantasy doesn’t usually tell the whole story.
The best career advice is…
Absolutes aren’t so absolute. Your situation might require a vastly different approach than someone else’s. And most importantly, there are no real “wrong” decisions – just decisions leading to different outcomes. No choice is necessarily going to “work” for you just because it worked or failed for someone else – no matter how successful or trusted that person might be.
Also, don’t take any advice too seriously, including our own.
Questions? You can always reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ll do our best to help guide you through whatever transition you’re navigating (even if we don’t have all the answers!).
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