There's a lot of advice out there, and not all of it is good. In fact, whether we chose to follow or ignore it, we've all been given questionable guidance in life, especially when it comes to our careers.
Recently on Twitter, organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who hosts the TED podcast WorkLife, asked people to share the worst career advice they've ever received. Tons of successful people from all walks of life shared the "helpful" nuggets the ignored or regretted heeding. Some were well-meaning pearls that no longer apply to the modern economy, while others almost seemed designed to set people up for failure (had they followed them).
Wow, that's a lot of questionable guidance in one tweet. Starting from the bottom, it's hard to imagine advising anyone to not write a book. I'm having trouble understanding what the reasoning behind that would be. Adam ignored that advice and is a bestselling author who has dedicated his career to helping people find motivation and meaning in their lives. He's a professor, a podcaster, and a writer, so clearly that advice about not doing multiple projects was also terrible.
Another common theme among respondents was the advice to prioritize your career above everything — health, family, happiness. One person recalled being told to work 80-100 hours a week. Keep in mind there are 168 hours in a week. Working 100 hours a week means you have less than 10 hours a day to yourself! If 7 of those are for sleep, that leaves 3 hours for eating, leisure, family, working out, pursuing hobbies, seeing friends. What kind of life is that?
Steve Johnson is retired now, but he was a professional MLB pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and the Seattle Mariners. Rather than listen to people who suggested he get a "real job," Steve followed in the footsteps of his dad, Dave Johnson, who also pitched for the Orioles. Steve may not have had a career the likes of pitches like Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, he realized his dream of making it to the big leagues because he ignored the people tho told him to find "a real job."
Wow, this is bad advice on so many levels. First, after college this is truly your best opportunity to make new friends as an adult, so why would you cut yourself off at the source? Also, these are people you spend at much time with as your family, if not more. You should probably like each other and enjoy each other's company. If I had heeded this advice, my three best friends in the world would just be people I follow on LinkedIn. Even if you don't find your soulmates at work, it can only help you work better as a team if you see each other as comrades. While you don't have to like everyone you work with, the idea that you would just rule out becoming friends with your teammates is absurd.
Look, if you're 26 years old right now, and someone tells you you're too old for something, and that thing isn't, like, a child-size swing on the playground or a Power Wheels Jeep, just go ahead and ignore them. Honestly, you're never too old for a career change if the one you're in doesn't make you happy.
This headhunter sounds like somebody who isn't very creative or able to see how job skills you gained in one field can apply to another. And since that seems to be a big skill one should have if they're a headhunter, maybe they should have considered a career change!
Every time I hear of a guidance counselor telling a student they're not smart enough to do something, I wonder a) how did they find themselves in that line of work? and b) who hurt them? John's high school career advisor was clearly wrong — and it's a good thing John ignored this advice. He's now a marine community ecologist and professor at the University of North Carolina, specializing in conservation and climate change.
While there may have been a time when conventional wisdom said you should stay with one company and work your way up, it's rare for such opportunities to exist in today's economy. and, as Jordan points out, even if you do have opportunity for stability in your workplace, it doesn't mean it will lead to happiness or advancement.
Imagine all the amazing books, artworks, plays, songs, and films that would never have been finished if their creators had listened to people who suggested they make their hobbies a side project. Even if you don't find "success" through the creative pursuits you enjoy, I guarantee you'll be happier if you make them a priority in your life.
Zoe Keating is a rock cellist and composer who started out as a member of the band Rasputina. She has gone on to work with artists like Amanda Palmer and to pursue solo work that has been featured in television and film, both before and after the birth of her child and the death of her husband. Again, Zoe is another example that well-meaning advice to choose stability over passion is not always right.
Yes, god forbid a comic book writer have an "interesting" idea! Yuck, who likes comics that are interesting! Gail says, "I think he was trying to position me as a ‘girl who could write like boys,’ and thought he was helping her by telling her to conform and not make waves. She ignored his advice and went on to write for such celebrated franchises as Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman. Gail has become one of the most influential women in comics precisely because she pitches interesting ideas and keeps her characters multidimensional.
This well-meaning advice is meant to prevent people from having large gaps in their resumes and, of course, less financial stability. But I've also seen too many people stay in toxic work environments too long, possibly a great deal longer than they would have if they quit before they found something better. Plus, "conventional wisdom" also says looking for a job is a full-time job. How are you supposed to balance two full-time jobs?
This is a classic case of not seeing a distinction between a fad and a trend. Sure, none of us can predict the future, but it's funny how often people fail to see the potential in a "fad" as being the possible future of a given field, as was the case for this journalist who pursued a career in digital content back in 1998. I'm sure this happens in every industry. I'll bet doctors a couple decades ago were saying minimally invasive surgery was a fad, or that video game programmers were advised virtual reality would never catch on.
Distractions can not only be fulfilling, they can often lead you to better opportunities. And even if they don't, distractions kind of make life worth living, especially if things like having children or giving back to your community are what career advisors categorize as "distractions." You want to be more than your job. After all, work isn't everything. If you were ever to lose your job or be unable to perform it, you would want to have some other things in your life to give you a feeling of self-worth and fulfillment,
Oh man, raise your hand if you relate to that?! Some of the worst advise we get is from out own self-doubt, that nagging voice that tells us we shouldn't apply for that job, that we're not qualified because we don't tick every box, or the one that the only way to get ahead is to work 12-hour days and never make waves.
This is what we call a mic drop.
While Monica here got a lot of attention for her White House internship, it wasn't super great for her career. While she now gives TED talks and writes for Vanity Fair, she will always be known for something that happened at the very start of her career, and it has defined her life in ways she probably would rather it hadn't.