When you're first gaining traction in your career, you're at a very exciting--and vulnerable--time. You want to soak up as much knowledge and experience as you can, avoid making any mistakes, and follow in the footsteps of your business idols. Unfortunately, this usually leads to taking pieces of advice that don't necessarily apply or work the way they were intended.

To highlight this, I've gathered seven pieces of advice I hear all the time, and why you shouldn't take them too literally:

1. Come up with a five-year plan

There was a time when companies grew slowly, career trajectories were concrete, and you could rely on your job being there for as long as you wanted to stay. Back then, having a five-year plan was a near must, but those days are long-gone. Today's millennials are natural job-hoppers, and for good reason--today's economy is more volatile, companies spring in and out of existence quickly, and there's no telling what opportunities wait for you around the corner. You can come up with a five-year plan if you want, but it isn't going to help you jump on those rare, important opportunities that arise in the meantime.

2. Always say yes

Saying "yes" is associated with a can-do attitude and a perpetual willingness to take on more. Both of these are seen as admirable and promotion-worthy traits in a traditional office setting. But think about the consequences of saying yes all the time--you'll take on more work than you can handle, possibly overextending and burning yourself out, or possibly failing due to your lack of experience in the matter. Plus, if you say yes all the time, you may appear over-eager, and more interested in keeping up appearances than doing what's best for the company. Learn to say no when appropriate.

3. Work as hard as you can

Hard work is important, and it's good to push yourself--to a degree. Overworking yourself can be destructive, both for you and whatever company you're a part of, especially if done chronically. It's imperative to take breaks and vacations, so don't force yourself into 80-hour workweeks just because you think it will look good to your bosses.

4. Education always pays for itself

This is true, but only in certain contexts. This doesn't mean that you should rush out to get your Master's degree (which could cost you $100,000 or even more, depending on the program), nor does it mean formal education is inherently better than learning something yourself, through experience. Anecdotal evidence of self-made millionaires who never went to college should be enough to prove that you don't need a fancy or expensive program to learn important skills. This is especially true today with so many free online course offerings and open-source learning resources available.

5. Follow your passion

Famed entrepreneur Mark Cuban has spoken out against this one. Everyone has a passion, but that doesn't mean those passions will make you money, or that they're beneficial to someone other than you. It's good to be passionate about your work, but the inverse property isn't necessarily true; don't just assume your passion will eventually pay off if you keep working at it. Find a practical outlet, or find a new passion.

6. Be the first to arrive and the last to leave

This is old-world advice originating with the idea that the hardest workers are the ones who stand the greatest chance to succeed. But think of it this way; just because you spent 12 hours at the office doesn't mean you spent 12 hours working. Staying on the clock isn't naturally impressive to most bosses or supervisors; you need to prove your worth with measurable results.

7. Let your work speak for itself

Speaking of which, you've no doubt encountered this phrase at least once in your burgeoning career. Unfortunately, it's not very practical. Your bosses and supervisors aren't looking at you under a microscope, analyzing your every action, and even if they were, they wouldn't go out of their way to reward you every time you do something good. Instead, you need to go out of your way to prove yourself, and show off your work; performance reviews are excellent opportunities for this. Don't just let your work speak for itself--speak up for your work.

These pieces of advice aren't necessarily wrong, nor will they lead you in a totally wrong direction. However, they can be taken too literally, especially in today's era. You should never put too much stock in any one selection of advice, either--some of the most successful entrepreneurs of our age got to where they are because they broke the rules and deviated from the norm. Instead, take the advice that makes sense for you, and don't be afraid to go your own route.

Published on: Mar 24, 2016