Sometimes you immediately know when you're getting bad advice. A coworker recently told me that right before her college graduation a family friend advised her to just get a good job- regardless of whether or not she enjoyed the work. He went on to say that she should work for ten years then quit and do something she loved. In the same conversation, someone else piped up and shared that he was cautioned to stay away from women because they ruin everything. They both laughed because they were able to know bad advice when you hear it.
But there are a couple of pithy pieces of professional advice that are better off on a poster then put into practice. Knowing the caveats and limitations of these good-sounding but ultimately bad pieces of career advice can save you time and frustration as you pursue your career.
- Follow your passion. Unless your passion is project scheduling and detailed meeting notes, don't let your passion be the sole arbiter in deciding what's next in your career. The chances of making a decent living are slim, and the likelihood of realizing you don't like your passion as much as you though are high. Instead, save time to pursue your passion on the side, and bring all of that positive energy to the other things you do.
- Focus on one thing. Unless you're a linebacker a week before the big game, you have many interests. You want to earn a living, build a reputation for doing great work, inspire others, and maybe save homeless dogs while having time to read, paint, run, and drink great coffee. Doing a bunch of different things makes life interesting. Instead of looking for one singular focus in your life or career, embrace the variety of things you're interested in. Just avoid multi-tasking -- it doesn't work. From hour to hour in your day, do one thing at a time.
- There's no "I" in team. Being a team player is important but not every day and not all of the time. Looking out for number one (that's you) is important too! Being a team player requires knowing your strengths and how to apply them to the problem at hand. It's pitching in when tasks get overwhelming and picking someone up when they're down. All of that's great. Our world wouldn't keep spinning without teamwork, but... you need to be able to bring your best self to the task at hand. And that means looking up from group work every once in awhile to confirm you're on track with your personal goals. It also means noticing growth opportunities that pop up just for you--and then seizing them without feeling guilty.
- Work hard. Similarly to the above point, these two little words get twisted around and misapplied often. The advice to "work hard" is often given to us at the right time, but we end up applying it at the wrong time to the wrong things. For example, at dinner the evening before I started my first job at Little Caesar's Pizza, my dad told 13-year-old me that I had to work hard to be successful. It was an important message, and it stuck. The problem now is that those words ring in my ears when my to-do list of random, unimportant tasks gets long. So, I plug away -- but not at the things I should be plugging away at. Instead, we should work hard at the important, high-priority projects. The rest of the time we should spend learning, thinking, planning, and prioritizing. These are the behaviors that allow you to work smart.
The one piece of advice I've gotten I still appreciate is to be yourself. It means embracing your past, knowing yourself now, and creating your future--all at the same time. Your combination of opinions, experiences and skills creates the unique perspective that you can then bring to every challenge you encounter.
Embedded within this advice is increasing your self-awareness. Knowing yourself is ultimately the only big picture advice you'll ever need. That knowledge will help you far more than any cookie-cutter career advice ever will.