Never before we had such immense career opportunities. Despite the technology that is replacing jobs with accelerating pace and all the gloomy job market predictions, having the laptop and access to Internet enables you to be virtually anyone and build your career in so many ways.
At the same time, we have never been so confused about what professional path to take. It has never been so easy to ruin your career journey before even starting it, especially with all career advice available on the Internet today (including the one you are reading now).
Within last 20 years of my own career I have been in all lowest and highest points, with financial ups and downs, pivots, working 18h a day or giving up on working at all, working for rather big corporations, startups, starting businesses myself. All this I have learned the hard way and I could have avoided so much of trouble if only I did not follow bad advice and dangerous mentalities (which I am still thankful for as a I learned more through my hardships).
I see same mistakes and misconceptions in my students and mentees and this is why I would like to share my views on top 3 bad career advice that will likely make your new profession rather turbulent.
Bad career advice #1: Follow your passion. Follow your heart. Do what you love.
This first one is such a cliche that I first wanted to leave it out. However, this is the one of the most dangerous ones. Yes, we are living in such crazy times when you can virtually choose any career and with the help of Internet easily distribute your services and your work.
But here are couple of problems. First, majority of people don’t really know what their passions are and how to identify it. Or they have too many passions. Or they don’t believe it can not be turned into a career. Secondly, successful career can not be built on just your passion. You see, the world does not care about your passion as long as they can not benefit from it. If product of your work is not in demand, no one will really care how passionate you are about it.
I love how Steve Jobs put it:
“Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion, but we’re all part of the flow of history … you’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community, help other people … so that 20, 30, 40 years from now … people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.”
Walter Isaacson (who wrote Jobs biography) summarized Jobs idea in a shorter form later:
“The important point is to not just follow your passion but something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion.”
This particular idea of “following your passion” is being romanticised by the media and besides that it sounds great, I believe it is coming from the fact that majority of successful people just seem to work with passion. The trick here is that successful people have many passions, are aware of them and get involved with anything which is directly connected with their passions.
So, once again. Following just your passion at work is a very risky strategy.
So how to choose a career path?
It is definitely not JUST passion. It is definitely not JUST how good you are in something. And it is definitely not JUST about something which is in demand.
It is a combination of all of these factors with passion being the LEAST important. Because of this terrible cliche, most people start thinking about their career by evaluating their own passion, when they should actually start evaluating the most important component — DEMAND. Because at the end of the day you want to be paid. And money you earn from your employer or your client — is the direct measure of how much value you generate, how much other people are benefiting from you and how big dent you leave in the universe.
Ideally you want to get into a career which is still not in the high demand but will become in a shortterm.
Go through selected industries and see:
— which ones accentuate your strengths and unique abilities
— which ones you feel interested in learning about
— which ones involve groups of people you feel good working with
— which ones you will still pursue when times are tough
The more these will intersect, the better chance you have to be on the right track of your career.
Don’t JUST follow your passion. It can be very misleading
Bad career advice #2: Always dream big. Shoot for the moon and you will reach for the stars.
As much as I love the advice on always dreaming big as much I personally suffered specifically from this one. I just love big goals because they inspire, create a great story, attract a lot of people to help you (if the story is good), because majority of people will not have guts to target big so they will rather help your big goals than their own.
However, there is a catch here as well.
We set such high expectations from ourselves so it is not clear where to start, how to plan our journey and whom to ask for help. The “elephant” just gets too big for us to eat in one piece.
Think twice if you need a big vision right at the very beginning of your career. Majority of successful business ideas were not started with a big vision. Vision came in later. Mark Zuckerberg did not start Facebook to become a global communication network like it is today. Larry Page and Sergey Brin did not start their PhD project to create a platform that would organise all the data in the world but it turned out they created Google.
They all started small, big visions have come up later together with big opportunities.
It is not that our big plans are bad, the problem is in our inability to operate with them efficiently. The bigger the vision is, the harder it gets not to procrastinate on execution.
So start small, be lean and flexible and create your big vision along the way.
Bad career advice #3: “Take a job in a big company with a safe and steady paycheck”
You should have heard this at least once from your parents. Don’t blame them. It worked for them. People used to have this “program”: go to a college, get a steady-income job and possibly stay there until you retire. I used to know a guy who had a single record in his workbook during his whole 40-year career.
The rules have changed. Having a steady-income job is no longer safe. More than that. Steady-income job will no longer exist even in the short- term as the world is speeding up and becoming more chaotic, complex and unpredictable.
Even if you are still in college, most probably you are being taught on something which will be irrelevant in a few years. More and more industries are ceasing to exist. So many jobs today are being either replaced by robotics, software or moved to contractors rather than being done in-house. Progress is unstoppable and only accelerating. If you told me 20 years ago that we would have self-driving cars, I would call you a fool. And just last week Uber launched self-driving taxis (and no one seemed to be surprised).
What this all means for us is that finding a safe place to work is harder than ever before and if this is what you hope for — I have bad news for you — you won’t have a steady life-long career. You will probably need to change your career every 5-7 years. Accept it, embrace it and start preparing for it. Learn to be lean, adaptive, proactive, resourceful and entrepreneurial.
These pieces of bad advice are, of course, not written in stone. They even were relevant some 10-20 years ago. And there are people who followed them and succeeded. But reflecting upon them will definitely help you become more conscious about your career journey.
And what bad pieces of advice have you been given?