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What's the Worst Career Advice You Ever Had?

career Apr 03, 2023

“Don’t be trapped in someone else’s dream.” ~KimTaehyung, BTS

Much of my time last month was spent in noisy freudenfreude - a new term I learned that means celebrating the successes of others. 

A recent panel was a wonderful example of three very diverse characters from an astrophysicist who is finding life on Mars, a real estate developer and LGBTQ activist and a web3 expert and board director, all ably moderated by my friend from BlackRock. 

They started out the panel with a wonderful question:

Worst piece of career advice you’ve ever had?

What did the panelists say?

  • You can’t have family and work
  • Do what you love and success will follow (“what is love? It’s fickle! A second hand emotion”)
  • Have a normal job and do Mars in your free time 

Now, I love what I do even when I get overwhelmed and have never needed anyone to tell me I had to put Mars aside as my focus (Mars bars, maybe; planets, no). 

But that family and work thing. Oooh yeah. 

And it pairs well, like a fine wine, with the other idea handed down from my Dad (which I mentioned in my TEDx talk), “if you work harder than anyone else, you will always get ahead”. 

All of us have success scripts that are handed down from our parents, our teachers and our society. 

Sometimes it’s that you should pick a path to status (and of course even what that means changes depending on a million variables). Perhaps it is to make money, or to shun it. To never be too proud but never let anyone put you down. To not be too ambitious but to accomplish all of the things that such striving might obtain. To care for everyone or to be above caring.

Either way, it’s worth a bit of investigation when you come to a transitional point where you have an opportunity to redefine success on your own terms. 

And then to think about….

What advice would you wish you had been given instead?

In the case of the panelists, they had found their own advice by finding what they valued. 

Often changing societal scripts to reinvent what equality meant, what following dreams meant and even reinventing what career meant to them. 

As one panelist said, “I can balance my life and work in order to do the work I love, with a partner I love and if the system doesn’t permit it, I’ll change the system.”

Or, as one of our Future Proofers said on a recent values call we did, “Diana, let’s be clear. I am a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ kind of guy.” 

It takes hard work to not accept what you’ve been given and work hard for the ideal you want. But it’s worth it. It imbues you with purpose. 

As I work with dozens of people working through their own version of “what got me here, won’t get me where I want to go next”, this process is one of the most important. 

While your values may be everlasting, the advice you once used to align them to your work might not be as relevant. 

The way you can achieve your purpose may change.

You may need to update your success scripts and advice to help you reach new destinations, or risk remaining trapped in someone else’s dream. 

What's the worst career advice you’ve ever been given?

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