16 Common Pieces of Career Advice You Shouldn’t Follow

People mean well, almost all the time. And when you’re sad, people say things that are meant to help. Motivational speakers build entire careers out of these well-intended, but meaningless phrases that end up on posters and in general conversation.

When I was at a low point in my life, the future seemed rather bleak. I had no job, I had credit card debt of over $20,000, and I didn’t know what to do. I considered moving back in with my parents, only they were a hundred miles away, and I knew my life was meant to be lived in my own city. The economy was awful, my roommate situation was less than ideal, and I was at a loss.

My friends tried to help. They’d say things (some listed below) that were meant to cheer me up. But they never cheered me up. Instead, they made me angry. At myself, at my friends who I thought clearly didn’t understand what I was going through, and at my prospects.

We’ve all been there. We know it gets better. Here are 16 common pieces of career advice you shouldn’t follow. Try to avoid them, and use alternatives!

  • 16 Common Pieces of Career Advice You Shouldn’t Follow 1 of 16
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  • Everything Happens for a Reason 2 of 16
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     The problem: You cannot explain things away with this phrase. It offers very little comfort. In fact, the phrase itself makes people angry. What is the reason? When bad things happen, just don't say this to someone. There might be a big, universal meaning, that will make sense in six months, but there might not be. And if you say this to a work friend who has been passed over for a promotion, you'll only make them angry with you.

     

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  • Good Things Come to Those Who Wait 3 of 16
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     The problem: Good things come to those who wait. Bad things come to those who wait. Mediocre things come to those who wait. Waiting is not an activity. You want good things? Create good things. BE a good thing. Good things come to those who work hard toward solutions. Complacency comes to those who wait.

     

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  • Love What You Do, You’ll Never Work a Day in Your Life 4 of 16
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    The problem: The way I see it, once you're paid to do something, it becomes work. Should you try to find fulfilling work? Absolutely. Will it always be sunshine and roses? Absolutely not. You can create the career you want, but I'm telling you, some days it will feel like work, and it won't be fun all the time. Even if you turn your hobby into a career, there will be days where you simply don't want to go teach other people how to do the hobby you love so much. Don't be afraid of work. Work hard, toward something meaningful. You will work many days in your life. But that's okay.

     

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  • Quitting is Not An Option 5 of 16
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     The problem: This encourages people to push themselves too far, too soon. To stop listening to their bodies, and push themselves to injury. Listen, quitting is always an option. Have big goals, yes, but do not feel that changing your goals mid-stream makes you a failure. Alter your goals, quit if you have to, but don't let it get you down. Sometimes, winners do quit. Especially if you're in a job that's making you miserable. Then quitting isn't just an option, it's a great option.

     

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  • Jump and the Net Will Follow 6 of 16
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     The problem: This is a career-oriented spin on Nike's famous "Just do it" slogan. Jump! Make big decisions! Act without thinking! The net will follow if you just have faith in yourself! Now, this might be true, but it might not. Make a plan, then jump. Save up for it. Have faith, but also have an idea of what you know, and what you can do.

     

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  • Follow Your Dreams 7 of 16
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     The problem: To what end? When you follow your dreams, at what point do you change your path? When does the pursuit of your dream (famous actor, filmmaker, architect) become detrimental to your day-to-day happiness? Following your dreams is noble, but you must be willing to change your dream if you find that you're leading yourself to misery.

     

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  • Follow Your Heart 8 of 16
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     The problem: Your heart is optimistic and fickle. Following your heart is the first half of a great piece of advice that ends with "but make sure your mind feels good about it too." Be logical, and make decisions you can feel good about. Decisions that won't break the bank. Your heart may love that bad boy, but don't follow your heart so far that you're financing his lifestyle. Follow your heart, but use your mind.

     

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  • Be Yourself 9 of 16
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     The problem: How can you be anyone else? This is often said to school-aged kids who are trying to find their identity. It's a great sentiment, but often hollow. What we should be saying, instead, is "do not apologize for who you are because you'll find friends who love you for who you are." Also, "don't try to be someone people like" is more helpful advice, and means the same thing. If you're trying to help a coworker be less awkward around clients, help diffuse the tension instead of telling your coworker simply to be themselves.

     

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  • This Too Shall Pass 10 of 16
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     The problem: This is one phrase that almost never needs to be uttered. Yes, we know, the pain will pass. Time heals all wounds, and all that. But when you're in the moment, and you're suffering, you just need a hug, not the information that one day you won't feel so sad. Don't say this to a coworker, even if you're all weathering the same storm.

     

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  • Let Me Know If There’s Anything I Can Do For You 11 of 16
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     The problem: This phrase is so very well intentioned, but typically said to someone who has no idea what she needs you to do for her. And I've noticed that it is said by people who don't really want to do anything, or don't know what to do, or what can be done. Saying, "let me know if there's anything I can do for you" makes the person saying it feel better, but leaves the person it's said to empty and alone. If you see a coworker in need, don't say this. See what needs to be done, and do it. Help with little things if you can.

     

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  • You Only Live Once 12 of 16
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     The problem: This isn't so much a problem of the phrase, but how it's used today to justify taking that extra shot at the bar, doing something dangerous, or generally acting without thinking. YOLO is part of the millennial mantra that enables people to keep living like children well into their post-college years. It is true that you only live once, but that means you should act with kindness whenever possible and work hard to do well at your job, not that you should treat weekends like MTV Spring Break.

     

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  • There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question 13 of 16
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    The problem: This encourages stupid work questions. What's a stupid question? In my mind, it's a question that is asked aloud that doesn't need to be articulated. If you can look it up, do that. If you can answer the question yourself, with a little bit of thought, do that. Don't outsource your mind. Sometimes we ask questions because we don't want to figure something out ourselves, and that weakens our cognitive processes. And leads to stupid questions. Because they are real. Asking a stupid question doesn't make you stupid, though. It just means you should maybe think for a minute before articulating your question. Remember that your coworker is just as busy as you are and does not have time to answer every question that comes up. Work on your own. Try something three times, and if that still doesn't work, then sure, ask the question, but do it via email so that your coworker can answer on their own time.

     

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  • If You Want to Be Happy, Be 14 of 16
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    The problem: Sometimes a person cannot simply decide to be happy. And that's okay. Nobody is happy all of the time. We all experience sadness and loss. Phrases like "feel better' and "keep your chin up" are not helpful. I know this from very recent experience. I just lost my mom, and am still trying to deal with the loss of a friend, confidant, and parent. Someone said that I was in charge of my own happiness, and while I agree with that, I don't think there's anything wrong with being sad when you lose someone you love. When you see a coworker who is sad, don't tell them to be happy. Tell them you're there for them instead.

     

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  • You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don’t Take 15 of 16
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    The problem: By telling someone this, you're accusing them of inactivity. Perhaps they have mulled over a problem for what feels like forever. But there's a reason they're not "taking the shot" and in order to help them, you should ask if they need your eyes on the project to see if you can help them take action rather than reminding them that inaction leads to accomplishing nothing. Act like a team player at work.

     

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  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff 16 of 16
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    The problem: "Small" is completely subjective. When you tell someone not to sweat the small stuff, and you can see that they're really struggling, what you're telling them is that their problems are small. Instead of belittling a coworker by telling them not to worry about things you view as small (overreacting at a tiny in-office mistake?) try to get to the root of what's bothering them. Chances are, it has nothing to do with collating papers.

     

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