bad career advice

Don’t do it: The WORST career advice I ever received

I recently shared some of my most helpful tips when considering careers (link to Part 1). I thought posting the worst career advice I ever received in my professional life would make for a nice contrast and two-part lesson.

Clearly, I’ve chosen an entrepreneurial path. Empower Network is a business built on the philosophy that good ideas exist at every turn, and we all have the power to fine-tune those ideas to make them stronger, more successful and even better than ever. However, multitudes avoid entrepreneurship, as it can be unstable, challenging and difficult to predict, and, most importantly, failure there is always an option.

But regardless of the chosen career path, there is always some questionable overarching advice floating around, and each time it surfaces, I cringe.

1. “Hard work will get you everywhere.” Generally speaking, working hard will produce results. However, working smarter – not harder – often leads to even better results, a happier and less tired disposition and, of course, less time wasted. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four of them sharpening my axe.” His overall philosophy was that taking a more strategic and thoughtful approach to life was significantly more effective than brute force. Ask the right questions to reach your answers and avoid using hard work as a supplement to or replacement for diligent thought.

In my career, I’ve come across many distressed organizations that resort to work for work’s sake without applying the necessary mental filters required to ask solutions-oriented questions. Sometimes work is just … work. Don’t just do something to do it. Do something with committed intelligence, passion and the know-how to get it done efficiently and effectively the first time, rather than spinning your wheels aimlessly in the hopes of something finally clicking. For example, if you’re struggling with a project at work, don’t just spend endless hours on it. Instead, step back and consider the project from other angles to determine where your roadblocks are. Is it a design flaw? Is a team member’s analysis not spot-on? Is the timeline for delivery unrealistic? Are there too many opinions and too few steps forward? Every problem has a solution, but rather than invest hour after hour, stop. Consider a solution from a different perspective.

2. “Follow the money; forget personal satisfaction.” In our increasingly materialistic culture, it can be difficult to preach success as more than just cash-in-hand (or a bank account). Granted, we all need money to live, but what amount of money is enough? Too often, people set their sights on a figure, yet what they don’t realize is that even with that figure in mind, they’d be utterly unhappy after a few short weeks.

Humans find fulfillment in more than just material. We enjoy being challenged and intellectually stimulated (just look at the popularity of video games) and we need to socialize. If all your life was comprised of was making money, how then would you spend it? You’d make the money and buy stuff. But what do you do with all that stuff? It’s all a juggling act. Celebrities, executives and professional athletes can bask in the glory of larger-than-average salaries, but look at what they endure to achieve such large bank accounts: Celebrities are frequently on tour or shooting films far away from their families and homes; athletes are constantly on the road; countless executives have even been caught trying to steal company money to cover misappropriations and poor business dealings. It’s a slippery slope. Once you find something you love to do, the money becomes only one part of the decision to work. The real reward comes from the feeling you get from doing your job to the best of your ability and having the time to share it with those you care about the most.

3. “Don’t rock the boat.” The fondest proponents of this advice tend to be members of the older generations, many of whom endured the Great Depression. But modern career holders are learning that even in down economies, jobs and opportunities exist – you just have to find them. There are two key types of personnel inside a corporate environment: the workers and the doers. The doers tend to desire more responsibility and challenges, and will seek out avenues to gain more of both in short order. The workers are comfortable being a part of a team, don’t seek additional responsibilities and often resist change if it comes too swiftly.

We’re all different and that’s OK. But if something is awry in your office, does it make more sense to ignore it or to actively seek a solution that may remedy it? When I consider this advice, I immediately think about the passengers from United Airlines Flight 93, which departed Newark for San Francisco on Sept. 11, 2001. We have since learned that this flight, carrying only 37 passengers, crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, because those 37 brave souls – even in the face of probable death – fought with terrorist hijackers and chose not to submit. That gut instinct and innate desire to change the status quo saved more lives than we’ll ever know; they are the truest of heroes. So, even when in doubt, let your gut guide you when you believe that rocking the boat could result in a major positive difference – because, likely, it will.

4. “Get in good with the boss if you want to move quickly up the ladder.” Again, this ancient way of thinking has cost many a young professional his career. Brown-nosing or attempting to “make nice” with the boss may earn more negative points than positive ones. Instead, consider building on the organization’s momentum with your own special flair, passion, expertise and creative thinking; the ladder you seek to climb will quickly shrink.

5. “Lie if you have to.”  Those who will do anything to get the deal or contract signed, mislead on a resume or simply speak untruths at any level will ultimately fail in their careers. Some misguided mentors offer this poor advice to hungry underlings to ensure bottom-line success. However, trust is as important now as it ever has been due to a large portion of business being carried out using technology. Business deals are no longer exclusively closed in a conference room or business meeting. Sometimes they’re negotiated on a golf course, during a trade show or even via Skype. Build on a foundation of trust and, should you find yourself in a sticky situation, people will be more apt to forgive a mistake, an error in judgment or an oversight because they know you to be honest.

For example, say you can’t meet a demand or a deadline. Rather than lie, negotiate. Ask for more time or resources, if required, to accomplish your goal – but don’t lie. When applying for a job, don’t indicate that you went to college if you exclusively completed online classwork. Someone will inevitably discover the truth – whether it’s HR or your coworkers – and soon enough, you’ll be revealed. Many people believe that “white lies” (those we tell to avoid hurting feelings or to maintain a temporary façade) are acceptable – and maybe in some cases they are. But outright, intentional dishonesty is simply not acceptable. If you’ve ever lied to a parent or significant other, you know all too well that when they catch you in a lie, they become infinitely more upset that you attempted to deceive them than about the original misstep. Build on trust and honesty – never lies.

Of course, it can be challenging to weed out the good advice from the bad, especially when it all comes from such diverse sources. In the end, however, I’ve learned the importance of trusting your gut – it’s certainly served me well, anyway. What are some pieces of advice you’ve received that made you wonder? Did you give it a try anyway, or go with your gut?


– Jonathan Cronstedt is the CEO of Empower Network, LLC. Empower Network is a leading affiliate marketing and direct sales company that’s helping tens of thousands enjoy the “Empowered Lifestyle.” Jonathan enjoys travel, spending time with his wife and red wine.


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