From your parents telling you not to cross your eyes because they’ll stay that way and “early to bed, early to rise …” to taking Airborne or high doses of Vitamin C will cure a cold, there’s no shortage of myths in the world. And there’s no shortage of reasons why.
Most of us just love to make broad, sweeping generalizations from a single data point. We commonly mistake luck and coincidence for cause and effect. You know, just because you ran the table after taking three shots of tequila, that doesn’t mean you shoot pool better when you’re drunk.
And you’ve got to admit, we often believe what we want to believe, even if it’s just blind faith or rationalizing why things didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped.
Only one thing’s for sure: myths are stubbornly persistent because we keep them alive. Here are five business myths that live on for no rational reason. They’re not just annoying; they’re misleading and potentially damaging to your career.
Myth #1: It’s not what you know but who you know.
What may be sage advice on the importance of networking has long been misinterpreted to mean that only the privileged few get ahead because they have connections.
The truth is that knowledge, skill and experience are at least as important as getting out and meeting people. And for every success story, like Snapchat’s 23-year old co-founder and chief executive Evan Spiegel – who indeed had connections – there are dozens like Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and yours truly who started with nothing.
And these days, it’s actually far easier to make connections and network than it’s ever been, thanks to social networks and our entrepreneurial culture. Just remember: one real connection with a real human being in the real world is worth 1,000 virtual Twitter followers.
Myth #2: The boss is always right.
This is a tricky one. Indeed, if you decide to go head to head with your boss – who happens to have low self-confidence or a chip on his shoulder – you may very well find yourself publicly chastised or out looking for another job. Sad but true.
That said, competent executives, effective managers, and successful business leaders know how critical it is to hire the smartest, most talented people they can find and encourage them to speak their minds. Yes, they even listen.
Yes-men who tell their bosses what they think they want to hear and sugarcoat the truth to gain favor only get ahead in dysfunctional and bureaucratic organizations that are generally going nowhere.
Myth #3: Nice guys finish last.
Sure, if you’re a pushover, a doormat, someone who needs to please everyone to feel good about yourself, or an incurable optimist with hopes and dreams that aren’t remotely grounded in reality, you’re probably not going to get to the top of the heap.
But all things being equal, you’re better off being a genuine, good person who respects those who deserve it and is tough on those who don’t. You can be professional and competitive and still be nice to people. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Also, humor and humility are perhaps the most underrated leadership traits.
Myth #4: You don’t have to work hard if you work smart.
In spite of all the popular feel good fluff you read these days, the truth is, to be really successful in this world, it helps to work smart but you have to work hard. With rare exception, there’s simply no substitute for a strong work ethic and hard work.
Every time I bring up the myth of the four-hour workweek, I hear from hoards of Tim Ferriss followers. What they don’t get is that he’s successful because people buy his books and attend his speeches in search of a shortcut that doesn’t exist.
Myth #5: It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.
It is true that business is about business, and it’s definitely not all fun and games. That said, your absolute best chance of making it in this world is to find your passion, what you love to do, and do that for a living. Granted, it helps if you’re genuinely good at it. Being delusional is never a good thing.
Look at it this way: If you dread getting up in the morning because you’re doing what you think you’re supposed to be doing, you’re just going to end up bitter and miserable.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Related: Focus on Passion, Not Labels
Steve Tobak is management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive of the high-tech industry. As managing partner of Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, he's been a trusted strategic advisor to executives and business leaders for more than a decade. Contact Tobak.