Here's Some Good Advice. Don't Listen to Any More Career Advice.
If you spend enough time consuming popular business and career advice, sooner or later, you’re bound to hear both sides of every issue. You’ll have one self-proclaimed expert telling you one thing and another telling you exactly the opposite. It’s got to be confusing, to say the least.
I have a better idea. Instead of listening to all that nonsense, try figuring things out for yourself.
If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to learn to think for yourself and make good decisions based on your own experience, observations and gut feel. Otherwise, you’ll just end up blowing with the prevailing populist winds, and that never ends well.
Related: The Best Career Advice I Didn't Take
Finding a career you’re best suited for is not like fashion. There’s no reward for either following the “in” crowd or being different, just for finding what suits you best. Besides, it’s a pretty big commitment compared to deciding whether to buy straight leg or boot cut jeans. One size advice definitely does not fit all.
Look, nobody ever got anywhere by listening to generic advice. There are only a few big decisions you’ll make in your life and choosing a career is one of them. So let me set you straight on some of the complex nuances and factors that come into play so you can make good decisions that will lead to positive outcomes.
And when I say “you” I do mean the individual “you,” not the collective “you.” As you’ll see, this is designed to help you think for yourself, not to tell you what to do.
Learning to walk.
From the day you’re born, you learn by trial and error. It’s just like learning to walk. When you want to get somewhere or attain something, you take a few steps, fall flat on your face, cry your eyes out, get back up and try again. That simple mechanism is responsible for all learning and experience until the day you call it quits.
Why would you think for a minute that the same process doesn’t apply to your career? And note that there are no books or blogs in that description.
Determining your life’s work -- developing skills, meeting people, building relationships and uncovering opportunities -- is a process of discovery. It’s simple trial and error. You can try to control it by reading terabytes of content if you like, but you’re just wasting your precious time that you should be spending learning to walk.
For love or money?
Not only are goals entirely subjective, they change as you grow and mature. Besides, we’re all driven by different factors. It’s popular to tell people to follow their heart and do what they love. While that's generally good advice, if you love to cook but your food tastes like crap or you open a restaurant in a saturated market, you don’t have to be a genius to know that probably won’t end well.
Love is subjective. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But like it or not, markets don’t behave that way. They’re ruled by supply and demand, not passion. Finding what you love to do is just one part of the equation. You still want to strive to excel at your work and become marketable in an in-demand field.
As much as I despise the way schools are all but breeding out personal accountability and competitive spirit from the species by making every kid feel special, even when they’re not, there is something to be said for each of us being unique.
Think about it. When you consider that everyone has different DNA, widely varying circumstances and years of individual upbringing and experiences, clearly, the choice of how to spend a big chunk of your life has to come down to one person -- you. The very notion that generic advice should influence that is downright ludicrous.
Don’t be ludicrous.
We live in a chaotic world. Everything changes. You change. Markets change. Cultures change. Technology changes. Economies change. From individuals and families to companies and countries, everything is born, goes through all sorts of changes and dies. Nothing is static. Nothing is preordained.
As you go through life you’ll notice that your tolerance for risk changes. That alone has an enormous impact on your goals at any point in time. Besides, what appeals to you today may sound ridiculous tomorrow.
Personal fulfillment is entirely about two things: learning how the world works and understanding yourself. There is no prescription for either.
Everyone knows the saying: If you give a person a fish they’ll eat a meal, but if you teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime. Reading about careers is like eating fish. My advice: learn to fish instead.
As it says in my new book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur: Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can’t do both. The choice is yours.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.