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Unpopular Opinion: What’s the Worst Career Advice You’ve Ever Gotten?

So take everything with a grain of salt, always.

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BY Pauline Mendoza - 22 May 2018

career advice

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Unsolicited or not, people give and get advice on almost everything — love, career, and even what to wear to the next party.

“[W]hen you're starting or building a company [or a career], there are plenty of spectators who come forth and let you know what they think about your business model, your potential market, your product, or even your product leader,” writes entrepreneur David Olk in this Inc. article.

Olk says that there are too many people who think it’s their role to comment on whether a person’s business or career is going to work. “I've always appreciated my business school classmates who would wax poetic about whether my last company was going to work — even though we already raised $30m of capital and had 200 employees with revenue growing 4x every year,” he shares.

Aside from colleagues, the Internet provides an almost unlimited supply of books, podcasts, blogs, and articles that tell people how to have a great career. It’s as if success can be laid out in a formula. Nevertheless, stories on how people have built successful careers will always be a good story to tell — just remember not to always take things to heart because each person has a unique path in life, after all. Here are some of the seemingly good pieces of advice that turned out to be the worst.


1. Follow your passion and the rest will follow

Christine Cabigao, a marketing associate at start-up accelerator Endeavor Philippines, shares that as a young professional, she is often advised to “follow her passion and the rest will follow.” But she discovered that it could be dangerous if understood incorrectly as the be-all-and-end-all.

“Sometimes, passions should remain a side hustle because they won't necessarily lead to a sustainable career,” she says.

To reach one’s full potential, she learned that it’s important to do this instead: Follow your purpose.

“Purpose is more about people we want to impact and causes we want to serve rather than about ourselves. If you plan around your purpose and persevere, an enduring and fulfilling career will follow,” she points out.


2. Follow pre-existing protocols: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

“I know that quote is typically used for behavior advice for when one is abroad, but I've heard it in the workplace, and I find that it's the kiss of death in any company,” shares Francis Bautista, CEO at artificial intelligence consultancy Indigo Research.

“I've seen multiple companies try to ‘pivot’ or transform digitally, but they still try to work by following established rules and traditions. This doesn't create a very healthy environment and it discourages new ideas from coming up. It effectively kills the glorified innovative drive that many companies go for,” Bautista adds.

He emphasizes that it's always best to come into any situation with a healthy level of caution and curiosity: “What's always been done isn't always the best way to do things.”


3. Aim for promotion

“I realized I was climbing the wrong ladder,” says Vikram Bharati, founder of entrepreneur-focused hotel Tribe Theory.

Before he founded his business, he was advised to work on a career path that looks good on a resume. Instead, he did what he really wanted to do: travel. For two years, he went backpacking and traveled to over 50 countries, which lead to the inspiration of his entrepreneurial endeavors today.


4. “There’s no money in…”

For Jenny de Vera, a music teacher and a professional musician, the worst advice she got was when someone told her that “there’s no money in music.” Being a full-time musician, she confidently says that there is, especially if you mix business with doing what one loves.

“The most successful musicians I have observed are good business people who can sell their music as a product — doing marketing, setting up merchandise stores, networking, and the like. And they’re not necessarily the most talented,” she shares.

People in the creative side of business can relate as some shy away from the creative economy because of the same reason: the “there’s no money in insert-whatever-creative-industry-here” type of advice.

At the end of the day, no matter what advice people give and get, it’s really up to the individual how to make things work.

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