8 Pieces of Stupid Career Advice You Should Avoid

Unless you want to burn yourself to the ground by 40

I came across a post on LinkedIn the other day suggesting something so asinine that I almost spit my teeth out. In short, the author suggested eating a 15-minute lunch in order to gain a competitive advantage over co-workers who opted to eat lunch like normal people. He even did the math and suggested a person could gain 29 days of productivity over peers if they adhered to a limited lunch lifestyle.

Of course, the author also suggested that the average person takes a one-hour lunch everyday, and eats said lunch in the leisurely fashion of King Louis XVI before the Bastille.

But it got me thinking: that’s some stupid career advice. It also made me think about Jeff Goins’s post about hustle — not because it’s stupid, but because it’s the kind of advice people need to hear, and we need better voices in our ears when it comes to navigating our careers.

So here’s eight pieces of stupid advice to avoid, unless you want to burn yourself to the ground by your 40th birthday.

  • Treat everything as a competition. Horrible advice, especially when you’re standing next to a guy at the urinal. The truth is most everything you’ll do in your career is actually a team exercise that requires you to work and play well with others. Unless you’re pursuing a career as an artisan hermit who makes necklaces from shells and squirrel claws. Pretty sure those folks work entirely on their own.
  • Recognize that talent always wins. Not true. As the saying goes, Hard work beats talent every time if talent doesn’t work hard. Of course, there are times when neither talent nor hard work wins out, but watches helplessly as the guy with the moral fiber of a Disney villain smarms his way to the top.
  • Treat everyone as a potential connection. This is a half-truth. If you treat everyone as a means to an end, you’ll get nothing. Treat everyone like a living, breathing human being with hopes, dreams, frustrations and interests, and you’ll be surprised at how many of those people are happy to help you along the way.
  • Burn the ships. Horrible advice that probably started out with good intentions. Commitment is key to anything you do (and to doing anything with excellence), but the “burn the ships” mantra is damaging, if only because it’s a metaphor rooted in distrustful leadership — Cortés believed his people were likely to mutiny and wanted to cut off that option. Also, it might not be historically accurate.
  • Give it everything you’ve got. This one has morphed over time. Previously this phrase meant giving maximum effort, but it’s changed to mean sacrificing personal things for professional gains. Giving all you’ve got should never include sacrificing your relationships or health — and it certainly shouldn’t equate to scarfing down a 15-minute lunch in your cubicle like a deranged animal.

(Sorry — can’t quite let that one go.)

  • Look to make a big impact early. Lord have mercy, this piece of advice. The implication is that failure to make a big impact means you’ll be passed over time and time again. The truth is, you might get passed over anyway, big impact or not, especially if you screwed people over to make that impact. There are lots of factors at work in a career, like time and track record, so encouraging people to leave a crater early on is dubious advice. Instead of making an impact, make an impression — be someone with exceptional character and excellent work, and you’ll find that a consistent impact outweighs a big impact every time.
  • Tell ’em what you think. Sure. Do that. It will never end with you packing up your desk and eating Minute Rice while scrolling through Monster. I know the point of this advice is honesty, but honesty doesn’t mean taking the filter off your mouth — it just means sharing what you know is true. Honesty mixed with kindness is a lost art and goes a long way in any corporate culture.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity. Couple of things on this one: first, taking advantage means different things to different people. Some people interpret it as license to bend rules, hurt people, and win at all costs. The rest of us interpret it like normal human beings. Second, not every opportunity is created equal. Some opportunities are great, while some are gateways to revisiting your resume for the 900th time. Learn to recognize which opportunities are worth taking.

Whatever you hope to do in your career, you can never go wrong by treating others with respect, doing your best work, and keeping an eye towards future opportunities that align with your talent and passion. You may not move up the ladder as fast as others, but speed isn’t the issue in your career anyway.

Making it last is what matters.

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