A lot of people have given me advice over the years. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s not. Most of the “bad” advice I’ve been given was very well-intentioned and I don’t hold it against the people who gave the advice, but I think it’s interesting to reflect on why this advice was “wrong” for me.
So here it is: some of the worst career advice I was ever given.
- “Be a teacher.” One of my college advisers told me that he thought I’d be a good teacher. And I was, for awhile – I taught English in Japan for a year on the JET Program. However, I knew, even at the time that he gave me this advice, that I wasn’t cut out to be a “real” teacher for the long-term. By the end of 12 years of school and 4 years of college, I was pretty much done with academia. I wanted a new arena to compete in. And I had certain ambitions that I didn’t think could be fulfilled by teaching – maybe that sounds sad, but it’s true.I have a lot of respect for good teachers, and I know that education is one of the most important things that we as a society can invest in for our future, but I don’t want to be the one in the classroom all day. I’m too impatient. I couldn’t put up with all the crap that teachers have to put up with – not from the kids, but from the other adults.
- “There’s nothing out there.” One of my other college advisers said that there are no good jobs out there and nothing in “the real world” could ever be as fulfilling as being in school or working at a university. And it’s true for him – he’s a great adviser and faculty member, and he loves what he does. But as for me, I’ve found that there are plenty of good things to do out in the world beyond college. And with the new world of online entrepreneurship, it’s easier than ever to create a job that suits your interests and talents and passions. (Not “easy” as in, “the money just rolls in” – you still have to put in the time and effort – but it’s easier than ever before to get connected to customers and advocates and fans and people who can help you.)
- “Don’t go to Japan without a solid game plan for what kind of job you’ll have when you get back – it would be disastrous.” One of my professors said that if I didn’t have a good idea of what kind of job I wanted to do when I got back from Japan, I might end up floundering in long-term unemployment. It didn’t work out that way. I wound up getting a job as a speechwriter for the Governor of Iowa – and at the time I went to Japan, I had no idea that I would ever get a job like that. Planning is good, but sometimes opportunities arise where you least expect.
- “You can’t make any money as a writer.” This person was skeptical of my plans to be a professional writer. Well, I make between $50 and $100 an hour on Elance, so that’s not too shabby. It’s a lot more than I’ve ever made sitting in a cubicle, and the work is a lot more fun, and I have complete freedom for how and when I do the work. No matter what you want to do in life, there are always people who will tell you that it’s impossible. Don’t listen to them.
Sometimes when people give advice, the advice they’re giving is more about them than it is about you. We are all influenced by our own experiences, perceptions and biases – it’s hard to give advice that is uncolored by our own hard-won life lessons.
I’ve decided to stop asking for advice about my freelance business. Instead I’m spending my time meeting new clients and doing the work.
Besides, in the time that it takes to set up a networking meeting with a prospective career mentor, I can bid on 100 projects from people who are looking to hire freelancers right now.