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Four Pieces of Career Advice it's Okay to Ignore

Four Pieces of Career Advice it's Okay to Ignore

At this moment, you can find career advice from anyone and everyone all over the world, whether through professional or social networks, delivered to your inbox in a daily newsletter, or in popular workplace blogs like Ask a Manager.

What a gift! Or is it? As someone who likes to absorb all the information she can possibly get, I spent years trying to heed advice about navigating my fledgling career from these sources. Eventually I realized that my reverence toward advice was keeping me from authentically, fearlessly charting my own path.

While experts and friends may have your best interest in mind, not all guidance should be followed to the letter. Use the list below as inspiration for how you can think differently about traditional career advice.

Ignore: "You must have a 5/10/15 year plan." Try: "How do I want to be in 5/10/15 years?"

I was raised on the idea that the five-year plan is the most effective and efficient way to reach goals. This worked until I began my first full-time job out of college and realized that my next five years would not prove as straightforward as they had been in school.

I was beginning a career that, while fulfilling at the time, would certainly not be my life in two years, let alone five. But I stubbornly clung to that philosophy, re-routing my plan every time I changed positions. Each time, my anxiety rose as I bumped up my "five years" that were supposed to be underway.

My AHA! moment came during a meeting with a friend and career coach. After listening to me speak about my ever-changing plan, she posed this question:

Instead of trying to say ‘what’ or ‘where’ you want to be in five years, can you answer the question, ‘How do I want to be in five years?'

I found I could answer that question easily. By reframing the question, the possibilities of my next five years cracked wide open. I no longer felt limited; I no longer felt the years closing in on me and pressure to pick a career, fast! I knew exactly how and who I wanted to be in five years.

Tracking toward a single five-year goal or outcome did not work for me, but working toward the type of professional I’d like to be in five years is something that fuels me every day. Try it!

[Related: Do You Know Who YOU Are?]

Ignore: "Networking is for job searching or career transitions only." Try: "Build a community of people you can turn to for support at all stages of your career."

When was the last time you successfully delivered an elevator pitch on the spot with a random person who immediately found you a new job? Probably never.

Networking is not a magic wand you can dust off when you’re at your wit's end. The secret sauce of networking is building your network over time through authentic connections and from a place of giving.

By approaching your professional community with the mindset of making true connections to people, not jobs, you will develop a strong, loyal network where what you give and receive are limitless.

Need help getting started? Join an inclusive professional community like Ellevate Network and make networking a regular practice. Set a goal to attend one or two events a month (go easy on yourself and start small), and proactively offer your expertise to other members who want to chat. We all need a bit more connection these days, anyway.

Ignore: "Don’t bring your whole self to work." Try: "Build a safe work environment for all, starting with yourself."

There's a pervasive belief in old school office culture that employees should leave their emotions, problems, and personal identities at home. Although companies are evolving to focus on the happiness of their people and making diversity and inclusion a priority, many employees still report feeling unable to fully "uncover" at work, especially when there's a stigmatized identity at play.

A new mother might not discuss parenthood at work for fear of being seen as distracted or not serious about her career, plus the microaggressions and retaliations that too often occur as a result. Uncovering, a model of D&I pioneered by Kenji Yoshino, argues that employees and their work suffer when they cover stigmatized aspects of their identities to blend into the mainstream.

In reality, covering benefits no one. Employees perform better and have a better sense of commitment to their organization when they feel safe to uncover. Additionally, our uncovering signals to others that they too can uncover. If you are in a leadership position (or not - you never know who's watching!), you can help set an example of bringing your whole self to a healthy, accepting workplace.

[Related: Empathetic Leadership and its Path to the Power Table]

Ignore: "Don’t burn bridges - no exceptions!" Try: "Communicate how you are being negatively impacted and set boundaries."

This idea is also phrased as "be nice to everyone, because you might work for, work with, or need a favor from them in the future." As a result, people feel pressure to stay in a particular industry or at a company where they are unhappy or unfulfilled because it is "the" place to be or "the" person to work for. They will often not voice their needs out of fear that they will rock the boat or face retaliation.

For your own sake, it is best to address problems in the workplace with someone you trust, whether these issues come from a peer or superior. Always be professional, but communicate how you are being negatively impacted and set boundaries. If you work in an environment where you feel stifled, undervalued, or otherwise uncomfortable, it might not be the right one for you.

Trust your gut. Don't let the fear of missing out on a "hot" opportunity make you stay quiet and unhappy. You deserve more.

The bottom line.

Every professional experiences successes and failures, sometimes daily. No one path or plan is or has ever been "the answer." Careers and lives are built one step at a time.

Measure the progress you see in yourself and don’t be afraid to define your own standards of success. That may mean putting some thought into what you value and reminding yourself: I’ve got this, and my community has my back.

[Related: Have a Destination in Mind? Put Your Foot on the Path and Start Walking]

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Jessica Stewart works in account management at FCB Health, where she works with clients and creative teams to explore and produce creative solutions to problems in healthcare. She is also a chapter leader for Ellevate Network New York, where she runs Young Professionals content programming with the goal of creating opportunities for women to authentically connect over topics that matter. She is based out of NYC.

Special thanks to Ellevate Network, April Hamilton, Nikita Ajmera, and Jacqueline Day Lee for the inspiration and education.


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