Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Ask anyone about your haircut, and they might shrug and say it looks “fine.” But ask for career advice? You’re likely to get an earful of trite sayings, blanket, sweeping statements and outdated, traditional work tactics that won’t serve you well if you’re trying to advance.
While executive advisors can definitely cater to your specific industry and goals, life coaches offer a varied perspective. Because their purpose is to analyze your whole life — not just your 9-to-5 routine — they offer a more holistic viewpoint. They often motivate their clients to look past the stale beliefs they’ve maintained over decades, leftover from parents and early mentors, to accept what really speaks to their souls.
Here, they share the worst pieces of career advice they’ve heard and offer better suggestions.
Bad advice: “Stay at a job you hate”
While, sure, everyone needs a paycheck to maintain their lifestyle, when money is the only motivation behind your work, it might feel uninspiring.
Life coach John Moore explains that when employees look at their job as a means to an end, instead of a place where their creativity, talents, and happiness can flourish, the feeling of being “stuck” become inevitable. He said this mindset is “Puritan” and capitalizes on the idea that work isn’t supposed to be fun.
Good advice: “Seek a job that gives you more”
Would you settle for a partner who was there for you only 50% of the time? Or one that requires your attention constantly, without giving you anything in return? Probably not — so why accept the same treatment from your employer?
“Being in a job you hate, or that you’re disengaged with, is taxing on your mind and body,” Moore said. “There’s no way you can do your best work and you’re on a non-stop train to Burnout Town. Have a conversation with your employer and be honest, you’re unhappy and you feel like you’re not able to serve the company like you’d expect. You can end things on good terms, or maybe change them, and take away lessons learned.”
Bad advice: “You can only succeed if you’re perfect”
For life coach Elaine Cohen, the worst advice she’s ever received was directed toward her, from another coach. Instead of being encouraging of her budding career, this particular “mentor” was demeaning and preyed on an insecurity that nearly everyone shares: the quest to be perfect, but falling short.
“An experienced coach told that I wouldn’t be able to be one unless I resolved all of my small and large problems first,” she said. “This included marriage, parenting, time management, health, wealth, spirituality, parents, home organization and more. The point being, I could only do this job if I was perfect — or close to it.”
Good advice: “Accept your imperfections”
There’s a reason “strengths and weaknesses” are a point of discussion in nearly every single job interview you’ll ever have: knowing what you’re great at, and what you struggle with, represents a deep self-awareness.
“I know that accepting forms of imperfection is a huge part of life, and likewise the desire for perfection is not my goal or the goal,” Cohen said. “My job is to ignite curiosity and behavioral shifts that support a client’s personal discovery, new perspectives and learnings. The challenges we face and imperfections we have are our greatest lessons, offering us the opportunity to grow, gain wisdom and compassion.”
Bad advice: “Just pick a job that pays well”
Ever meet a new pal when you were in college who happily shared their passion for writing or music, only to reveal they were studying business because their parents wanted them to be set up for success? Unfortunately, many people never outgrow that way of thinking, according to women’s life and success coach, Alionka, Polanco.
She said many people still subscribe to the linear path of: “Just do something that pays a lot of money, you can have fun on the weekends and when you retire.” This is a self-limiting way of thinking because working and fulfillment aren’t mutually exclusive, she said.
Good advice: “Imagine yourself retiring”
This doesn’t mean you should race full-speed to the finish line, but rather, when developing your career path, challenge yourself to dream about your legacy, Polanco said.
“What are you known for? What was your career about? What does your income look like? What does your home life look like? What’s the impact you’ve had in the world?,” she said. “Once you’ve established your hopes, find an example of someone who has achieved what you want to do, and look at what they were doing when they were your age. Start there. Success leaves clues if we’re willing to look for them!”
Bad advice: “Just work hard, be patient, and it will all work itself out”
When you belt it out like Moana and think about how far you’ll go — to that corner office or the seaside co-working space that’s a dream come true — you might rely on the universe to guide you. Life coach Meiyoko Taylor said while it’s a nice idea, those who are truly successful put a tremendous amount of effort into every step to the top of the ladder and aren’t exactly patient about their ascent. That work isn’t just logging hours; it also involves networking, advancing education, and more.
“This approach never works because it creates the illusion that opportunity or good fortune is just going to fall right in your lap,” she said. “Working hard does not guarantee that you will advance in your career. In fact, I know many people that work incredibly hard and are unhappy because their careers have not progressed to the level of success they desire. They really get stuck with the idea that things are going to change on their own one day.”
Good advice: “You’re never too senior to network”
Even if you’ve reached the c-level, staying connected to your peers and potential employers should always fall high on your priorities.
“Your advancement in any profession is based on building a strong network of influencers in your industry, gaining the necessary skills needed to perform at the highest level, and then taking action which will then create opportunity,” Taylor said. “Become the expert in your field, build key relationships with centers of influence, and look for the opportunity that will take your career to the next level. This places you in a much better position to see consistent progress in your career and to ultimately become the leader in your industry.”
Bad advice: “Quit your job and follow your passion”
Globe-trotting in search of adventures and stories, all while earning an income, is a tempting fantasy. So is the thought of opening your own coffee shop by the ocean and writing the next best-seller.
But without the hard work to pull these dreams off, letting go of your stable 9-to-5 job is a poor choice, life coach Gabrielle Loehr said. Unfortunately, she said, “not everyone’s passion can turn into a paying job and your bills are not going to pay themselves.”
Good advice: “Get a side hustle”
Working long past your full-time gig might feel overwhelming, but to really test the waters of your passion, a side hustle will prepare you for the reality of letting go of your comfort zone.
“Side hustles genuinely give you an opportunity to follow your passion by figuring out what works in the market and what doesn’t, without risking your ability to pay your bills,” Loehr said. “Having a job while working on your passion on the side also gives you stability in other ways through job benefits, such as vacation time, 401K’s, and health insurance. Losing that safety net can be rough, and approaching your passion as a side hustle gives you the opportunity to work out the kinks and really focus your product or service without the desperation that comes with needing to make money ASAP.”
Bad advice: “Fake it until you make it”
Some anxiety-invoking moments in life require a little bit of fibbing before you get used to them. But when it comes to your career, faking anything is a no-no, life coach Tim Toterh said.
“It seems like an optimistic, forward-thinking personal branding strategy, but most people can see the see past the posturing,” he said. “It takes a lot of emotional energy to don a false persona day after day. Plus, you run the risk of being called out for your lack of skills.”
Good advice: “Learn it, earn it”
Instead of trying to raise through the roles you want to have as quickly as possible, Toterh encourages clients to strive for authenticity and congruency.
“Try to have little to no gap between who you are when ‘on stage’ at work and those moments when no one is watching,” he said. “People gravitate toward transparency and are inspired by truth so save the stress and let them see your actual skill set as it continuously develops and your style.”