The Single Best Piece of Career Advice that Nobody Teaches You
I sat down with a fresh-faced MBA candidate intern this afternoon, at my office job deep in the heart of corporate America. It’s not uncommon for the leaders — or, middle managers, at least — of tomorrow to request 30 minutes of face time with “senior” “professionals” to “pick their brain,” and I often try to make myself available to shape the way these kids (can I say kids? are 22 year-olds “kids”?) … ahem, young adults see themselves and their greater role in society for the next few decades. Or, at least for the afternoon.
He asked me your garden-variety “brain picking” questions, like “what do you do?” “How does what you do impact the business?” “Where do you see your career in five years?” etc. I entertained them all, but I really wanted to know what drove this young man. I wanted to know why he chose his field of study, his career path, and this company. His answers were as dull as a rusty spoon.
“I like marketing.” “This seems like a great place to grow my career.” Etc. Etc. The platitudes you’ve all heard before by someone who’s started to die a little inside and doesn’t know it yet. I’m going to make navigating a career as simple as possible for you, but first, I am going to make two assumptions.
If you’re reading this, you’re not destitute. (Although, even if you’re destitute, you can still follow this career advice, as I did — detailed here.)
You’re not already fulfilled in your current gig.
I make these assumptions because, if you’re destitute, your choices and concerns become more immediate. It’s a lot harder to take a 32,000-ft view of your career when you’re in the weeds of student loan payments stacking up, not knowing where your next meal is, or the specter of sleeping on the streets looming overhead. So, let’s table those scenarios and assume — hopefully! — that you’re not in danger of losing a home, starving or napalming your credit. (It’s 2018 in the US and we don’t have a safety net, so there’s no shame in any of those conditions being true for you. We’re not a tide designed to lift all boats.)
Okay, now that we’ve got that unpleasant business out of the way: Here’s how to find success in your work life.
1. “Do What You Love” isn’t bad advice, it’s just not that good.
I do what I love. I get that a lot of people don’t get to say that. I wake up every morning thrilled to death that I spend eight hours spitting words into a computer and, on occasion, those words get used in global marketing pieces that shape the way people perceive one of the world’s most well-known brands.
But “Do What You Love” has caught a lot of flack lately. Some of that backlash is understandable: it is rare to find a profession that speaks to you on a visceral level. It is hard to love a profession you haven’t yet mastered. It is rare to be well compensated for something you adore. And we’ll tie all those counterpoints together at later moment, but, know this: just doing what you “love” isn’t going far enough, and it’s also a little extra.
2. “Follow the Money” is, in a vacuum, the absolute fucking worst.
Donald Trump seems like a happy, healthy, well-adjusted man, doesn’t he? Sorry, is that answer too politically charged? Okay, then: let’s scale it back and talk about your dime-a-dozen upper management. They’re raking in the mid-six figures. Yet, suicide rates among the elite are higher than the middle class.
There’s boatloads of evidence that point to money being unable to buy you happiness beyond a reasonable cap. That cap is, roughly, $70,000-$75,000 per year in salary. So, if you’re already making that, (as of this writing, some 70% of you are not) then hitting on 17 at the blackjack table won’t get you much closer to an emotional 21.
Think, however, of the unhappy lawyers, c-level executives, bankers, salespeople, doctors, dentists, national news anchors and pop stars. With the exception of pop stars, how many of them pursued a career thinking, “well, if I can just break into this field, I can absolutely crush it.” Don’t be The Wolf of Wall Street. Don’t watch The Wolf of Wall Street 127 times in your studio apartment. (*side-eyes another prominent blogger on this site*) Money is nice, and it’ll change your life, and it changed mine, but it won’t quell your inner demons — it’ll exacerbate them.