Advice for Achieving Your Career Goals (and Why It’s Often Wrong)
If you read any work-related blog or website, you will likely find numerous articles offering advice on how to successfully achieve your career goals. After a while, much of the advice starts to sound the same because, well, much of it is the same. As long as you have the tenacity of a used car salesman, the positivity of Tony Robbins, and unlimited time and resources, the world is yours.
In reality, careers are as unique as the individuals to whom they belong, which is why career advice is never “one size fits all.” Though clearly well-intentioned, life throws curve balls, and the advice that should be easily followed may come at the wrong time, may not be applicable to the reader, or may only include half the story.
Let’s look at a few pieces of standard career advice, then examine their counterpoints that just might render them invalid.
What’s standing between you and the career of your dreams? Only your willingness to pursue it! There’s no time like the present. Start by listing your goals, then work toward them each day. Don’t have time? Wake up a half-hour earlier. Stay up a half hour later. Make time. Then evaluate your progress at the end of each week. We make our own career opportunities. Don’t wait until tomorrow to make yours.
Counterpoint: Everyone’s situation is different. Some thrive on minimal sleep, while others require a full eight hours to function. Some have plenty of free time, while others have family and personal responsibilities that require round-the-clock attention. Some attend college right out of high school, while others struggle to complete one class while working full-time. There are a number of reasons why now may not be the ideal time to pursue a new career, even if you want to. Consider your options, as well as your current situation and responsibilities. If pursuing the goals that a new career requires will make your life a living hell, it may be best to postpone it until you have more time to invest without detracting from your quality of life.
Never Give Up
Success doesn’t come overnight. Often, it takes years to achieve your goals. But this is no reason to get discouraged. You have to keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t expect too much too soon. Just keep pushing. Good things come to those who wait, and when you finally achieve your goals, success will be that much sweeter.
Counterpoint: Not every goal is achievable, regardless of what motivational posters and self-help books would like you to believe. To achieve big goals, you must first create a plan consisting of small, achievable goals. If months or years go by and you still haven’t made any progress on even the smallest goals, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your larger goals, assess whether they’re realistic, and choose ones that are more aligned with your skills and abilities. There’s a difference between giving up and readjusting your sights, and sometimes the latter is necessary to achieve success.
Don’t Fear Change
You should never get too comfortable in your current role. If you do, it’s time to make a change. Comfort leads to complacency, and complacency is the enemy of progress. Don’t be afraid to change jobs, change companies, start a new business, or take a leap of faith. If these things scare you, you’re closing yourself off to new opportunities and ideas. In order to win big, you must bet big, and without risk, there can be no reward.
Counterpoint: Sometimes, there’s a reason to avoid change. While it’s true that achieving great success often comes with risk, stories of failure and bankruptcy aren’t the ones people remember fondly. Major changes involving your career should be weighed carefully, taking into consideration how they will affect your finances, benefits, and job security if they don’t work out the way you hope. Ever since the Great Resignation normalized quitting and job hopping, serial optimists and armchair quarterbacks love to advocate for frequent change in pursuit of career goals. But just ask the decision makers behind New Coke and JCPenney’s coupon fiasco – sometimes the best change is no change.
If you strive for perfection, don’t. You’ll never achieve it, and always trying to be perfect will cause you to second-guess yourself, miss deadlines, and ultimately prevent you from creating your best work. After all, you learn just as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes, and if you never allow yourself to make any, it prevents progress. Don’t be afraid to fail, then make the necessary corrections next time.
Counterpoint: Though perfection may be unattainable, readiness and preparation are of paramount importance. Failing to prepare thoroughly could result in mistakes that damage your credibility and make you look unprofessional. This applies to work projects, presentations, resumes, job applications, or anything else that may affect your career or professional reputation. Remember, software isn’t useful if it’s full of bugs, authors aren’t respected if their writing is full of typos, and planes aren’t flightworthy if their designers and mechanics aren’t, well, perfectionists.
There are two types of career advice. The dos and don’ts of job searching are universal. Customize your resume for each position, research the company before interviewing, network with others in your industry, etc. But when it comes to achieving career goals, advice often falls into a gray area. Why? Because everyone’s goals are different, and those with similar goals have different backgrounds and experiences. This is why it’s important to distinguish between the advice that is and isn’t applicable to your goals and personal situation. You can still learn valuable lessons even from the advice that doesn’t apply. However, every point has a counterpoint, and those whose goals intersect with these lessons will find the most success.