Weekend Assignment #217 – Career Day

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you’d like to join in, you’ve still got some time. Karen says: Don’t worry if you don’t get your entry in by the end of the weekend. It’s called the Weekend Assignment because John Scalzi originally designed it to give folks something to write on weekends, but times have changed since then. Now the meme is launched on Thursday nights / Friday mornings, just a little later than Scalzi used to post it, and you have a whole week to respond. Still, I for one am grateful if you don’t all wait until the last minute!

Weekend Assignment #217: What’s the best piece of career advice you were ever given?

Extra Credit: What’s the worst piece of career advice you were ever given?

I really can’t recall getting any particular career advice, good or bad. One of my personal quirks – good or bad – is that I don’t often ask for (or give) advice in general. (However, I have been known to give career advice to my kid every now and then.)

If I’m looking for input and information in order to make a decision, I’ll look things up, I’ll read, and I may ask for opinions. But let me be clear that it’s an opinion I’m interested in; if you’re one of those people who thinks that just because you told me what you think I should do, that’s what I’m supposed to do (you know the kind of person I mean, I’m sure), you may be disappointed. You may give me your advice or opinion without my having asked for it, either; that’s fine, but if I didn’t solicit it I may not really take in your message. Please don’t be offended by that – I just may not be ready to hear it at that time.

Then again, maybe if I asked for – and paid attention to – advice more often, I might have made some different choices in my life. At the very least, I might remember where I’d heard a few things, so I could give proper credit for them.

I think the best career advice I’ve heard is along the lines of “Your life can’t be just about your job.”

The worst advice probably goes back a long way – it was to major in something practical in college. Now, I don’t dispute the value of that; assuming that one expects to support oneself financially, it’s important to have marketable skills. However, I chose a major that led to a specific career field mostly because I was reasonably sure I could find a job in it anywhere. I wasn’t wrong about that; I’ve been steadily employed, other than relatively short between-jobs periods, for over 20 years, and have developed a comfortable niche. But I chose a field that I didn’t necessarily have natural aptitude for (for the record, my verbal SAT scores were much better than my math ones), let alone any particular passion. (Passion for accounting? That actually makes me a little nervous to think about…) I think I could have benefited from a much broader perspective on the whole thing rather than a specific degree-to-profession path. I know some technically-inclined types for whom it worked out fine. I also know other people who studied what they liked and have created good careers for themselves – the “do what you love, the money will follow” approach, I guess.

I think I’m the second type of person, but I’ve tried to be the first one. Maybe I should have gotten different advice. I do read a few career blogs, though…it’s not too late to learn something.

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  1. I make career decisions in much the same way you discuss here. I seek out information and opinions and take it from there.

    I remember once confiding in a supervisor that I did not like confrontation and worried that it would get in the way of my being a good supervisor (which I was aspiring to be at the time). He told me that if I am prepared, have my facts lined up and approach a situation calmly and not let myself make a situation personal I will be fine. Something like that anyway.

    As for the worst advice . . . My father once told me I should consider a different line of work when I first told him what I wanted to do with my life. He told me that he didn’t think I could handle it. He wasn’t being mean about it–just worried, I think. He thought I was sheltered, which is actually quite ironic considering my childhood, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I’m not sure that counts as advice–I took it as an opinion. If anything, it spurred me on to prove him wrong. I have a tendency to do that when people tell me I can’t do something. 🙂

    The supervisor who gave me advice about confrontation told me years later that when he first met me, he worried that I wasn’t suited for the position I was in. He thought maybe I was too quiet and “nice”. He said he had been wrong. Assertiveness comes in many different flavors and mine was much less aggressive than many of those who had been in my position before. I had a different, quieter approach, but it worked well for me and I got results. I owe a lot to him for giving me a chance and not holding me back the way he might have.

    I do think you make a good point about limiting your options based on what is most practical. I was raised with that way of thinking and still have moments where I fall into that mode.

  2. This is all very interesting, both in the parallels between us and in the path not taken. 740 verbal, 670 math here. I’m the one who majored in the stuff I was interested in, and had no clue what the school of business was even for. I ended up not even graduating, and had a series of jobs for $4.00 an hour or less until I co-owned a record store, where I made about $5 a day. I’m not sure there is a single good answer, unless your passion actually is in something marketable.

  3. Literary Feline – I know what you mean about disliking confrontation and thinking that it could be problematic as a supervisor; I’m much the same, and it continues to be one of my biggest challenges as a manager. I think your supervisor advised you well on that topic, but in my experience, that “quieter” approach to supervision seems to work best when your employees are receptive and not prone to getting defensive.

    KFB – I’m not sure there’s a single good answer either, and that whole idea of non-marketable passions is why I took the route I did. However, I married a guy (second time around) who actually has made a living with a BFA in Illustration, and that’s made me think about things a little differently.

  4. When I went back to school I took the study what you like approach. It has worked so far, though some luck was involved too.

  5. Mike – I think some luck is almost always involved; I don’t believe anyone has such complete control over their own path that luck isn’t a factor somehow. But I have no desire to go back to school :-).

  6. It’s never too late to learn something.

    When you find your passion, you generally know because you care enough to forge you way through it in your non-copious spare time.

    In a way, it can also give you hope or at least a nice contrast to work.

    I like my job, which is awesome, except that for a while I made my job my life, which is the dark side of passion. When the bumps hit (nothing is smooth all the time), they hit hard.

    Thus I learned to cultivate another passion (writing/blogging). Of course, I like both my job and my hobby, which for me means I don’t have enough creative juice to run both at 100%, so the hobby suffers.

    I think you’re still in a good position. You have the luxury to think about these things; it’s a good sign. 🙂 And you won’t have to spend all your passion at work.

  7. Arachne Jericho – “Thus I learned to cultivate another passion (writing/blogging). Of course, I like both my job and my hobby, which for me means I don’t have enough creative juice to run both at 100%, so the hobby suffers.”

    I’m in a similar place in some ways, and it’s true that you can’t run 100% in more than one place at a time – but in my case, I think it’s the job that’s suffering. Maybe that’s telling me something…?