Follow Your Dreams and Other Terrible Career Advice

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the following career advice.

“Follow your dreams.”

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

“Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.”

OK, hands down.

Now raise your hand if this advice has actually helped you make an important decision related to your career.

No one? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

It’s time to end the ubiquity of these platitudes. These cliche sayings do not constitute meaningful advice. In fact, they usually come from those who seem to have won the career lottery.

These same people tell a good story about their view from the rearview mirror, rather than the story of yet to be imagined dreams.

The Truth about Managing Your Career

As you’ve noticed, managing your career is a mighty project, one that requires mighty big shoulders, and one that is filled with complexity and nuance. Career ideation and career development are not usually required reading in high school or college.

Learning what the right steps are in the course of your professional life is more of a “trial by fire” experience, one that often startles you through a series of tests. One that defines your true character along the way.

There is no syllabus. Insider career advice is scarce. There are no cliff notes.

There is only that anxious moment near the top of the roller coaster when you hear the clicking and clanking of the chains, and you determine, suddenly, if you are a screamer with hands held high to heighten the exhilarating drop, or if you instead close your eyes and hold your breath.

The only way to survive in the test of our career choices is to fully absorb these moments of certain uncertainty. This is truly what it means to embrace an agile careerist mindset.

Looking Back to Childhood

When we’re young, we are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The ideas about what we might be when we grow up are buried in a tireless mind reel that plays more clearly between the ages of five and ten. In adulthood, all bets are off.

Think back on that inventive time in your life. What do you remember? Your career choices were quite simple: fireman, dancer, doctor, world traveler, artist, or pilot. Not too many five-year olds choose lawyer or accountant. Yet somewhere between ten years old and college age, an abundant number of young adults choose the pragmatic professional route that assures some accumulation of wealth.

Career Advice: Jump in, and Figure it out Later

During my research for the Agile Careerist Project, I posed the question “Did you ever imagine what your day-to-day work environment would be like prior to your work life?”

Your work experience counts and leads to your career choicesI was surprised when 85% of the people said “no.” They simply jumped in and figured it out later.

Because experience is a necessary part of defining dreams for our life’s work, jumping in with the intent to learn is precisely what is needed. According to Tina Seelig, Stanford professor, and author on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity, many people probe internally for something that is not there. Rather than looking deep inside yourself, she states in her blog,

Actions lead to our passions, not the other way around. Passion is not innate, but grows from your experiences.” Tina Seelig

The same holds true for picking college majors. Until you accumulate a body of knowledge through experience, it’s difficult to know what you don’t know. You’ve got to collect enough data points, first.

Diving in leads to immersion and first-hand experience. Our brains are ripe with creativity once we are able to compare and contrast experiences. Serendipity and unexpected connections are what construct the foundation for innovative thinking and evaluation.

We begin to respond to questions such as “Do I like this job, or the one in the next department?”

This creative experimentation prompts choices we may have never considered, especially if we are just following the blind lead of those who advise us, “follow your dreams,” rather than “jump in and figure it out later.”

If you are interested in the future of work, career development, the workplace, personal branding, workforce trends/ideas, agility, or how to cultivate happy profitable employees, subscribe to Marti’s 52 Ideas. For more details on career agility, check it out here.


Marti Konstant
Marti Konstant is a workplace futurist with an agile mindset. She is a career growth analyst, author, speaker, personal brand architect, and founder of the Agile Careerist Project™. What started out as a quest to fine-tune her evolving career sparked a research project, a book, and workshops, where future of work and career agility are central themes.

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