For most of us, our first experience with career advice comes from one source: our parents. As we go through life, the people who have the most interest in the direction we take with our careers continue to be those who are closest to us, like our significant others, friends, mentors, and professors.
Yet, in my experience as a career coach, I can tell you that the tips (and yes, pressure) that come from loved ones can be terrible career advice, particularly when it comes to that big picture question of: “What should I be doing with my life?”
1. They Project Their Experiences
My mom switched from teaching to accounting about a decade into her professional life. It was a wonderful move for her, and she has had a high level of satisfaction and success with this second career path. Based on this experience, my well-intentioned parents pointed me toward accounting, with the idea that it would also be a great fit for me. (It wasn’t.)
I’ve seen too many people experience something similar: Someone they love keeps pouring on suggestions that have absolutely nothing to do with what they want for their careers.
“Why would you want to go back to work after having kids when you don’t have to?”
“You’ll get bored of that subject matter after a year!”
“Working so many hours always leads to burnout!”
In each case, the guidance had more to do with person providing it than the person receiving it. Just ask that new mom who truly wanted to get back to a job she loved, the social media marketer who still finds the work really compelling, or the individual who thrives on long hours at this point in his career.
The truth is: People are different. Maybe your parent or mentor or would personally hate whatever choice you’re making—but that doesn’t mean you will.
If someone keeps questioning your choice or hammering his or her advice, it’s OK to say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to share your personal experience with me. I’ve carefully considered my options, and I’m really excited about this choice. I’d love to hear more about [change the subject].”
2. They’re Biased Toward “Safe” Career Paths
Most people have a natural desire to protect the people they love. This instinct is highly beneficial around small children, who, if left to their own devices, could walk into traffic without looking or play with matches. But you’re not a small child: You’re an adult who is putting himself or herself out there.
Developing a well-fitting career path often involves putting some skin in the game, being willing to face rejection or failure, making mistakes, and learning along the way. In other words, a great career path will mean getting hurt at times, so that you can learn important lesson. Advice that stems from an attempt to protect you from this natural (and sometimes painful) progression of career development is well-meaning, but ultimately flawed. It can wind up doing more harm than good.
For example, one of my clients was instructed to pursue government work solely on the basis of the perceived stability of the positions. But she was someone who thrived on creativity and wilted at the idea of bureaucracy, so this was not the culture for her.
One way to deal with this kind of advice is to thank your nearest and dearest for caring so deeply, and then remind him or her that no job is 100% safe. Moreover, if you work in a field you really have no interest in, you’re less likely to want to put in the time and effort necessary to advance. Finally, remind him or her that even if you work somewhere that isn’t right for you, you’ll still benefit from the experience.
It’s natural for those closest to us to have opinions about our career decisions. Just remember that at the end of the day it’s your life. You’re the one who actually deals with the consequences and benefits of any given career choice. With that in mind, your opinion is the one that matters most.