5 Pieces of Good Advice That Prevent You From Being Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy (Which Ones Are You Following?)

Download PDF

There is a lot of bad advice out there … the only problem is that we think it’s good advice.

In many cases, following common pieces of advice results in invisible mistakes — a misstep or a wrong approach that we repeat again and again because we actually believe it is right.

And it’s not your fault either.

When society tells you the same thing in many different places, it’s only natural to believe that it’s the right thing to do. Before you know it, these ideas are driving your path in life … even though you never really chose that path in the first place.

But just because that’s the way it is, doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be.

Here’s how you can prevent good advice from ruining your life.

1. “Follow your passion.”

Follow your passion is worn out advice.

It’s easy to give and hard to argue with, so when you ask most people what you should do with your life they say, “Do what you love.”

The problem comes in when things go wrong. It’s easy for us to think that if the journey becomes difficult, then we’re not following the “right” passion.

It’s easy to question yourself. “Am I really living my best life?” And it’s even easier to jump ship and chase a new passion. (“This is what I really wanted to do all along.”)

Here’s the truth: following your passion isn’t the best way to live a life you love.

My friend Cal Newport says it best, “There is no one best life. There are probably many lifestyles where you would be equally happy.”

The trick, according to Cal, is not to start with passion, but with skills. Develop your skills and become good enough at a task so that you are valuable to the people around you. Then, you can use that value to live life in the way you love.

For example, let’s say you want freedom in your life. Perhaps you’d like to work on your schedule and have the flexibility to watch a movie in the middle of the day if you feel like it.

Well, there are dozens if not hundreds of jobs where you could do that. Find the one that your skills are suited for and become very good at it. When you become valuable enough to your company or your customers (if you’re self-employed), then you can leverage that value to gain more freedom or better hours or whatever your goal might be.

Telling everyone that you’re “following your passion” is lame. Instead, spend your time pouring yourself into a skill and creating value. Then, you can leverage that value to live in whatever way makes you feel passionate.

Related note: Cal has an excellent new book coming out soon on this very topic. You can check it out here.

2. “You need to have a plan.”

The problem with planning is that it’s all most people do.

“I’m thinking about writing a book.”

“I’m planning to start my own business.”

“I’m starting this new diet soon.”

It’s so easy to convince ourselves that we’re making actual progress when all we’re really doing is saying words or writing things down.

It’s not who you say you are, it’s what you do that matters.

And because of that, I believe the best plan is to adjust in real time. You’ll go back and revisit decisions and processes anyway, there is no point in wasting time developing a plan that will change by the time you implement it. Shipping, delivering, and adjusting is what matters.

That’s true in business and it’s true in life. Stop planning and start doing.

3. “Jill made $10,000 doing X, you should too!”

Use X service, promote Y product, or join Z network … and you’ll make money. I mean, hey, it worked for me.

Now, I know you’re smarter than me and you wouldn’t fall for that … but I’m also realistic and I know that every now and then we all jump for the easy way out on something.

Obviously, that’s a mistake and you realize that what you should be doing is putting in the work to become good at a skill that makes you valuable rather than chasing shortcuts. (See point 1 above.)

But there is more to it than that.

The main problem with following other people’s advice (whether it’s about money, relationships, work, or life) is that their advice has their limitations and beliefs built in. And you should never let someone else’s limitations or beliefs determine your life.

This is true whether it’s a company telling you to try their product or system or service. And it’s also true if it’s your best friend trying to convince you to do what worked for them.

4. “Work harder.” (Alternative: “Work smarter.”)

Ask around for advice on how to be successful and this is what you’ll hear people say…

  • You need to develop a better process.
  • You have to be willing to out work the competition.
  • You have to be willing to fail.
  • And 1000 other ideas on working harder or smarter than everyone else.

Here’s the truth: do less and do it well. That’s it.

In the midst of automating workflows and out working the guy next door and pounding the pavement for sales and everything else, it’s easy to forget whether or not the things you are working on are actually important.

The reason most people say “work harder” is because they don’t want to make the difficult decision and say no to things that aren’t really, truly important.

By taking small, simple steps and focusing on things that are truly important, you can become better than you ever imagined.

Do fewer things and do them well. That’s all it takes.

5. “You have to put your time in.”

I hate this one because I know that I’ve given it as advice to multiple friends over the years.

Here’s the deal: the only time people say this to you is when everyone realizes that you’re stuck in a position you don’t really enjoy, but nobody wants to buck up and do the hard work of taking matters into their own hands. It’s just easier to convince yourself that you’re already on the right track and that all you need to do is keep walking.

Here’s the truth: there is no set path to becoming the best you. Nobody can tell you that you just “need to put your time in” because nobody else is you. There is no reason to follow rules that weren’t built with you in mind.

The Biggest Mistake Of All

The biggest mistake of all is trying to live someone else’s dream. If you’re looking for a sure path to less happiness that will get you there faster than anything.

You don’t need permission to do what best for you, to chase a dream, or to live better. You don’t have to wait to be picked, selected, promoted, nominated, chosen, or appointed.

In fact, all you have to do is look at the typical advice, and do the opposite.

38 Responses to 5 Pieces of Good Advice That Prevent You From Being Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy (Which Ones Are You Following?)

  1. Ann Ver Planck says:

    Great “advice” James. I appreciate this reminder that what works for others will not necessarily work for me.

  2. The one that I find annoying is the “need to have a plan” one. For example many young would-be entrepreneurs get discouraged and overwhelmed when they hear their business teachers tell them how they need 30 page business plans, tons of start up money, etc. to start a business when as we know that’s not really true most of the time. We should be encouraging them instead to just get started doing SOMETHING and learn as they go – that’s the best way to do it, I think.


    • James Clear says:

      Thanks for sharing, Thomas.

      An important distinction I could have made is between strategy and planning. I think having a strategy, an overarching vision, a mission that can guide you when things get confusing or difficult is a very good thing. You should know why you are going where you’re going and doing what you’re doing.

      But, I think it’s unnecessary to plan the details. Implement, adjust, repeat.

  3. James,

    Your right about all of these different areas. The planning part is a big area where people fall within. The continually get ready to get ready never passing to the stage of massive action taking and sacrificing everything that they can to get what they really want in that short amount of time that they need it.

    Thanks for writing this comforting rant!

  4. Donna says:

    Excellent advice. Since I have subscribed to Passive Panda everything I have read I have been able to use and make applicable to my life…especially personally. I have become an even better person in a lot of ways and I LOVE it and share. Continued SUCCESS to you and my God continue to bless the works of your hands.



  5. Rob Collins says:

    I disagree with points 1 and 2.

    “Follow your passion” is still excellent advice. Following a passion and learning a skill are not mutually exclusive. I believe it’s best to do both.

    “You need to have a plan” is also still excellent advice. However, you do need to limit how much time you spend planning. Half a day filling out a Project Initiation Document (PID) template is definitely time well spent. But then I agree it’s time to start taking action, even if it’s just baby steps. Learn from your mistakes and iterate, refining the nitty gritty details as you go.

    • James Clear says:

      Fair points, Rob. Your thoughts are always welcome here. Thanks for sharing.

      One note on the “follow your passion” piece… while following your passion and developing a skill are not mutually exclusive, it’s often hard to do both at the same time.

      This is true because you often become passionate about the things you spend the most time on, thus your passion comes as you’re developing the skill. In other words, it’s not something you know beforehand.

      I talk about this more here: http://passivepanda.com/finding-your-passion

      Just food for thought. Thanks for reading.

      • SC says:

        Your reply regarding time and passion is absolutely true for me. I start out thinking that I can do both, but inevitably I wind up putting more into the one that pays my bills and as such the passion always goes to the back burner and I wind up feeling frustrated and “wrong”; i.e. I must not have planned enough, or I must not have enough passion, etc. Ridiculous obstacles put up by the nontrepreneur.

    • Nathan S says:

      I’d like to know more about this PID template. I’m all for learning the bare necessities while avoiding the excesses. Do you recommend a specific source as better then the rest (if there is a “rest of them”)?

  6. Right on!

    Every one of these 5 pieces of flawed “advice” really resonated with me, but I think #4 and #5 are what I hear the most from well-meaning family and friends who don’t get what I’m trying to do with my business. I know they mean well, but they’re of the old school that says that long years of toil and sweat are the only way to achieve business success. If everyone who started a business really believed that, there’d be no start-ups, no advances in technology, no dreamers who are also doers. :)

    At the end of the day, you have to have the confidence to believe in what you’re trying to achieve, and have the faith to know that even if it doesn’t work out, you WILL figure things out and re-group and move on to your “right thing.”

  7. Eva says:

    So true. I’m guilty of doing all of these at some point and feeling overwhelmed and so behind.

    Lately, all I’ve been reminding myself is to enjoy the process and living what I believe in. Life goes by too fast!

    Thanks for writing this James:)

  8. Colleen says:

    Hi James! THANK YOU for the smack upside the head! You are so right about all of these, but the one that hits home for me is number one!!! How I’d love to have the hours and dollars back that I spent trying to “find my passion”! I’m throwing away every book, ebook, course and worksheet that I have on passion finding!!!! And then I’m going to stop “planning” and start doing!!! Sheesh, I could have been an “expert” on something by now if I had been working on my skill set!!!

    • James Clear says:

      You’re not alone, Colleen. I think many people feel that way. It’s easy to chase the idea of following your passion, but developing a skill set is a much better alternative. Good luck!

  9. Jarod Online says:

    I’ve read a lot of articles talking about “less is more,” and with you adding to that thought makes my ways a lot easier to adjust.

    • James Clear says:

      It’s not even that less is more, it’s that less is doable. Pick a small enough chunk that you can create and build successfully and on time … and then move on to the next chunk and do it again. Less allows you to deliver instead of debate, plan, sketch, outline, or revise.

  10. Darren says:

    Great read, I agree sometimes its more about rolling up you sleves, and doing the hard work.

  11. Nathan S says:

    Excellent post and comments – those that agree and those that partially disagree. I don’t know how many years have been wasted because I didn’t have a passion that was believable enough to me for me to go for. If someone had talked sense into my head, I might have done better.

    Instead, I spent well over 10,000 hours in an effort of rehabilitating my “inner child?” (if you will) and I am now doing better. So I don’t mind the course I’ve taken but many people don’t have the time, inclination, or connections to do, want to do, or learn to do, what I have done.

    After so long a time, now I find the “passion” thing empowering but I sure get it that for a long time it was almost certainly disempowering. Great post!

  12. Chris says:

    The last and “biggest mistake of all… trying to live someone else’s dream” is so dead on accurate, James. Most of us are actually trained to be this way from the time we are small. We’re told: Be a good kid. Follow the rules. Get straight A’s in school till you graduate, then go to college and get more A’s, etc.

    We start out life trying to do what others want us to do. Then when we reach adulthood, whether we realize it or not, pleasing others is still imbedded somewhere in our brains. Sometimes we feel like we have to be a certain way or achieve certain goals or live a certain lifestyle to please a spouse, or significant other, or we think we have to keep up with “the Joneses”, or all of the above. Before we know it, we’re miserable and can’t figure out why. It’s because we’ve lost ourselves somewhere along the way. It’s truly sad.

    I love this post and seeing all these pieces of “good advice” exposed for what they really are… myths that usually lead to frustration, or worse. Thanks, James!

  13. After on hiatus for weeks (been checking PP for updates), you hit the nail in the head again, James.

    Got to agree on #2. Executing a non-refined idea, (and improve on it as times goes by) propel you faster than having a plan and planning to execute it flawlessly.

  14. Mike Hensgen says:

    Wow! Hit me right between the eyes with “you need to have a plan.” I’ve been doing this all my life, and while many of my plans for clients, and even some for me have been great and some actually executed, when it comes to my individual goals, analysis and PLANS… I suffer from the classic “paralysis of analysis” and hardly implement anything, certainly not in a timely manner… your piece was a great reminder/incentive to just get off the dime and DO something!!!

  15. Sheila says:

    Thanks for this article! I am so sick of hearing “follow your passion”! You are so right that we get so much wrong advice these days. They’re are so many “gurus” out there all spouting the same stuff. And it is easy to think it’s the way to go because so many “experts” are saying the same thing. This article was so refreshing!

  16. Jack says:

    Fun read… I think what you are saying is “good advice or a truth” can be misused, misapplied, and misinterpreted. People often offer “good advice” at the wrong time or inappropriately which in essence is like offering “bad advice”. Good stuff, thanks.

  17. Kristjan says:

    The “truth” you’re talking about here is just your truth. And every one has their own definition of “right” and “wrong”. It is merely your opinion. I don’t agree with you on 1st and 2nd points. See,I’m a screenwriter.I love what I do,truly. Nobody else forced me to do it.I am skilled at writing as well.When a man does what he really loves, he will do it for free even. I am better skilled in writing than I am in construction work. And because I love writing and do it with joyful heart I earn more money off writing than I would in construction. Just as a singer makes more money off his records than he would working for insurance company.

    Coming to the 2nd point – there is a difference between daydreams and definite plans.I agree that you can’t plan your whole life,not take action,and as a result remain broke. However everything requires at least some type of planning.Even getting dressed and making your coffee in the morning takes planning.

    I’m not saying that your points are all wrong,James.It’s just your opinion and I will not take it as “truth”.

  18. Jen says:

    Great article James!

    Finally hear someone say “follow you passion stuff” is pretty much nonsense. Like mike, planning and planning, and still planning…..analysis paralysis

  19. Sarge says:

    And who would tell that this advice will also be right for me?

    I totally disagree with point#1, following your passion will get you on the right path. Doing the things you love does not seem to feel like work because you are enjoying it as oppose to developing a skill that you really are not happy to have is a major pitfall.

    If you follow advice # 1 you will end up frustrated for the rest of your life because you have not done what you really wanted.

  20. Joyce says:

    Following a passion can sometimes work for someone who has lost their job and is thinking of working for themselves. Having said that, a new business has to have a sound foundation of a practical nature, but it’s surprising how many have made a go of simply doing what they love.

  21. Forest says:

    We absolutely do have to carve our own path in the world and not just follow everything everyone else says. By that same token we need to learn from each other though and sharing knowledge has humanity where it is today (for good and bad).

  22. Paul says:

    This is a good example of why I signed up for your mailing list. I love this article. Unfortunately many people get locked into the semantics of language. No one can ever convey a comprehensive understanding of the intention of their thoughts. Even in the largest volumes written by genius lack details that a writer hopes to convey. Often when people say or write this or that, people get locked in to interpreting the exact meaning of every word which they happen to use. In a short article, which is necessary to hold the interest of today’s Internet audience, one cannot write a disclaimer for every statement to make sure that there is no possibility of misunderstanding. I am convinced that it signifies a lack of intelligence if one cannot grasp the idea behind what is expressed. I can visualize the idea behind each article point and they are all very legitimate and all contain profound truth. Furthermore, the main point is that many people are giving bad advice and that idea expresses a resounding truth.

    Here – Here – for point #1 I have been telling people this for over a decade, especially to young college students. The fact is that our passions change many times over a life time. We really don’t know what our passion is. It will never stop changing. A good skill, as James points out, leverages the engagement of our passion as we go along discovering ourselves. As for planning, what James is saying is that having a flexible plan can give us freedom to leverage our skills which will enable us to experience our passion. Of course if we can find a way to make good money through the capitalization of our passion, all the better.

    So I want to give it up to James for writing another profound and excellent article that gets right to the point. I can assure you that I will be able to use this information to impress people. (Sorry James for plagiarizing your work, but I will only use this in conversation and not in writing. Actually I do recommend your website and articles to my clients)

    I use so much of what I learn on your website in dealing with my clients. You are helping people and I’m sure that has a place in your passion. Good luck and I hope the best for you.


    • Paul says:

      And yes, planning is good and has a place, but planning more than doing is disproportionate. So please don’t get locked into the semantics of my brief statement, or put words into my mouth (or on the tip of my pen), because it is only a short reply, there is no way for me to comprehensively expound upon the details of my philosophical views.

  23. Richard says:

    I have a feeling I’m going to be commenting on a lot of these but it’s only because I like to give credit where credit is due and I @#($*&@# love number 5. That one ALWAYS drives me crazy and makes me want to throw kittens off of roofs!

  24. Disha Sharma says:

    Hi James,
    I’m very inspire with this Great or valuable Summary. A common of life common people has become totally useless & bore ! I’m well inspire with “don’t need permission to do what best for you, to chase a dream, or to live better” its totally true statement, well said James!!!

  25. Pam says:

    Following your passion is a great advice as long as you have a worthwhile passion. Most people don’t have a passion that will make them money and that is a huge problem.


  26. Renee says:

    Cal Newport is a genius! I really hate to hear follow your passion or do what you love. That’s all well and good but most times not very practical. Sure it’s great if you can do what you love and make a living at it but not everyone loves to be what they become however it may still be enjoyable and what you love comes on the weekend!

Leave a Reply