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.