Nine pieces of advice you’ll be glad you ignored
It isn’t all ‘downhill from here’ and ‘being yourself’ shouldn't close you off to new experiences
Generally speaking, when people give you life advice, they aren’t trying to steer you wrong.
That doesn’t necessarily mean their tips are helpful.
Over on Quora, more than 100 people have answered the question, “What is one piece of advice you are glad you ignored?” People weighed in with memories of parents encouraging them to stay at soul-sucking jobs and friends telling them money isn’t all-important.
Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most compelling stories.
1. Your 20s are about earning money
Emil Joswin remembers hearing: “Your early twenties [are] the most productive part of your life, so work hard and earn as much money as possible.”
“I followed this advice pretty well except for the last part — ‘making money.’ Never work hard for making money, especially in your early twenties. Instead it is the best time to explore, read, meet people, take risks, gain perspectives about the way [the] world and the people in it function. ...
“There could be constraints like paying off debts, looking after the family, etc. which is fine. But make sure ... what you do is not just for the sake of making money.”
Indeed, the smartest things to do with your money in your 20s include paying off student debt, enrolling in your company’s 401(k) plan, and setting a budget. They don’t include making tons of money at the expense of your health or happiness.
2. Focus on marriage over career
Sreeta Gorripaty heard people tell her, “You’re a girl! Your career should come only second to your marriage plans.”
She writes: “An undergrad at IITB and a PhD pursuit at UC Berkeley later, I am definitely glad I ignored that piece of advice!”
3. Fake it ‘til you make it
When she was 16, Melisssa Bedinger’s friend told her to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Bedinger says it took her 10 years to stop listening to this piece of advice.
“Ultimately it contributed to a really poor state of mental health, until I realised my life was a shell of what it should and could be.
“Shared vulnerability is one of the most beautiful things about being a human, and projecting a carefully constructed version of who you are and what you do in life gets you nowhere professionally, romantically, or personally.
“In fact, it takes more energy with less reward to fake it than it does to admit your shortcomings, improve yourself, and really ‘level up’ in the pursuit of a meaningful life.”
Bedinger’s insights recall researcher and author Brene Brown’s popular TED Talk on vulnerability. As Brown says in her talk, vulnerability is key to lasting relationships: “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”
In her research, Brown discovered that those who live “whole-heartedly” see vulnerability as a fundamental part of life:
“They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating ... They just talked about it being necessary.”
4. Stay at a job you hate
Multiple Quora users said they were advised to remain in a job they didn’t like, for the sake of being traditionally “successful.”
For example, Taneen Jafarkhani was told, “Don’t leave the law firm for at least 2-3 years. It will look bad on your résumé and show lack of commitment.”
“Well, I actually wasn’t committed. Not even a little. Leaving the firm after 6 months was one of the best choices I made for my career. It’s the highlight of my résumé.
“Now I’m the GC of a successful non-profit. I’m happy I took the risk.”
Lauren Ramesbottom tells a similar story. She was growing to resent her job at a bank, and was delighted to receive an offer to become a content manager at a digital marketing agency.
“My [parents’] advice to me was to stay within the big, corporate bank. That was the way to go. That was success. To avert my path now, would be risky and irresponsible and was the millennial way of feeling rash and entitled. They were disappointed in me.”
Ultimately, she decided to take the content-management job: “[L]etting someone talk you into denying yourself of the chance to succeed doing what you love is some of the worst advice you could ever accept.”
5. It’s all downhill from here
Ishan Rana says he heard from everybody: “These are the best years of your life.”
“It’s depressing to hear and makes me think that it’s all downhill for the rest of my life. Am I supposed to accept mediocrity after my 20s? Hell [no]!
”The more I read books and talk to older folks, the more I realise that this is certainly not true. The only thing that is ‘best’ about life is [its] changing nature.”
Interestingly, research suggests that older people are in fact happier than younger folks. That’s possibly because they pay more attention to positive experiences.
6. Be yourself
A few Quora users said they could see a dark side to this common piece of wisdom.
An anonymous user says that they resented hearing: “Never pretend to be someone you’re not.”
“Yes, accepting yourself for who you are is important. Yes, it would be horrible to spend your life in the closet.
“But this piece of advice encourages people to stay in their comfort zone and forgo new experiences. And experiences are what make you who you are.
“My conclusion? Sometimes you have to try being someone else to discover who you are.”
Similarly, J. Paul Roe says he never liked being told, “Be yourself.”
He writes: “I’m not a firm believer in falling back on ‘be yourself’ if it prevents you from improving what ‘yourself’ really is.”
7. Money isn’t everything
Growing up, Joseph Mutie would hear the sentence, “Money is not everything.”
It was, he says, probably the worst piece of advice he was given.
He writes: “Money is not everything but the less you have the more miserable your life will be,” and “Money isn’t everything, but you need money for almost everything.”
Mutie’s remarks point to a broader question: Can money make you happy? The answer: It’s complicated.
Research suggests that, once your income hits about US$75,000 (more like US$83,000 once you adjust for inflation in the years since the study was conducted), your day-to-day emotional well-being — how often you experience joy, sadness, and other emotions — tends to stabilise.
But there doesn’t seem to be a satiation point for overall life evaluation — your thoughts about your life — which keeps going up as you earn more money.
8. You’re too good for that job
Matthew Rothenberg says he was excited about the chance to work for (the now-defunct) MacWEEK magazine, so he took a job as a temp in the mailroom.
“One of my relatives wrote me an impassioned letter asking what I was doing with my life ... How could I waste my talent and college education on a dead-end gig pushing a mail cart? I should quit immediately and find something worthy!
“Fortunately, I didn’t listen. I pushed the cart and chatted with the staff until I got a chance to test for the copy desk (replacing a young John Battelle, who was moving to a job as junior reporter). Nine years later, I was running the newsroom with a team of 15.”
9. Separate your home life from your work life
David A. Lee says, “I am glad that I ignored the one tidbit about separating work and life and the belief that sacrifice and struggling should be avoided in order to have a happy life.”
For him, so-called “work,” in domains such as music, philosophy, physics, and entrepreneurship has always been a pleasure, and a highly meaningful experience.
“I think it is important to experience the struggle of taking on idealistic ambitions, and working hard to fulfil them.
“In fact, I think it’s what we learn from the struggle — be it writing a composition, creating a mathematical theorem, or founding a start-up — that we can find the some of greatest happiness of emerging from the experience and a better, hopefully more enlightened individual.”