Three pieces of career advice I’m glad I didn’t take

Sometimes you have to chart your own course.
Sometimes you have to chart your own course.
Image: REUTERS/Joaquin Sarmiento
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In life, there’s no shortage of advice, especially when it comes to your career. But while family, friends, mentors, and colleagues mean well, sometimes the advice they have to offer won’t teach you what you really need to know.

In my 20-year career working in human resources and now as a chief people officer, I’ve realized that the best opportunities for growth and learning came from the advice I chose not to take. Don’t get me wrong, great wisdom has been passed down to me over the years, but sometimes learning the lessons on my own have molded me along the way. Now, I make sure to share my own pieces of wisdom about finding growth opportunities with colleagues and in programming at my job.

Here are just a few of the tips I happily didn’t follow:

Keep your personal and professional worlds separate

When I was just getting started in my career, a well-intentioned family member told me, “Do not get close to anyone at work.” Instead, I should be an enigma, they advised, keeping my personal life completely separate from my professional life.

However, as I began navigating my career, especially as a single working parent, being able to share the personal struggles I was facing allowed my teammates, and more importantly my managers, to help me balance my responsibilities and aspirations at work with my responsibilities and family life at home. If a work trip conflicted with back-to-school night for my daughter, my manager and I were able to evaluate how essential the travel was and whether one of my teammates could attend in my absence.

This lesson taught me that bringing my whole self to work allowed me the ability to balance both my personal and professional life and show up for both when it’s most important. At the digital personal finance company SoFi, where I’m the chief people officer, one of our eleven core values is “Embrace Diversity.” This is near and dear to my heart because it suggests that all employees can show up to work as their most authentic selves and be able to contribute.

It’s all a numbers game

When flying to an onsite interview with a company, the passenger seated next to me told me, “Unless they offer you $XX, you shouldn’t take the job.” I did end up with an offer below that, but I knew that the culture, the work I would be doing, and the growth potential more than made up for the salary shortfall.

In the end, it’s led me to  roles that challenge me and has allowed me to plot a career that’s based on what matters most to me: how I spend my days and who I spend them with. I very much believe in pay parity and earning your worth. However, sometimes being more openminded pays off. Consider not just the salary you’re being offered but also the growth opportunity that awaits you, the people you’ll be learning with and from, and the mission that you’ll be helping to drive.

Success is linear

Throughout my career I’ve also had well-wishing co-workers and friends offer advice on what success looks like and by what age I should be in position X, or what a specific role or career move will look like on my resume. While I’m not without goals, what I am most proud of is that I’ve plotted a career journey that works for me and is uniquely my own. And that often meant going against their advice.

Success can be found on many different pathways. This is a conversation that I frequently have with my 25-year-old daughter, who is also in the midst of figuring out her career path. Many of the opportunities I’ve been afforded are largely thanks to moves that were made in unconventional ways, and by being willing to speak up.

I’ve found that being transparent with your manager and discussing areas that you’re interested in learning more about, or skills that you’d like to improve, will open the door to opportunities, sometimes ones that you can create for yourself within your organization that may not have even existed previously.

Had I instead listened to the advice I was given, I might have missed out. While I’m glad to have collected so many perspectives over the years, the perspective I’ve developed myself is that sometimes the best tips are the ones you ignore.