Written by Rebecca Fraser-Thill Career myths stick in the college years like hand-clapping games stick in primary school.
So when my college students drop by my office to talk about "the future" (cue ominous music), the same falsehoods spill out year after year. I certainly can't blame them; I believed these myths myself in my early twenties.
Here's the trick, though: the sooner we purge our minds of career misunderstandings, the less the ominous music is needed. So let's dispel these bad boys, shall we?
7 Common Career Myths
1. You're about to choose your "forever"
This is far and away the most common myth I encounter. It's usually phrased along the lines of, "But I don't know what I want to do for the rest of my life."
Neither do I! Neither does most anyone I know. How boring would our lives be if we did know what we'd be doing forever?
We don't have good data on just how much career and job change is normative, but it's safe to say that change is the rule rather than the exception.
Skeptical? Then dedicate the coming month to this activity: ask everyone you encounter how they got to their current career. The stories will likely fascinate and amaze you. Plus make you feel a lot less pressured to figure out "forever" and instead simply choose what's next!
2. Networking is about sharing your resume
When we focus networking efforts on resume sharing, we fail miserably.
In fact, networking is all about building relationships. Plain and simple.
Keith Ferrazi and Tahl Raz describe this well in their book "Never Eat Alone":
"Over time, I came to see reaching out to people as a way to make a difference in people's lives as well as a way to explore and learn and enrich my own...Once I saw my networking efforts in this light, I gave myself permission to practice it with abandon in every part of my professional and personal life. I didn't think of it as cold and impersonal, the way I thought of 'networking.' I was instead, connecting - sharing my knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, and empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide value to others, while coincidentally increasing my own." - Keith Ferrazi with Tahl Raz
Haven't talked to someone in a while? Pop him or her an email or text for a coffee date. The conversation doesn't have to center on careers or job searching for it to count as a "networking."
3. You need to be born into connections to get a good job
This one makes me crazy. Crazy! And I hear it all the time. (I also once adamantly believed it...)
Yes, much of the successful job search process results from "who you know" rather than "what you know." That's not a cynical statement, it's a natural reality (wouldn't you rather hire someone who's been vouched for by someone you know?).
That said, we all have opportunity to create connections, if we're tenacious and creative about doing so. By virtue of attending college alone we acquire a network of thousands upon thousands of people. It's up to us to make use of those networks appropriately (see #2!) and to not let shame over our unconnected roots stop us from pursuing the life we want.
4. Your major dictates your career
In some highly-skilled fields, such as engineering, a particular major and set of training are necessary to gain entry.
For most industries, however, employers simply want people who can work in a team, make decisions effectively, plan and organize their work, and verbally communicate well. In other words, major doesn't matter one bit.
It's up to us to package ourselves to make a case for any particular job. We must not let the content we learned overshadow the skills and sensibilities we gained.
5. No job is better than the wrong job
I've seen many seniors turn down job opportunities because they were afraid they'd get set on "the wrong path."
I'm all about being selective and intentional in our decision making. That said, doing is better than thinking.
When we work in any capacity, we gain new skills, contacts, and understandings of what we do - and don't! - like. That information can't be gained by simply "mentally trying on" a job or industry. This is why even the cruddy coffee-fetching internships are worth something; perhaps seeing a boss behaving badly will spur you to become a corporate trainer. You simply never know.
6. Money matters more than meaning
When asked what is essential to them, 74% of first-year college students mentioned "being very well off financially" while 43% said "developing a meaningful philosophy of life." That's an exact switch in values from the late 1960s.
Is that such a bad thing? We all need money to survive, right?
Well yes, but beyond a "good enough" level, money doesn't translate into career satisfaction. When Psychologist Karl Pillemer interviewed 1000 older adults about what made their lives worthwhile for his book 30 Lessons for Living, he found:
"No one - not a single person out of a thousand - said that to be happy you should try to work as hard as you can to be able to buy the things you want. No one - not a single person - said it's important to be at least as wealthy as the people around you, and if you have more than they do, and if you have more than they do it's real success. No one - not a single person - said you should choose your work based on your desired future earning power." - Karl Pillemer
In contrast, one interviewee after another mentioned meaning as being essential to satisfaction, which matches scores of studies on true happiness.
7. A multi-year plan is necessary for success
We don't need a detailed plan to succeed, we need a vision: a well fleshed-out sense of WHERE we'd like to head and WHY.
The HOW, however, tends to be largely beyond our control. It's often a matter of what job openings happen to exist at a given moment; who we stumble upon who knows someone who knows someone; whether the perfect internal candidate for a position drops out, leaving the opportunity to us.
If we trust that knowing WHAT we want is enough, then we can make intentional choices while letting the details take care of themselves.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
What is your #1 hard-and-fast belief about careers? Do you think it's accurate - or a myth?
Photo Credit: tokyoform
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Rebecca Fraser-Thill is the founder of Working Self, a site that helps twentysomethings create meaningful work - that actually pays the bills! She teaches psychology at Bates College and is one half of the Life After College coaching team. Follow her @WorkingSelf.