January 12

The best career advice for young professionals you didn’t hear at college


You’ve heard the career advice people dish out.

Follow your passion!


Reinvent yourself! Upgrade yourself, do a mid-career switch!

You might have tried these yourself. Follow your heart. Pursue your dreams. You may find yourself having pursued your dream, and found yourself in this job. Then you wonder – why does my dream seem so dreary? So boring?

You’ve tried to go for networking events, where you have coffee with others, stand in an awkward conversation, and wonder what to say. You’re waiting for the bell to ring so you can return to your seats.

Worse still, you might have seen your conversation partner look over your shoulder, trying to find someone else more interesting (or with a fancier suit) to talk to.

Oh you’re right. It’s Zoom these days. No more looking over your shoulders. People simply switch away to another window. You’ve seen that, right? Sudden change of lights across their faces.

Or you’ve gone for that ‘leadership training’. And then come back, got sucked back into work, and wondered how to apply it to work.

Traditional career advice, whilst well-meaning, may not work for you, the millennial, today.

Here’s why it may not work.

Following your passion?

We’ve all heard some version of this.

Follow your heart.

It doesn’t work.

As much as you want to live your life excited, looking forward to each day’s work, let’s be real.

No job is perfect. No passion is perfect.

It’s bound to have some aspects you dislike.

Then what happens? Are you going to look for another passion? To switch out of your passion, and follow something else?

Over the course of your life, your interests are going to change. It’s only natural. After all, you’re human. As you go through life, you face different things. And those experiences might lead you to be curious about other things.

Passion is like a butterfly.

It flits from flower to flower, interest to interest, and it never settles.

Eventually, we know what happens to that butterfly.

It dies.

Now you might argue: If I don’t follow my passion, then what do I follow?

Do I just do any boring job that comes to me?

Well, no, of course not!

But instead of taking your next career decision based on your passion, balance it together with what you’re purposed for.

Don’t get me wrong. We are not going to explore questions such as:

Why am I here on Earth?

What’s the purpose of my life?

Rather, it’s to look at what you’re purposed for.

Think about it, a cup has unique properties that are designed for drinking. For example, it has a handle to hold. Or an open mouth to drink from.

Before we go into a long soliquy about the properties of a cup, think about your own unique properties.

Your own unique skills.

Your skills purpose you for something.

Anchor your career on your skills, and purpose.

Network for net worth?

From university to your career, you’re told to network.

Network! Make connections!

Let’s be honest. Beyond getting some fancy canapés, coffee, and a name card, what else did you get from that networking session?

At the early point of your career, networking might not be that useful.

Yes, you meet people.

Yes, you ‘know’ others in the industry.

Yes, you understand more about your industry.

As a university student, I went for many conferences. Met many professionals.

What did I get from them? Beyond the free teabags that I stole (shh!), I got precious little.

I realised that I had been playing the network game wrong. When I got their name card, I would follow up with emails asking if they could give me some advice.

What did I offer in return?

Nothing. Nada.

Networking is for relationships.

Relationships that will benefit both parties.

You’re looking for something from that relationship. The other party is, too.

Exchanging name cards can be useful.

If both of you can contribute to each other’s work.

Remember, it’s not a one-way thing. It’s 2-way.

Next time you want to network, think (and ask!):

How can I contribute to your work?

Reinvent yourself?

Amidst all the worries about jobs, there have been many advertisements on how mid-career professionals have made a career switch.

You are also told to upgrade your skills.


Reinvent yourself?

Not so true.


Because if you are reinventing yourself, how can you establish yourself?

Think about yourself as Iron-Man.

Remember how Iron-Man brought out different versions of his suit, from time to time?

But he was always Iron-Man.

He didn’t become Tin-Man, Silicon-Man (even though Silicon Valley is very fancy these days), Gold-Man…

He was always Iron-Man.

You’re known for a certain skillset.

Switching from skillset to skillset may not be very useful.

You’re not giving yourself a chance.

Rather, deepening your skillset in an area of expertise is more useful.

Think about where you are now, and where you want to be. Think about how you want to get there.

Try using the table above to fill up your own roadmap.

Stop pivoting, start pushing

Amidst the pandemic, a term that has been bandied around a lot is ‘pivot’.

It’s time to pivot our business.

We need to pivot ourselves.

But more than ever, it’s a time for you to push, not pivot.

More than ever, it’s a time for you to push into your core skillsets, rather than flitting from passion to passion.

After all, as Cal Newport, the author of ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’,

You have to get good before you get good work.


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