The Internet is loaded with career advice.
Everywhere you look there are tips on choosing a major, writing a resume, navigating an interview, diplomatic skills, time management, innovation, project management, leadership, strategic thinking, career dressing, moving up the ladder, and on and on and on.
Some of this advice seems like it was written for shock value, although maybe it's a good thing to challenge the conventional wisdom. We hear that we should "First, Break All The Rules" rather than follow them; that we can earn a full-time income in a "4-Hour Workweek" and not over 40 hours; and even that "Unhappiness is good for you."
With all this advice, you would think that all of us would be rich and famous. Yet the opposite is true. Why are so few people able to advance the way they want to? Lots of things get in the way: health issues, relationship issues, and in the workplace, organizational culture, interpersonal dynamics, power politics, sexism/racism/other isms, and so on.
At the heart of the matter is one piece of advice I think we don't talk enough about, from Roseanne Barr - who was aiming square at women. She said:
"Nobody gives you power. You just take it."
Barr's perception that women are passive about career advancement is echoed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In her words:
"Until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men."
In my view, one of the most important things a person can do to achieve career success is to ignore the pressure to be like everybody else. In the workplace, most rules are unspoken; and where people on the lower end of the ladder are concerned, one of the primary rules will always be, "don't rock the boat."
While it is safe, in a way, to conform to what everyone else is doing, wearing, and even thinking - and while it may feel comfortable to stay in the status quo and not try to out-achieve your peers - if you want to go higher you have no choice but to break through the glass ceiling of conformity.
This, I think, is what people get uncomfortable about. They feel like they have to follow the crowd to be accepted, but the only way to become a leader is to flout what the crowd is thinking. To trust their knowledge and instincts, embrace their ambition and their vision of how things could be done differently and better, and actively look for opportunities to advance.
It takes a lot of courage to be different, ambitious, and active instead of passive. But the joy of becoming a leader is overwhelmingly worth the risk.
Read the career advice if you want. But in the end, take it with a grain of salt. Because whichever way the crowd goes, there is another path a contrarian is taking to great success.
Think about it - go your own way - and embrace our own North Star.
Have a good evening everyone, and best of luck in 2012!
Photo by Maria Ly via Flickr