Why Conventional Career Advice Puts You on the Wrong Track

train tracks
image by Lawrence Whittemore

Note from Cassie: This is a guest post by Cody Wheeler at Academy Success. Interested in guest posting for Alternative Badassery? Contact me.

If you follow the advice of most “career experts” out there, you’re basically going to be digging a deeper and deeper hole every day.

You may not get out of this hole until you’re in your 60s. Or worse, this hole may end up killing you before you retire.

See, there’s a pretty big problem with career experts. Most of them have never changed careers… so how are they qualified to tell you what to do?

Confused? Let Me Explain.

What do you hear most career pundits telling you?

They say things like:

  • Pick a skill and stick to it.
  • Specialize. Don’t generalize.
  • Put in your hours and become an expert.

But let’s take a moment to think about what happens to your career choices when you focus on a single skill.

More Money, Right?

The typical argument here is that when you become a specialist, you start to rise up the corporate ladder. You know your particular field better than almost anyone else.

You get promotion after promotion, and you one day end up at the top, leading your company from a cushy office raking in 7 figures and lighting your cigars with 100s.

Sounds pretty awesome right? And that’s the picture most career advisers paint for you.†If only it were true…

Think for a moment what it takes to get to that level.

It’s not one deep skill at all. It’s a multitude of skills. To be at the top of the business world or a highly successful entrepreneur, you can’t just know how to do market research, or write code really well. You need an extremely wide array of competencies, and you must be quite developed within each of them.

  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Operations
  • Finance
  • Technology
  • Personal Relations
  • Human Resources
  • And more..

If you’re only focusing on a single skill set, you’re going to get boxed into a corner real quick.

While you might climb your way up the ladder initially and make a good amount of money through normal promotions, company loyalty perks, etc, if you don’t branch out and develop the other areas of your business acumen, you’re going to start digging that hole I talked about in the beginning.

It’s a Trap

As you progress in your career, that specialization you’ve chosen will reach a point of diminishing returns. There won’t be anything left to learn, and all you’ll be doing is treading water, trying to stay afloat and not get passed up by young and eager up-and-comers.

If you’re in corporate America, you’re probably surrounded by people in this exact position. They have good jobs and make good money, but they’re absolutely trapped.

They neglected to improve their skill sets beyond what initially made them successful, and because of it, they couldn’t even dream of finding another position that paid them equally for their singular focus.

I bet you can picture faces right now who are in this exact position.

So what’s the real way to succeed with your career?

Cast Your Net Wider

Don’t get me wrong here. There’s nothing wrong with becoming an expert. In fact, it’s necessary to be successful.

But what you must do to get ahead, and to make sure you’re not trapped in a job you don’t love in your 30s and beyond, is become an expert in several functional areas of business and life.

Once you’ve reached the point of mastery and there is little else to learn, branch out and start to learn new marketable skills.

  • Read books and blogs
  • Take online courses
  • Ask your company for specific training
  • Go to conferences
  • Challenge yourself with projects which interest you that require learning new skills
  • Educate yourself in any way you can

The Freedom of Options

When you do this, something amazing starts to happen.

You have a high level of expertise in the field you chose when you became a professional, and you also have a solid understanding of many other highly marketable skills. You become a master of many trades, and you possess all of the skills it takes to be a successful business person, not just one.

This level of education and understanding about your skills and your career is what separates those who are trapped and unsatisfied with their jobs, from those who are able to create the positions they desire, build businesses on the side, and ultimately have a highly elevated level of career options at any given time.

You will have, as I like to call it, freedom of options.

Your Call to Action

I put this at the end of nearly every one of my posts. It’s meant for you to take the lessons you’ve learned, and put them into action.

What I want you to do is take an inventory of your current skills, and how they’re developing into the career you desire. If you see gaps, think about how you’re going to learn the skills you need to fill those gaps. Then start bettering yourself with that plan.

If you can do that, you’re already well ahead of anyone who has a singular skill focus, and well on your way to a highly successful career.

cody wheeler academy successCody Wheeler is the founder of Academy Success. He built a $300,000 business in his 20s, has authored two books, and holds an MBA from Indiana University. Cody created the The LifeHacker’s Manifesto for those looking for a better way. He believes everyone can be special and we shouldn’t ever hold ourselves back from doing the things we dream of doing.

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Your thoughts?
  1. Lea Bullen says:

    You’re so right Cody, the head honcho oversees it all, so they have to know it.

    At one of my previous jobs there was a manager that wasn’t well versed in all the things her department. Needless to say, that department wasn’t doing so well.

    ~Lea

  2. That was great information

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