10 Worst Lies You’ve Been Told About Making a Living

Ron Livingston in Office Space
Ron Livingston in Office Space | 20th Century Fox

Do what you love and the money will follow. Major in STEM if you ever want to make any money. Never job hop. Job hop to get ahead. Take the job that will make you happy, no matter the salary. Always go for the higher salary.
There’s no shortage of advice out there about making a living, and it’s not always consistent. Sometimes, it’s because you’re getting out-of-date advice from well-meaning people, like your Dad who hasn’t looked for a job in decades. Other times, common nuggets of career wisdom might make sense generally but not apply to your situation. And sometimes, the things people telling you are just flat out wrong.
So, who – and what – should you believe when you’re looking for advice on navigating your career and making a living? A good rule of thumb is to take what you hear with a grain of salt and think carefully about how what you’re hearing applies to your particular situation.
“If you spend enough time consuming popular business and career advice, sooner or later, you’re bound to hear both sides of every issue,” Steve Tobak wrote in Entrepreneur. “You’ll have one self-proclaimed expert telling you one thing and another telling you exactly the opposite. It’s got to be confusing, to say the least.”
In short, there may be no such thing as universally applicable advice about making a living. But there are some bits of “wisdom” that are anything but. From career tips that last made sense in the Reagan era to misguided advice on doing what you love, here are the 10 worst lies you’ve been told about getting ahead in your career and making a living.

1. Do what you love and the money will follow

Money raining down on a man holding an umbrella
Money raining down on a man | iStock.com

“Do what you love” is great advice – if someone happens to want to pay you to do what you love. But if your passion in life is underwater basket-weaving, making a living is going to be a lot harder than if your dream is to be a surgeon.
“A lot of people who care about your well-being far less than I do will fill your ears with sweet inspirational sayings like ‘follow your heart and the money will follow’ or ‘don’t worry about the pay check, find a career that makes you happy,’ Kevin O’Leary, better known as Shark Tank’s “Mr. Wonderful” wrote in a blog post. “That’s all well and nice, but it’s hard to be happy when the numbers on your bank statement are red and the debt collector is calling you three times a day.”

2. There’s such a thing as a perfect job

sign board saying 'Dream Job This Way'
“Dream job this way” sign | iStock.com

They call it work for a reason. Perfect jobs are like unicorns: They don’t exist. Even a great job you normally love can have its downsides – you’ll have days when nothing goes right, have to deal with troublesome clients, or clash with a co-worker. Worse, if you become obsessed with the idea of finding a “perfect” career, you can end up frustrated and disappointed. Rather than looking for your dream job, look for your “good enough” job.
“Perfection is an odd goal in career choice,” career strategist John Lees wrote in the Harvard Business Review. He went on to explain the following:

We learn not to limit ourselves to perfect when it comes to choosing holidays, houses, or partners, so why are we obsessed with the idea of a job that will fill all our fantasies about work? When people think about getting their ideal role, they’re falling into an all-or-nothing trap. It’s a kind of challenge to the universe – give me everything now, or leave me alone. Which of course reveals how passive the whole idea is: you may talk about “finding” the perfect job, but secretly you hope it finds you. The deep, dark secret of “all or nothing” is that it gives you and me permission to do absolutely nothing.

3. Never job hop

Man applying for job on internet with coffee on table
Man applying for a job | iStock.com/Rawpixel

Career experts used to tell people not to job hop. Skipping around between employers made you look flighty and disloyal. If you wanted to get ahead, you needed to stick with the same company for years. But the days of lifetime employment are long gone, and employers are no longer so skittish about hiring people who’ve moved around, especially if you’re young. In fact, experts we’ve talked to say any lingering stigma around job hopping should shrink even more in 2017.
“A less-than-stellar economy over the past decade, plus the influx of millennials to the workforce, has helped to lessen the stigma around job hoppers,” Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, told The Cheat Sheet earlier this year. “If you’ve bounced from gig to gig over the past five years, the important thing is to be able to tell a story about your experience, what you’ve learned from each position, and how these roles have helped you clarify your job goals and build the skills necessary for this opportunity.”

4. You should start your own business

Mark Cuban and Daymond John
Mark Cuban and Daymond John on Shark Tank | Shark Tank via Facebook

TV shows like Shark Tank glamorize the life of an entrepreneur, but striking out on your own isn’t a guaranteed path to success and riches. It’s also not necessarily a path to happiness. While being your own boss sounds like a dream come true to some, not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit, and that’s OK. If you have a great idea and believe you can make it work, go ahead, but you shouldn’t consider yourself a failure just because you’re not the CEO of your own company by age 30.
“Starting your own business is hard, and it’s not for everyone,” career expert Alison Green wrote in U.S. News & World Report. She continued:

It’s not as easy as just having a skill and selling it. You have to have something that people want to buy from you more than they want to buy it from your competitors. You also have to be able to market yourself, deal with financial uncertainty, have some savings as a launch pad, and overcome plenty of other challenges. It’s not a cure-all for anyone who can’t find a job or is unhappy in their career.

5. A college degree will get you a job

graduates holding diplomas
Graduates holding diplomas | iStock.com/michaeljung

Once upon a time, earning a college degree was a pass that took you straight into the middle class. Now, having a diploma in hand won’t necessarily land you a plumb job, as far too many graduates have discovered. While it’s true that people who’ve gone to college earn more than those who only have a high school diploma, you’ll still need to prove yourself if you want to land the position you want.
“Generations of students have been told that if they get a college degree, they’ll easily find a job afterward. Unfortunately, it’s no longer so clear-cut. Degrees no longer open doors the way they used to, and too many new graduates are remaining unemployed or under-employed for months or even years, as employers opt for more experienced candidates,” Green wrote.

6. You should aspire to be the boss

Melissa McCarthy in The Boss
Melissa McCarthy in The Boss | Universal Pictures

Few people enjoy kowtowing to their boss. So, it’s hardly surprising that many dream of getting out of having to do their superior’s bidding by one day being the boss themselves. (Plus, being the big fish means you get the biggest paycheck, right?) But the assumption that everyone should aspire to get to the top of the corporate food chain is flawed. If you don’t enjoy managing others and are happy doing what you currently do, moving up the ladder may actually make you less satisfied with your career.
“Have you ever worked closely with a CEO? It can be a great job, but it can also suck. Like any job, it requires a certain temperament and set of skills,” Stever Robbins, an executive coach and entrepreneur, wrote. “So: find jobs that suit your skills and temperament, don’t assume that the ‘oooh! isn’t that amazing’ jobs will be good for you.”

7. Hard work is always rewarded

young woman working on computer late at night
Woman working late at the office | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

Work hard and you’ll get ahead, some people say. But the hard truth is that hard workers aren’t always rewarded for their efforts. Hotel maids and farm laborers do hard, physically demanding work, but are generally paid very little. Dedicated white collar workers may give their life to their jobs but still find themselves passed over for opportunities in favor of people who are better networkers or savvier about touting their own accomplishments.
Hard workers can easily burn out, get stalled because they want everything they do to be perfect, or be taken advantage of by bosses and colleagues. People expect competent people to perform better and do more work, research has found. They’re also more likely to turn to high-performing colleagues to pick up the slack. If your goals is to get ahead, you need to do more than just log long hours. Learning new skills, nurturing at-work relationships, and training other people to do the job you want to do will help you get that much-wanted promotion.

8. You can plan your career

foggy walking path
A man walks on a foggy path | Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

At some point, someone – a guidance counselor, teacher, or parent – may have told you that you needed a plan for your career. On one level, they’re right. Most people aren’t going to fall into a good job without at least a little bit of effort and forethought. If you want to be a police officer, doctor, or software engineer, you need to figure out what steps you have to take to make that happen. Ditto if you’re hoping to switch fields or get a new job in the near future. But the idea that you can map out your entire career and then follow that path without any deviations is a myth. Life is going to get in the way.
Industries change or entirely new ones emerge. (Twenty years ago, no one was planning to be an app developer.) Your priorities might shift. New opportunities are going to present themselves. While having goals is important, being too rigid will hold you back.
“That’s the thing about life. It doesn’t really care about your plans,” career expert Rebecca Healy wrote for Kontrary. “So you can chart all the courses you want, but it’s much better to just be prepared and flexible for the opportunities that come your way.”

9. You must love your job

happy worker
Illustration of a happy worker | iStock.com

If you’re fortunate enough to love your job, great. But if your 9-to-5 gig isn’t putting a smile on your face, that’s OK too. You job doesn’t have to define you. Plenty of people have jobs they merely tolerate and still manage to have complete, satisfying lives.
“There are plenty of people who live happy, fulfilling lives and don’t love the job they do,” Jonathan Whistman, author of the The Sales Boss, wrote on LinkedIn. “It’s ok not to love your job. In fact, one of the best things you can do is relieve yourself of the stress that comes from over analyzing the ‘fulfillment factor’ of your work or finding ‘the perfect job.’ Once you do, you might in fact realize how great your work is all things considered.”

10. Money will bring you happiness

pils of $100 bill
$100 bills | iStock.com/halduns

Everyone’s heard the cliché that money won’t buy happiness, yet that doesn’t stop people from believing that if they only had a slightly larger paycheck or got that big raise, their life would be better. Now, it is true that money will make you happier up to a point, since you won’t be worried about putting food on the table or having a roof over your head. Around $75,000 per year seems to be the magic number, according to Princeton economists.
Once you’ve hit a certain ceiling, however, more money won’t necessarily improve your life. Continually chasing bigger financial rewards might bring certain benefits, like a nicer car or bigger house, but more happiness isn’t one of them. One study even found big jackpot lottery winners weren’t any happier than other people. If you’re making enough to meet your essential financial needs, you might be better off focusing on other things that will make your life better, whether that’s giving yourself more time to spend with your family, pursuing a hobby, or just reading a good book.