It occurred to me the other day as I bit into a homemade cookie from my co-worker how far we’ve come. I remember the days when baking for a colleague’s birthday or bringing in a batch of no-occasion brownies was considered poor practice because it suggested (for women, especially) that you had time on your hands. Instead of working more hours or thinking creatively in your spare time, you were wrist-deep in pie crust, giving people reason to view you not as a professional person, but a merely domestic one—or at the very least, an unambitious one. I’m so glad that notion has flown the coop.
It got me thinking, however, what other career advice is totally outdated? What arcane suggestions could we discard? I can think of at least five off the top of my head:
Keep Your Personal Life Private
Go ahead and make small talk with your boss, but be careful not to actually divulge any personal details of your life. No need to get into what you did over the weekend or the vacation you’re planning. All your manager needs to know is when you need off and that your weekend was “good.” What antiquated advice. You’re a whole human, your supervisor is a whole human, and as such, you both have lives beyond the work that you do. Why contain yourself when sharing some details about your personal life may actually be a good thing?
Pretend You Don’t Need Any Help
Fake it ’til you make when you don’t know how to do something on the job, right? Just pretend to know or you waste more time than necessary figuring it out. No longer. Eschew this advice and remember that there’s a lot of learning to be done when you seek assistance from your co-workers or admit to your manager that you’re confused about an assignment. Unless she’s a really awful, short-tempered, impatient person who, frankly, has no business leading a team, your supervisor will likely welcome questions and be happy to offer input if it’ll help you produce a quality project.
Avoid Interacting on Social Media
Don’t friend your boss on Facebook and don’t follow him on Instagram. LinkedIn is safe and professional, and Twitter is fine too, assuming you only use yours for work purposes, but don’t cross over into the personal aspect of the various social sites.
Once upon a time this was respected advice. This was around the time when you uttered one-word responses about your holiday break or your sister’s visit over the long weekend. But now? As long as you’re not displaying anything wildly inappropriate on your platforms or talking crap about your manager, the company, the CEO, it’s pretty natural to befriend, follow, like, comment on colleagues’ social media pages. It goes back to that bit about everyone being a whole human.
Maintain a Separate Work-Life Balance
The workday ends at 6 PM, and begins again at 9 AM the next morning. In your non-working hours, you avoid email and you also quash any cool, creative ideas that cross your mind. And while you’re in the office, you pretend like your friends and family don’t exist, and you have a one-track brain: work.
In theory, I can understand where this dichotomy emerged, but in real life, it just doesn’t make sense. I get a thrill when I find myself inspired by an idea while I’m walking the dog first thing in the morning. I whip my phone out and jot down a note so I don’t risk forgetting when I cajole my brain into remembering it only once I’ve made it to my desk. I’m also not going to ignore my partner’s email about the dinner party we’re planning just because I’m on the clock. Rigidly drawing a line between work and life, which are so obviously connected, is only going to make things difficult.
Never Challenge Authority
What your boss says goes. He’s in charge, and whatever you’re instructed to do, you do it blindly. He knows more than you, there’s a reason he’s in his position, and you’re in yours. It’s not hard to see why this advice stuck around for so long. In fact, of all the items on the list, this may be the one you continue to struggle with.
And yet, if you view respectful pushback as playing into the greater good of the organization, you should be at least halfway over the hurdle of speaking up about your convictions. Your manager, if he’s a good one, who cares about your growth and the success of the company, actually wants you to exercise your speak up.
As is the case with a lot of well-intentioned advice passed through the decades, it’s essential to consider some old-school career advice with a skeptical eye. Some of it, you may find, still applies to you, while other bits, you’ll gleefully toss aside in favor of less archaic professional advice.