On Wednesday, Taylor Swift, the superstar musician, producer and director, delivered her first-ever commencement speech and received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from New York University.
In her speech to 2022 graduates, Swift talked about how common it is to cringe when you think back on your past. But there was one theme she highlighted throughout her talk: She is not a fan of receiving advice she hadn’t asked for.
“As a rule, I try not to give anyone unsolicited advice unless they ask for it,” Swift said, noting it can do more harm that good.
“As a person who started my very public career at the age of 15, it came with a price. And that price was years of unsolicited advice,” Swift said. “Being the youngest person in every room for over a decade meant that I was constantly being issued warnings from older members of the music industry, the media, interviewers, executives. This advice often presented itself as thinly veiled warnings.
“See, I was a teenager in the public eye at a time when our society was absolutely obsessed with the idea of having perfect young female role models. It felt like every interview I did included slight barbs by the interviewer about me one day ‘running off the rails.’”
Swift’s thoughts about unsolicited career advice begin at 1:14:52 below.
You may not sell over 100 million albums and win three Grammys for Album of the Year, but if you are beginning your career or at a crossroads, you are bound to get finger-wagging advice from people who want to impart their own wisdom — or you might occasionally be tempted to share your own.
Unsolicited career advice is not all bad. But before you give it, do a gut check on why.
Career coach Jasmine Escalera said that she appreciates when people share their experiences and would have enjoyed hearing that more often when she was a young person navigating her career.
“As the first in my family to attend college [and] graduate school and navigate a high-level career, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to obtain every nugget of career advice I could,” she said. “I could not be educated on navigating this new space by my family or community. And any advice they provided was based on their own limiting beliefs and lack of experience, which were not in service of the growth and opportunities I had the privilege to receive. I often wonder how my career would have been different if I had more women of color around me to speak about their journeys and offer wisdom that was not available to me.“
But on the flip side, Escalera said even when advice is warranted, those giving it need to be careful to make sure that their support is not just a projection of their own experiences and challenges.
“As someone giving advice, we must be aware that without knowing an individual’s story, struggle and tenacity, we cannot know what situations will arise for them individually or even how they would handle them if they do,” she said. “Advice should always be given to help, and never assume that every situation or circumstance will be the same for each individual.“
Too often, mentors project their own anxieties and fears onto those at the beginning of their careers.
Swift shared that all the unsolicited advice she received communicated the warning “that if I didn’t make any mistakes, all the children of America would grow up to be perfect angels. However, if I did slip up, the entire earth would fall off its axis and it would be entirely my fault and I would go to pop star jail forever and ever,” she said. “It was all centered around the idea that mistakes equal failure, and ultimately, the loss of any chance at a happy or rewarding life.”
“People are usually not looking for advice and more so needing validation from you.”
The truth is, everyone’s path will be different.
“Your experience is not the experience,” said psychotherapist Shannon Garcia. “That can be a hard one to swallow, especially when we want to help someone we care about. But it is true. You may have dealt with certain situations in your career and you may have figured out some helpful things. And still, this individual will have their own experience, and no one knows their life better than they do. Ask yourself, ‘Can I let this person handle this on their own?’”
Determine if someone wants to hear advice or if they want to be validated.
When someone does talk to you about navigating their work life, you should take a step back and see if they want to have their hopes and dreams validated, or if they want practical advice on how to get there.
“If they are sharing about their career, ask yourself, ’How can I listen to them right now?’ Start with listening, like, truly listening when they are talking,” Garcia said. “People are usually not looking for advice and more so needing validation from you.”
You can make yourself available when the person is ready by sharing directly that you’re there for them if they need advice or by asking if there is anything they think they need help with, Garcia suggested. That way, the person can decide if they want your advice before you decide for them.
If you want to really help someone, try offering up your network. “One of the biggest hurdles that young adults have today, especially those who are navigating professions and spaces that no one else in their family or immediate circles work in, is access to social capital,” said Anyelis Cordero, founder of Propel on Purpose Coaching, a career coaching service designed for first-generation professionals.
“Instead of offering unsolicited advice, offer an introduction to someone in your network that can share insights about the industry, company or job they’re interested in pursuing.”
When you are in a position of power, your words and actions hold immense weight. And that’s a responsibility you should not take lightly, whether you are talking to a pop star or someone embarking on a new career path.
Cordero said she has seen clients who pursued certain career paths because of the pressure of someone else’s advice instead of listening to their own instincts. “It’s not that young adults don’t want your advice; it’s that being inundated by different advice starts to crowd [their] own voice,” she said.
“Your words could be the thing that sways someone’s career for the better,” Escalera said. “And wouldn’t we all want that kind of help to guide our way?”