The 3 Worst Pieces of Advice Everyone Just Keeps Giving

Two beautiful young women chatting over a warm drink.
Two beautiful young women chatting over a warm drink.

Today is the last day of June, which means that for the past month, millions of newly minted graduates and freshly wed couples have been taken aside by well-meaning, finger-wagging relatives and friends and given a slew of advice, ranging from what kind of a meal should start their day to what percent of their incomes to sock away if they want to be millionaires by the age of 40.

But there are three things everyone keeps telling grads, grooms and brides that can be retired permanently by now. Three pieces of advice that have never been good for embarking on adulthood or forming a more perfect union, and today, we can finally bid them adieu.

Worst Advice for Grads: "Follow Your Passion"

Here's a heartbreaking newsflash -- whatever you just graduated from probably did not give you the real knowledge you need to actually perform the job you want to do. With the possible exception of some dental hygiene programs, school teaches us the theories, and some basic ideas of what it will be like doing the job, but almost never the practical, day-to-day expertise needed to excel.

Chances are good that you aren't even sure what your passion is. Mark Cuban has a great take on this. He observes: "For years, people have been saying 'Follow your passion, follow your passion.' That won't get you anywhere. Follow your effort. Look at what you actually spend time doing and pursue that, because that is what you really care about."

I was recently speaking at an entertainment industry conference and during the Q&A, a young woman in the audience said, "I have a great job and I love it, but I know I'm supposed to start a business to do something more, I just can't figure out what my business should be. How do I find that?" I shared Mr. Cuban's advice and told her to really examine the last six months to see what she had freely chosen to do with her time, because that was what she really wanted to do. Her task was to find a way to turn that into a long term, revenue-generating activity.

Later that night, she came to find me at the reception and told me I changed her life, because she realized that what she was doing for the last six months was what she really enjoyed, and that was sustainable for a long time. I asked what she'd been doing, and she got a huge smile and said, "Earning a paycheck."

Apparently I was the first person to tell her that she wasn't required to change the world or feel imbued with purpose every minute of the day, and that it was perfectly okay to go to a job she enjoyed, do it well, advance in that field, and stay in it or use what she learned to go do something else. She'd been so bombarded by the "Follow you PASSION!!" crowd that she felt she was failing even though she was doing really, really well.

While not as pithy or easy to put on a bumper sticker, the real advice to grads should be, "Go out into the world and for the next several years, do whatever you can to build a set of portable skills, train yourself how to stay engaged and productive doing a job that you might hate, make yourself valuable to others and experience everything you possibly can to discover both what you love doing and what you're good at. If those are the same things, you are truly blessed. If not, keep plugging away at either the skill-building or the career exploration until the two can be merged, which is very unlikely at 22."

(See, I told you it wouldn't fit on a bumper sticker.)

Worst Advice for Newlyweds: "Never Go to Bed Angry"

The new movie Trainwreck has a fantastic illustration of the idiocy of this advice. Bottom line -- human beings need sleep. In fact, when it's late at night and you are at your most mouth-foamingly angry at the person who is supposed to be your one true love and partner for life, that's probably when you are most in need of sleep. Go get some. Guess what? The issue will still be there in the morning, and you can talk it out like rational adults, but without the hurt and pain being on the surface and needing to be inflicted on someone else.

Couples get past problems by sharing them openly, with understanding and empathy, and trying to resolve them as a team, not by going eight rounds until someone shouts an exhausted, "Uncle!" and both collapse into bed because the alarm is going to go off in 45 minutes, which guarantees the next day will be pretty lousy, too.

Make a pact as a couple to be able to say, "This might get hurtful, so let's talk about it tomorrow," then sleep on it and talk about it tomorrow. Do not skip the talking about it part, even if that's hard, and don't hold back fully expressing what the real issues are, but do so without the need to scream or inflict pain or be right. That may turn into a fight, too, but at least it removes exhaustion from the emotional equation.

Worst Advice for Both Couples and Graduates: "Practice the Golden Rule."

When the Golden Rule was first proffered, it was about how to behave towards enemies, to overcome the prevailing philosophy of the day: "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." One could say this was the earliest version of "what goes around comes around." Don't do anything to your enemy that you would not want your enemy to do back to you.

In both careers and couplehood, we are constantly being told to treat others as we would like to be treated. This is terrible advice. Don't treat the other person as you want to be treated, treat them as they want to be treated.

  • "I hate email and texting. If someone wants to reach me, they should pick up the phone and call."

  • "My ideal weekend is sitting on the couch all day, watching TV, then ordering a pizza and going to bed early."
  • "I don't need to be told I'm doing a good job. Getting a paycheck is thanks enough."
  • "I find it weird when people say 'I love you' out loud. You should just know if someone loves you."
  • If you don't agree with any of these statements, imagine working with or being married to the person who does, and who follows the Golden Rule of treating you how they want to be treated. What could possibly go wrong there?

    Everyone's attitudes and tastes are different. If you want to be a successful manager, find out how your employees prefer to be communicated with about their jobs and talk to them that way, because that's what will guide and motivate them. How you like being talked to by your boss is not relevant, so adapt.

    The same is doubly true for your spouse. Does your wife need to hear how much you find her beautiful to feel secure in your marriage? Then say it! If you don't care how she feels about your looks, good for you, but that has nothing to do with keeping her happy. This is not rocket science, it's basic human relations.

    How you feel about something may not be how the other person feels, and taking the other person's needs and wants into account is the best way to ensure happiness and success. Putting in a little more effort to go beyond treating others simply as you want to be treated has large and long-lasting payoffs.

    So go forth, brides, grooms and grads, be happy, make your own mistakes, pay attention to what works for you and what doesn't and stop doing what doesn't.

    And don't ever forget that just because everyone says the same thing, that doesn't necessarily make it true.

    A longer version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

    Valerie Alexander is an author, speaker, filmmaker and coach, as well as a recovering securities lawyer and investment banker. Her books include Success as a Second Language, full of useful tips and exercises to help anyone define and achieve personal success, Happiness as a Second Language, a #1 Seller on Amazon in both the Happiness and Self-Help categories, and How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having "Female Brains").

    Valerie can be reached through her website,