6 Pieces of Old-Time Career Advice That May No Longer Apply to Real Life

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(U.S. Air Force/enior Airman Jaeda Tookes)

Times are constantly changing, and no one knows that better than separated military veterans -- just ask a retired Air Force warrant officer, if you can find one. The geriatric millennials are reaching their earliest military retirement ages, and soon Generation X will be running the highest echelons of our military.

The civilian working world of today is a lot different than even four years ago, not to mention the working world of our mothers and fathers. Sadly, this means the sage advice they once gave you for pursuing your future career may not be good advice anymore.

Here are some of those gems.

1. A Student Loan Is an Investment in Yourself.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but some investments aren’t what they used to be. I’m not referring to investing in yourself, but rather how you make that investment. The sage wisdom used to be that if you couldn’t afford college, taking out a student loan and paying it off over time would help you get the career you need.

Well, unless you’re going into a STEM program, the medical field or a legal profession, that might not be the case. Sure, a lot of jobs require a degree, but if you’re not sure that you’ll end up in that job and that it will afford you enough to live and pay off the loan, a student loan is essentially a $50,000 (or more) bet on yourself, not an investment.

2. Going to College Is the First Step to Success.

As you should have learned upon joining the military, this is very much not true. It’s also not true when you’re getting ready to leave the military. In fact, many people -- veterans and non-veterans -- find meaningful work and financial success without ever going to college. These people have “skills.”

Many successful people find success through skilled trades like electricians, HVAC workers or carpenters. Others find skills through “upskilling” courses, where professionals with transferable experience simply learn the ins and outs of a new job, such as coding or cloud computing. The point is, none will spend time in a four-year university, and if they’re veterans, they won’t have student debt to learn them.

3. Hating Your First Job Is a Learning Experience.

It probably “builds character,” too. This was a gem of wisdom meant to inform you that learning about what you don’t want to do is just as important as learning what you like. The truth is that the only thing you’ll learn at a job you hate is how long you can get away with playing “Toon Blast” in a bathroom stall.

No one, especially veterans, should waste time with a job or a company that doesn’t fit their goals or skills. Taking any ol’ job is a form of underemployment and can lead to depression and other mental stressors. It’s far better never to take a job you dislike in the first place and keep looking for real work.

4. Applying for Jobs Is How to Get Work.

While mostly true, this is not the only way to get work. Perfecting your resume and cover letter skills are an important part of getting a job, but most mid-level professionals get big opportunities in their industry through networking.

When you interact with the people who are in your field and your work and character become known to them, you become a commodity; someone they might like to work with. When the opportunity arises for you to work with or for them, they think of you and ask for your resume.

This advice also totally keeps entrepreneurship off the table. If you want a job for life, one that keeps you motivated and learning, make your own job.

5. Do What You Love and Never Work a Day in Your Life.

Not to stomp on anyone’s goals or life aspirations here, but you don’t need to get a degree in what you love to work in that field. You don’t need any kind of investment except for time and experience. You can be a writer, artist or day trader without anyone hiring you to do it -- although making a living wage in that job might be more difficult.

If instead you find skilled work you like to do while supporting your passions, you could support yourself and a family while preparing for a life in a creative field later. Many journalists, writers, actors and musicians you know began their careers in a different field, then brought that experience to their art.

6. You Have to Move to the Big City for Opportunity.

The old advice was to seek opportunity in a large, urban area with more people and more business in an effort to gain experience and build your resume. The chances of you getting your dream job were supposedly much better in a land of opportunity like a large metro area.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can look back and see how opportunities can come knocking all the way out in the suburbs -- or elsewhere around the country. The digital age has taught us that many of us don’t need to be in one specific place to make an impression. Starting a knowledge-based business in your hometown can spark an entire local industry and keep other local talent from needlessly pursuing the big city.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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