What’s The Best Career Advice You’ve Ever Received?

By Gerald Walsh ©

A few days ago, somebody asked this question on Twitter: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

It got me thinking back to my banking days (too long ago to tell you when) and some of the lessons I learned there.

In particular, one that sticks with me is about the importance of taking charge of your own career and not relying on your employer to do it for you. Frankly, this was something I hadn’t given much thought to before then.

Let me tell you the story.

I sat next to another banker named Paul. Paul had joined the bank when he was eighteen years old, straight out of high school. He was then 48 years old meaning he had thirty years in with the bank by that time.

The problem was that Paul absolutely hated his job and could not wait until retirement, which was still seven years away at least. Paul also had the tendency to talk about his frustration often – almost every day – to those around him, including me. He was the most stressed-out, frustrated individual I had ever encountered.

You may wonder: Why didn’t Paul go find another job somewhere? That’s the problem. He couldn’t. Paul’s frustration was driven by the fact that he had no real options other than to stay right where he was.

If you looked at Paul’s situation here’s what you saw:

  • No formal education beyond high school.
  • Weak technology skills that were limited only to the bank’s software.
  • A limited network of contacts, because he had transferred a lot with the bank and never stayed in one location long enough to build a good network.
  • A job that paid way more than he could earn elsewhere.
  • An excellent range of health benefits that he couldn’t afford to give up.
  • A pension that was going to pay him about 70% of his pay in his retirement years, if he lived that long!

On top of all this, Paul’s health had deteriorated over the years and he was overweight with high blood pressure.

When you looked at the world through Paul’s eyes, you can understand why he was so stressed. The world looked pretty bleak to him at the time because he felt he had no options.  

Not surprisingly, Paul went on to have a nervous breakdown. Fortunately that scare was enough to cause him to change his ways and realize that he could have a life outside banking.

He retired early, accepted a reduced pension, and established himself as a self-employed investment advisor, where he could set his own hours and earn a living based on his own performance. With the support of his family, he was able to reduce his living expenses and not worry so much about money.

When I last saw Paul (on a golf course, coincidently) his health had improved and he was very happy with his lot in life. He said to me that his only regret is that he hadn’t made the change years earlier.

What I took from this – as a relatively young guy at the time – was that I always needed to have career options available to me. That meant if I ever got fired or decided that I could not stand my employer and wanted to leave, I could find a comparable job with relative ease.

I knew that meant keeping my contacts current and my skills up to date. And, I had to have confidence that my experience was meaningful and saleable to another employer.

In hindsight, working with Paul taught me this important career lesson, one I am grateful for and that could be followed by everybody.

What’s the best career advice you have ever received? I’d be interested in hearing about it.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh