Why Parents Typically Give Bad Career Advice
Your Mom & Dad love you too much to allow you to take risks
If I had listened to my parents I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I had listened to my parents I would have never made career gambles on myself. If I had listened to my parents, I would have sought the most stable career and never left that role until the day I retired. If I had listened to my parents, I would never have learned to navigate my career the way I have today.
A little over one year out of college was selling advertising for the NBC station in Seattle. I was an Account Executive working with local small, medium sized businesses and some ad agencies. I learned how to sell a product and I learned how to navigate business conversations with owners and decision makers. I was 23 years old when I got hired and the experience to be surrounded by so many great sales people and leaders was my first real foray into a career experience, even though I had two jobs previously upon graduation. I was making a base salary plus a quarterly incentive with a target plan of $60K in an annual compensation plan. I was generally making my bonuses in my first year so I was hitting the comp goals and for a young guy right out of college at that time it felt like a great way to start my career.
Once I hit my twelve month mark I started to get restless. I loved what I was doing but I wanted more and I specifically wanted to lead a team of people. I was 24 at this point and upon approaching my leadership team about becoming a manager I was all but laughed at. I understood their approach as I was young and inexperienced and we were in a Top 15 TV market where people my age didn’t get those opportunities. I immediately searched for a Manager job and found one in the beautiful Central California region of the Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz DMA with a CBS station.
I can still remember the moment I got the call about coming to interview. I was reaching the end of my second year at NBC and was easily going to double my income in the coming year. The company seemed to really appreciate my work as they were giving me more accounts each time someone left and I was leading a mentor program that I created. Things were good. Making a leap from $60K to almost roughly $120K at that time before my 25th birthday looked great to some people but to me it wasn’t about money. I wanted a leadership role.
The General Manager of the CBS affiliate wanted me to fly down and spend a day with their team as they were ready to make a hire. I was at dinner with my parents in New York City celebrating their recent retirement as they sold their business, a milestone they had worked so hard for many years to achieve. They were retiring in their early fifties. During this dinner I told them my plans to get this job and that we were going to relocate to California. The news was met with all the reasons why that didn’t make sense.
The day was October 8th, 2008. The stock market had crashed almost 800 points just two weeks before and while we sat in New York that week on vacation it continued dropping. The market would continue to dive, jobs were being slashed and uncertainty was abound. The first comment they made to me was around income and stability. Why wouldn’t they question my thought to leave a stable job with a great company during a time of such unknown in the economy. Why would I pack up and leave my current role in which I had proven to be successful at for a role that was unproven in a smaller city with a smaller company and for even less money. While I was projected to earn over six figures in the coming year in my current role I was leaving for a salary of $90K. Why make less money with so much uncertainty? After all, I was still only a few years out of college with a young family. If I failed, meaning I lost my job, was let go, or lost my income there was a good chance I would dial 1–800-PARENTS in order to make the payment on the condo we had just purchased in Seattle.
I thanked them for their advice, flew to Monterey the next week, and landed the job. We relocated to California on Thanksgiving day, 2008, and spent the next 17 months cutting my teeth as a leader. Taking that job was the best career decision I had made. The second best decision was not listening to my parents. It goes without saying that I love my parents dearly, but they give terrible career advice. Unfortunately that wasn’t the last time they would give me terrible career advice and thankfully, I didn’t listen the next time.
Parents give bad career advice for a few reasons. For one, they are too emotionally involved and unable to separate their advice from their connection to their children. They look at the world through the lens of protection and making sure that their kids are well taken care of without risk. Parents look to minimize risk for their children by protecting their emotions and risk is the easiest thing to minimize when you’re speaking to a loved one. Think about a parents point of view for your entire life. They are programmed to protect you. “Watch out for traffic, don’t walk close to that edge, don’t talk to strangers, drive slow, make smart decisions,” are all things that parents say to their children as they age. You can see the lifecycle of protection that a parent messages to their children until the day they graduate from college. Parents eventually have to cut back on the advice they give because twenty something’s don’t tend to listen the same way as toddlers. Halting this protection advice to minimize risk for a child is really difficult though and their bad career advice is masked under the concept of protection.
Parents also give bad advice because they look at their children through their lens. Their lens looks to minimize risk for one but secondary they look at it through the lens of their career pathing. Today’s generation isn’t afraid of the career risk that comes with changing jobs. We have access to more data and transparency on companies and career pathing than ever. How many friends do you have today that have already had more than four jobs post college before they turned 30? There is a good chance your parents had less than four jobs their entire adult life. My parents owned a business their entire adult life, the same business that my Dad went to work at 19 years old. My mom never worked until she went to work with my Dad the day they bought the business. They knew one company, one way their entire life. Why would they be well equipped to give me career advice? Their lens was masked under the concept of what worked for them, not what would work best for me in my career.
The last reason parents give bad career advice is because they only take into consideration the information they have at the time of the advice. As children, your parents are there with you every step of the way until you reach the age to leave the house and go on your own. When they tell you to stop eating candy it’s because they have watched you eat ten pieces before dinner. When they tell you to go to bed it’s because they know you didn’t get any sleep the night before because you were out with friends late. When they tell you to brush your teeth it’s because the dentist just told them that you had four cavities. When your parents tell you that you should remain put in your job and not risk a career move it’s because they don’t understand your emotions and thought process that has gone into changing career or the countless painful conversations you’ve had at work that have pushed you to leave your current role. Parents give you bad career advice because they only know a portion of the story. They only know what they think they hear and see through the phone or the last time you had dinner with them which may have been six months ago.
So my question is, why do we ask our parents for career advice? Parents are often the worst at giving good, sound career advice that can further our pathing and help us achieve the goals at hand. They are too emotionally connected, their lens is filtered and they don’t have all the information. So who do you turn to in these situations?
I learned my lesson again in 2016. I was rapidly approaching my 10th year in the media business and was working for my third TV station, a CBS affiliate in Seattle. I loved the business, I loved my leadership team, the company, the product, etc. I was making good money and my company even had a pension plan. On paper, there was zero reason to leave my role, it was all adding up right. However, in my mind, there were a million reasons. The industry was being disrupted, we were losing revenue each year with no plan in place to replace it, the company wasn’t innovating. The industry clearly had different plans in place with Netflix, streaming video, social media, and the iPhone essentially taking over as the main screen for your viewing habits. It was clear as day to me that a guy in his early 30’s had to get out of the affiliate TV model business quickly.
The emotions of leaving the media business were strong to me and painful to approach head on at the time. I didn’t like talking about leaving the business or the company I had come to love and adore. I quietly applied to one company, Zillow Group, in August 2016 and less than two weeks later I had an offer in my hand. After much dialogue with my mentors and closest advisors, I made the decision to leave. Upon making that final decision I picked up the phone to call my parents and inform them of my latest career move. The conversation didn’t go so well.
My parents tried to talk me out of leaving my stable job, my pension, my bonus checks, and the industry that I knew and thrived in so well. They gave me all the reasons why I should consider staying, they didn’t understand the Zillow revenue model and they were voicing their opinions to protect me. Their advice fell on deaf ears and only frustrated me through the process. They angered me to put it lightly. I resented their feedback. I accepted the job the next day, Tuesday, September 5th, 2016, and I never looked back.
So I ask again, why do we ask our families for career advice? Why is it that when I try to talk to an employee early in their career about relocation and growth opportunities that they come back to me a week later with the comment, “I had a conversation with my parents and….” In addition why do we listen to their best advice around career growth in general? Why do we think that they know more than our mentors and leaders we are surrounded by? The issue is we are programmed to listen to them. We’ve spent our entire life listening to our parents tell us what they think is right but I’m here to tell you they don’t know what is best for your career.
Mentors, leaders you’re surrounded by, peers, and your friends have the best insight into your career growth. If you truly want someone to help drive your career growth forward then find yourself a leadership board of directors and listen to those people. Find five people that you can go to for this advice and get their input. Nurture these relationships, go to them for advice, ask their opinions on everything, big moves and small. Ask their opinions on challenges in the workplace and get coffee with them after you get rejected for a promotion in your own company. Mentors are there to help give advice that is unfiltered, through a lens that understands you, and without the emotion of avoiding risk. Mentors who have walked in your shoes can give you the insight to further your career and they will protect your best direction which often is to take the leap. Diversify the opinions you’re surrounded by and find people who are unemotional about the risks you are going to take.
I love my parents. They have been amazing role models for me. They owned and operated an incredibly successful business and I am so thankful that I was able to see that as a kid. My conversations at the dinner table as early as 9 years old were about employees, profit and loss, customers, and growth. It was these conversations that set me apart from other kids at that age and gave me the foundation to succeed in business. But as much as I love them, they’re not going to help shape the moves I make in the future.
I ask you, who is your mentor and who are you seeking your career advice from? If you are dialing “MOM” or “DAD” in your phone when contemplating a big career move, my advice is to call them last, once you’ve had chats with the business advisors in your life who can give you the unfiltered lens. Don’t be afraid to make a bet on yourself and seek out opinions that are different than yours.