When it comes to your career, have you ever been on the receiving end of conflicting advice? I sure have—too many times to count.
There are plenty of instances—from interview outfits to the quality of my major presentation—when people’s opinions about my career didn’t quite match up. But, nothing compares to when I was considering quitting my secure full-time job to pursue a freelance writing career.
Mentors in my existing industry thought I was insane, while the people I looked up to in the writing field were practically pushing me off the cliff. My manager stared at me like I said I was going to join the circus, while my parents were endlessly supportive. My close friends told me I could do anything, while random networking acquaintances told me it would never work.
The thought alone makes me short of breath.
Can you relate? People have a lot of opinions, and they don’t always compliment each other. In fact, sometimes they’re plain ol’ contradictory.
You’re taught to seek the counsel and guidance of others—particularly when it comes to your career. But, where can you turn when all of that advice doesn’t serve to push you in one clear direction?
Here’s what I learned through my own (oftentimes stressful and sweat-inducing) experience.
1. Consider the Source
People don’t just form opinions out of thin air. Instead, their viewpoints are shaped by their own unique backgrounds and experiences.
Your beloved grandma might feel confident that a career change at this point would certainly be a detriment—but, that’s likely because she comes from a generation when career exploration wasn’t necessarily a norm.
So, when it comes to receiving advice, remember to think about what sorts of circumstances could lead that person to feel that way. Is this someone with a solid handle on your particular situation, or is he or she coming at it with a certain bias or lack of understanding?
Adding some conditions to whose suggestions carry weight isn’t always a bad (or insulting) thing. Remember, it’s totally possible to trust someone without trusting his or her expertise in every single scenario.
2. Know Your Values
When I would tell people that I was planning to bid adieu to my co-workers in favor of working totally alone, many had responses that looked something like, “Ugh, I couldn’t stand having to do everything myself!”
I’ll admit that sentiments like those planted a few seeds of doubt in my brain. But, then I realized something: To me, forging my own path and doing things totally alone was one of the things that excited me most about my new adventure.
Tying back to the fact that people have their own individual outlooks, it’s important for you to get a solid handle on your own passions and ambitions. What do you think? What do you want?
With that information in your back pocket, you’ll be able to better consider other people’s recommendations through your own lens. When I discovered that I valued a sense of stability in my career, for example, people’s warnings that the freelance life came with a lot of uncertainty carried a little more weight in my decision-making process.
Be forewarned, this step doesn’t mean that your values and priorities can never shift and evolve. However, it’s important that you take the time to get in tune with your own desires before you confuse yourself too much with the fears and yearnings of everybody else around you.
3. Give Yourself a Gut Check
Oftentimes, you already know what you want to do with those major career decisions. You’re just waiting for everybody to leap to their feet and offer a rousing, “Yes! That’s the right move!”
But, what should you do in those situations when you really feel lost as to what advice to follow and which route to choose? Well, there’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned gut check.
I’m serious—narrow down your two options and then flip a coin. Here’s the tricky part: You don’t actually have to stick with what the coin lands on. But, as it’s tumbling through the air and your whole life seems to move in slow motion, you’ll likely get a pretty strong inkling as to what side you want to be face up.
When that happens? You, my friend, have just made your decision—conflicting advice and all.
In the world of career questions, there aren’t a lot of black and white answers—that’s exactly why there are so many contradictory opinions and suggestions out there.
It’d be nice if there was a one-size-fits all answer to those sorts of questions. But, there isn’t. Ultimately, the best you can do is consider as many perspectives as possible (yes, even when they don’t perfectly line up!) and decide on the right way forward for you. You’re the only one who actually knows what that is.
Still struggling to see your way to the other side? Take this decision-making advice and pretend you’re counseling a friend in your exact same situation. I promise—it works!
Photo of person in meeting courtesy of EmirMemedovski/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author