15 People Share The Worst Advice They Got When They Were Young

And what they wish they’d been told instead

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“These are the best years of your life!”

This was the advice countless adults gave me about my high school and college years. Is it really true?, I remember thinking, dejected. How was it possible that my “best years” would be over before I ventured out into the world as a fully formed adult?

Turns out, those adults were totally, tragically wrong. Life gets better when you’re able to create the one you want for yourself. The larger point being, sometimes the pearls of wisdom people dispense to us when we’re young and impressionable are misdirected, misinformed, or just plain bad — no matter how well-meaning the advisor. And sometimes that bad advice ends up being the most eye-opening of our lives.

We’ve all received advice as young people that turned out to be hogwash — advice about career success, work ethic, romantic or interpersonal relationships, or life in general. So we asked Thrive’s contributor community to share some words of wisdom that just didn’t hold up, and what they wish they’d been told instead.

“Follow your passion.”

“This advice once sounded great, but it assumes that I had some predisposed passion that I was born with. I didn’t. So instead, I spent years searching for my passion, wasting valuable time and money. I didn’t find it, and it left me with heartache. It wasn’t until I realized that passion isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you develop, when things changed. I wish I had instead been given the advice to, “develop your passion.” That would have been a life changer.”

—James Huntington, marketing manager, Seattle, WA

“Your college major doesn’t matter.”

“I was told by numerous adults throughout my college years that it didn’t matter what I studied. I think their intention was to assuage the anxiety I felt about my life’s direction and how my career might unfold. The intended message was that I would be OK regardless of my major, but the way it was said made me feel helpless and like I was wasting time. In result, I wasted time floundering and not making intentional decisions. If I could go back, I would tell myself to think about jobs that interest me and the skills they require, and then work backwards from there.”

—Christine Ahlstrom, academic adviser, Seattle, WA

“When in conflict, just walk away.”

“I’ve learned the hard way that walking away from an argument in a relationship is the worst thing to do because it makes your partner feel unappreciated and not heard. It’s so hard, and I am not perfect at it, but staying in the argument is more beneficial (and results in resolution) than just avoiding and walking away.”

—Fara Rosenzweig, content professional, San Francisco, CA

“Don’t move out. Stay home and save up money.”

“My aunt gave me this advice when I had just graduated high school and lived my whole life up to that point in a one-stoplight farm town. I needed culture, city lights, room to make mistakes… I didn’t follow her advice. I’m glad I didn’t. If I could speak to my younger self now, I’d say, ‘Move out. You’re amazing and you’ll do great things.’”

—Megan, corporate recruiter, Baltimore, MD

“Don’t be bossy.”

“As a young girl who liked to lead my pack of friends, I took this as ‘If you agree, people will like you.’ I have spent most of my young adulthood seeking the approval of others rather than being the leader I am. It was just recently that I had an epiphany that being ‘bossy’ isn’t a bad thing!”

—Taylor Bento, MBA, Knoxville, TN

“You’ll be happy once you’re successful.”

“I was told to go to university, get a job, work hard and become successful — and once you are successful, then you’ll be happy. So, I studied a career I didn’t like, to end up in a job I hated. I worked hard and became successful, but I wasn’t happy. Today, 25 years later, science proves that happiness is not the result of success but leads to success in nearly every area of our lives especially at work and in business. If I could go back in time I’d tell my younger self: ‘Trust your intuition. Everything is going to be ok!’”

–Marc Reklau, consulting, Barcelona, Spain

“You pick a person, you pick a set of problems.”

“My mom told me this relationship advice, and for years, it seemed to make sense to me. It wasn’t until my early forties that I realized the advice had caused me to constantly be on alert for the negative in my relationships… That “set of problems” that I was willing to live with for the rest of my life. It made me afraid to commit to another person, because who wants to be committing to a set of problems? Letting go of that idea allowed me to be open to finding true love. If I could go back, I would tell my younger self that life is an adventure. Find a person who makes you happy and enjoy the ride!”

—Rebecca K., freelance writer & editor, Westlake, OH

“Don’t attract too much attention.”

“As an Asian-American female, my family always told me this. It was better to blend in and be humble. I’m grateful that as I got older and more confident in myself and my abilities, I stopped listening to them. Speaking up for what I believe in and celebrating what makes me unique is one of the best things that I have done. Being different, vocal and authentic is what has created genuine connection with my audience and brings continued success. Don’t ever dim your light because others are afraid of how bright you shine.”

—Marian Bacol-Uba, spirituality, holistic health and wellness, Miami, FL

“Fake it until you make it.”

“The first time I got promoted into a leadership role, I wasn’t sure I could do the job. Many leaders told me this advice. Whereas I understood what they were trying to say, I chose a different path — full transparency. After working with employees at all levels throughout my career, I have found that people have really good B.S. detectors. Lack of knowledge and experience can be forgiven and even embraced as signs of a humble leader. Lack of perceived authenticity often isn’t. I chose to be honest about what I knew and didn’t know. I found that it made people follow me more and help me be a successful leader.”

—James Sudakow, consulting, San Diego, CA

“Don’t expect a fairytale ending.”

“I once opened up to my mom about the anxiety I was feeling about my fiance, and she told me that in reality, you find someone you’re moderately compatible with and make a life together — no fireworks or soul mating required. There was such cognitive dissonance between what I heard and what I believed that I ultimately eschewed her advice. I called off the nuptials, spent some time soul searching (and lamenting) before I met the man that made me feel the way I hadn’t before — certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person. That was ten years ago and that man loves me, my daughter and the two daughters we had next today more than ever. Sometimes mother doesn’t know best. You do.”

—Ashley Carroll, health marketing and communications, Omaha, NE

“Be a man.”

My father used to tell me ‘Be a man. Stop crying.’ Years later, I learned that manliness is not the lack of emotion — it is the lack of despair. Now, I would tell my younger self that boys become men not when they stop feeling, but when they embrace what they feel and stop allowing it to overwhelm their spirit.”

—Simon Tang, business student, Singapore

“Pursue a sensible career.”

I’m a naturally creative type at heart, but because I had good grades in science, I was told by many people that I should pursue a career in science & engineering because that’s where the money and job security was. I spent almost fifteen years as a consulting engineer but I was miserable and my health declined. When I finally decided to quit my career as an engineer and follow my passion, my health improved. If I had my time again I would tell my younger self: ‘Tune in, find your own personal truth and follow that — and success and happiness will follow.’”

—Kate De Jong, global career coach, Perth, Australia

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

“This advice turned out to be wrong. In fact, it’s more like this: ‘If you love what you do, you’ll kinda work all the time.’ I’m not saying work is bad, but if you keep chasing a work life that is nothing but fun and easy all the time, you’re going to miss out on some amazing opportunities and lessons. Work can be tough, weird, difficult, complicated, beautiful, fun, easy all at the same time! If you take every little bump in the road as a sign you’re going in the wrong direction, you’ll never get very far.”

—Trine Ravnkilde Frederiksen, online community expert, Denmark

“Your grades will dictate your success.”

“My mom gave me this advice when I was in school, so I learned as much as I could, memorized all the facts, and tried my hardest to get straight A’s. My mom failed to mention that to be successful in life, you don’t need only knowledge, but also necessary life skills.”

—Patricia Bloj, corporate wellbeing, London, UK

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

“My first boss told me this advice, and over time, I learned it was wrong, and it can become a burden. Trying to create a good first impression hinders people from being authentic, experimenting and taking risks — we are so worried about creating a wrong impression that we all play safe. Job interviews are a perfect example — most candidates act like robots. They are anything but authentic. My version of the advice is: ‘You always get a first chance to make a second impression.’ Take risks. It’s better to be liked for who you are than to be appreciated for who you pretend to be.”

—Gustavo Razzetti, change leadership consultant, Chicago, IL

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