What do successful entrepreneurs and guests on the Jeremy Kyle Show have in common?

They followed advice to “be yourself and follow your passion!”

“Just be yourself” is common advice these days.  You see it scrawled over social media, you hear it when asking for tips on how to get through that job interview or first date, and if you’re searching for career advice it might be followed up with something like “…and don’t forget to follow your passion.”

“Be yourself and never apologise for it,” ran a headline in the ‘Careers’ section of a national newspaper recently.  The article went on to quote various business leaders, all of whom riffed on that same theme of being yourself above all else, then simply following your passion to get the career you’ve always dreamed about.

I’ve been paying close attention to career advice ever since I changed my own way of working a year ago, and I’ve noticed that people who give advice like this are either old enough to know who they are (so “be yourself” makes sense), or they’re successful enough to get away with being whoever they like!   

Following your passion is all well and good too, but what if you haven’t got any particular ‘passions’, you’d just quite like to do a job that doesn’t make your heart sink as Monday morning approaches?

Unless you’ve inherited millions, the route to career success is often messy.  Talking about it in detail seems to compare with talking about childbirth, in that people who have been through it don’t really want to dissect it in any detail, because if you haven’t been there yourself then you simply won’t understand – and in any case some of it is far too horrific to be described!

This is the most likely reason why you tend to see so much smooth, glib advice, like“just be yourself and follow your passion”  - which when you really think about it, describes a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show just as well as it does a successful entrepreneur.

So what kind of career advice does help, then?  For me, the words that really struck a chord came from the comedian Steve Martin, when he was asked in an interview to give advice to aspiring performers.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you,” he said. 

This simple advice inspired me to work harder, which in reality is the only way to succeed at most things.  Discover what you need to do to be so good, then do it.  You’ll not only find that people will want to work with you, but you’ll gain the kind of confidence that only comes from being very good at what you do.  It’s an encouraging circle! 

As for following passions, that’s fine if you’ve got them.  If not, try simply following positive feelings and positive leads.  Open yourself up to opportunities, and try to create them wherever you can – so if you happen to meet someone who does something interesting as a job, why not arrange to catch up with them over a coffee and find out how they got there? 

Instead of “just be yourself”, how about something like, “be the best version of yourself for the situation you’re in”.  After all, I wouldn’t be the same version of myself in a group of my friends as I would in a networking group, or with a client.  If I was, I probably wouldn’t have many friends, or many clients, in the first place.

Finding a support group really helps, too.  If you want to make big life changes, it always helps to tell a few trusted people about them.  They’ll hold you to account, and they’ll also care enough to ask you how it’s going, supporting you through harder times. 

All this takes a lot of hard work, of course, and I’d be lying if I said I had it all sorted myself!   But trust me when I say that ignoring glib career advice is a great first step on the road to your own personal success story.