September 21, 2021

The best advice we've ever gotten, according to 7 Advisory Board experts

Daily Briefing

    What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? We invited seven experts at Advisory Board to reflect on this question and explain how that advice has helped guide them in life. Below are their responses:

    9 must-read books, according to Advisory Board experts

    1.  Following your passion is terrible career advice

    Rachel WoodsRachel Woods, Managing Director, Executive Insights and Host of Radio Advisory Podcast

    Technically this advice wasn't given directly to me, but I listened to it as part of Adam Grant's podcast "Work Life". It's such a popular episode that it's been repeated on their feed for years. The advice is simple but a bit counterintuitive. Grant argues that passion is a terrible predictor of career satisfaction. "Doing what you love" sets up an impossible standard that most of us will never achieve. Not to mention the fact that a singularly passion-driven career makes it even harder to create work-life balance. After all, if it's your passion shouldn't you be doing it all the time?

    Instead of following your passion—seek out a role where the small things that make up your day-to-day give you energy. The activities on your calendar should make you excited to hop out of bed and head to the office, even if the office is the desk you added to your guest bedroom last March. Think about it: your career could be centered on your life-long dream of saving the whales (which is exactly what 10-year-old Rachel wanted to do). But if that means you are stuck in a dark room, working alone, writing memos all day—you might not be happy at all. Assuming, of course, that those things don't give you energy. 

    I have cemented this guidance as my own north star, and it is the number one piece of advice I share with my staff, mentees, and other aspiring young leaders. At the end of the week, take a look at your calendar and really ask yourself if the sum total of your work activities gave you energy. If not? It might be time to look elsewhere. Just don't follow your passion when you do it. 


    2.  New parents: don't fall into the trap of binary decisions

    Rob Lazerow Rob Lazerow, Managing Director, Advisory Board Research

    My wife and I welcomed our first child at the start of the pandemic. Having a baby during the first surge was a harrowing experience, but being together every day since has truly been a gift. And this also means that I've entered a whole new world of advice—solicited and otherwise. Fortunately, most of the new parent advice has been helpful and practical, and two pieces have proved especially valuable so far.

    First, my Advisory Board colleague Jenna Knapp told me not to expect anything about parenthood to be linear. She was spot on—we've experienced plenty of zigs and zags already.

    Second—and the top advice I regularly share with those about to enter parenthood—is to avoid falling into the trap of binary decisions. Starting on day one, so much of our baby's first year felt like a series of all-or-nothing decisions where we were expected to commit to either one philosophy or another and never deviate. This was especially true about how to approach all things feeding and sleeping. But remembering that we could have a primary path without being purists—that we could be practical and even mix approaches when needed—was a huge relief during our most stressful days. I'm confident this advice will serve us well for years to come.

    Speaking of which, if you have advice for parenting a toddler, you know how to find me.


    3.  Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good

    Thomas SeayThomas Seay, Managing Director

    "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

    I know, I know—this is hardly a cutting-edge insight. According to Wikipedia, the notion of a tension between the "perfect" and the "good" dates back at least to Voltaire (or maybe Shakespeare, or maybe Aristotle).

    Still, that advice stands out to me because my first manager repeated it almost as a mantra. 

    In my first years in the workforce, I'd often find myself writing countless drafts of internal memos or endlessly rehearsing calls before picking up the phone. In those moments my manager would tell me, kindly but emphatically, "Thomas, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." And almost always, she was right.

    I discovered I could often accomplish 10 times as much by aspiring simply to be "good enough." Just as importantly, by letting go of the drive for perfection, I've come to feel more at peace with my inevitable errors in judgment or execution.

    If I were writing this post a decade ago, I would stop here. Except … here's the thing. I've since come to recognize that, very occasionally, the good is in fact the enemy of the perfect.

    When I first came to work at Advisory Board as a mid-career consultant, I wrote a blog post that went through—no joke—19 drafts before publication. In frustration, I argued to my new manager that we were letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    She shot me a stern look. "We're trying to explain a best practice," she said. "If we get it wrong, it won't be a 'best' practice. It will be an OK practice. And that's not what Advisory Board is about."

    She had a point. Sometimes, when the stakes are high, you really do have to be perfect.

    So I've come to ask myself, as I embark on a new task: In this situation, is the perfect the enemy of the good, or vice versa?

    Still, I'd say that 95% of the time, the perfect remains my enemy—and the "good enough" is my steadfast ally.


    4.  In a place of acceptance, a stone can explode into a butterfly

    Andrew Mohama, Senior Analyst, News Division

    I'll admit it. I am a big fan of metaphors, especially ones that are poetic and relate to the natural world. Maybe it's my background in philosophy and a liberal arts education, or maybe it's how clear the human condition becomes when using beautiful prose. I first read this phrase in a poem and then re-read it multiple times in the following days. It is now a grounding principle for me.

    I think acceptance is a never-ending journey in life. On some level, everyone knows how important it can be to accept the things we can’t change. Whether we are talking about a global pandemic, a personal struggle, the loss of a relationship, or even simple matters like traffic or the long line at the grocery store, fighting the reality of what is won't make it not so. It can be empowering to let go of resistance and instead embrace a compassionate assessment of reality. The uncontrollable parts of life don’t deserve our rumination and emotional energy.

    While this all sounds great in theory, sometimes the best advice is also the most frustrating and difficult to implement day in and day out. Acceptance is not easy. It's enduringly difficulty and elusive in modern life. There are ample distractions that prevent us from addressing the real thoughts, feelings, and realities—the rigid stones. But the discomfort is precisely what we should be leaning into.

    So my question for you (and myself) is this: what becomes possible when you let of go of your thoughts about what should be and embrace what is instead? You may find something new and unexpected as a result. And you never know, a stone may just explode into a butterfly.


    5.  Make yourself "visible" at the start and end of important meetings

    Ashley Ford, Senior Principal, New Product Development, Advisory Board Research

    Long before the pandemic caused a nearly global migration to work-from-home, I moved away from D.C. and began working from home. I became "remote" over a decade ago and now have worked from home professionally longer than I ever worked in an actual office.

    When I first started working remotely, it was before the days of Teams and WebEx. We just had the telephone, so things felt even more remote than they do today with the world of video conference. Given I was still early in my career I was quite worried about "being forgotten" because I literally wasn't seen. I sought out advice from some seasoned 'work-from-homers' and a former colleague gave me a great piece of it—she said, "always make yourself known at the start and the end of any important meeting." At the time, this resonated for practical reasons—folks couldn't see my face and could forget I was on the telephone, but as I continued in my career, this piece of advice took on more weight. 

    The notion of making your ideas known at the start and end of any meeting still rings true – regardless of whether you are in-person, on the phone, or on zoom in yoga pants. You want to make an impression (hopefully a good one) to start and a lasting one to finish. It's something I still think about with any major meeting I'm a part of.


    6.  If you're struggling at something, you're over-achieving at something else

    Alicia Daugherty, Managing Director, Service Lines and Technology

    Our challenges usually come from our strengths. For example, someone who struggles with flexibility may be very strong on accountability; they have trouble changing plans precisely because they are so committed to delivering on the initial promise, in the way that was promised. If we can imagine two positive behaviors (flexibility and accountability) at either end of a spectrum, we can grow by pushing ourselves toward the behavior we're less strong at. Seeing challenges as "overachieving on strengths" has helped me have more self-compassion and be a better coach for my team.

    Bonus Covid-19 advice: How to talk to vaccine hesitant friends

    I heard a great tip for how to talk to vaccine hesitant people—and you can use it for other conversations too. Ask where they fall on a scale of 0 (never getting vaccinated) to 10 (really excited to get vaccinated). As long as the answer isn't "0," ask why they're not a "0". This will get them to talk about some of the potential benefits, which you can then positively reinforce to help them move up the scale. It's a good reminder that, in any conversation, it's more effective to build from common ground than to tell them why they're wrong (tempting as that may be). Credit to @asapscience on TikTok (yes, really).


    7.  When in doubt, zoom out

    Ben Palmer, Associate Editor, News Division

    I tend to get in my own head about a lot of things. Some event is coming up, I have to present something, I have to go somewhere unfamiliar, I have to perform onstage, and I start getting anxious. Or I’m buried in work, I have to take my kids to three different places all within an hour of each other, and I start getting overwhelmed.

    That’s why I’ve adopted this sort of mantra—when in doubt, zoom out. 

    When you’re starting to get overwhelmed by something, whether it’s work or stress or kids being crazy, whatever is happening in your life, it’s good to take a beat, zoom out, and give yourself some perspective.

    For me, when I start to get overwhelmed, I sit down for a second, take a deep breath, and remind myself that I’m floating on a rock spinning in space. I notice the thoughts, the feelings of anxiety, the feeling of being overwhelmed, and I give them space to breathe and exist, rather than fighting to push them away. Then I ask myself, “what were you worried about two months ago?” 

    And you know what? I have no idea. And that’s kind of the point.

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