Social Question

nikipedia's avatar

Is it mean to discourage people?

Asked by nikipedia (27669points) June 1st, 2012

I gave some unsolicited career advice recently on a facebook post (sorry) and realize that is not the best idea. But lately my advice on the same topic has been sought after a couple times.

In general, I think my career path was a bad idea, and it is not immediately apparent to people outside of it what the risks are (I may change my mind in 4–6 years if I end up with a good job but am not optimistic). It is really only a good idea if you hate money, job security, and living close to people you care about, and really enjoy interacting with people with personality disorders, and having your ego ripped to shreds on a regular basis.

I come in contact with bright-eyed undergraduates on a regular basis who want to know how I got where I am and ask for my advice on how to get there. I feel like it’s rude to tell them JUST DON’T DO IT, and it usually comes across as suggesting that they can’t hack it, which is in no way what I’m getting at.

Am I being a dick if I tell them the reality of how much it sucks? Are we supposed to keep telling people to follow their dreams no matter what?

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23 Answers

Sunny2's avatar

I would describe the day to day life of someone in your field and let them ask questions. Then they can make up their own minds. What you don’t like may be someone else’s idea of perfection.

6rant6's avatar

It might be more well received if it was wrapped up in, “Well this is my experience, which isn’t necessarily going to be the same as yours,” as opposed to, “here’s the grim reality, boyo.”

For me, personally, I find it incredibly difficult to predict how someone else will fare in a career.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think… that it may be indicative of a pathology that exists within yourself. For example, you may be depressed. (Funny how often we suggest that to people when they often have quite valid reasons to feel the way they do and no apparent way to change their situation.)

And maybe it’s completely off the mark. Maybe you’re as happy as a clam could be… when it’s about to be turned into clam chowder.

But most clams, if they had the foreknowledge that they were about to be turned into clam chowder and the ability to do anything about it (such as walk away, for example), would avail themselves of those capabilities and walk away. I’m not asking, “So why don’t you?” But there you are in a place you don’t like, associating with people that you seem not to like, doing things that you obviously don’t care to do, and with feet and apparently full awareness… and you’re not walking away.

So I have to wonder. Me? I’m as happy as that ignorant clam. If I’m about to be turned into chowder, I have no awareness of it.

thorninmud's avatar

I’ve wrestled with the same quandary. Back when I worked in the food world, I’d often meet people who “loved to cook” and dreamed of “opening a restaurant some day”. Then when I was teaching in a culinary school, I saw a steady parade of bright-eyed younguns, under the spell of the Food Network, eager to march out and become the next darling of the foodies. None of them have any idea what it’s really like.

Now I work for a clinic that designs and builds adaptive equipment for people with disabilities. We got a client recently, a middle-aged woman with only one good arm, who wants to sign up for a $40,000 2-year culinary school program so she can make and sell her own prepared foods. I’m having to come up with all kinds of devices to allow her to do the school’s knife skills tests one-handed. One elaborate jig is just so she can trim a carrot in a particular French style that she’ll never even do out in the real world. All the while, my instincts are telling me that the Darwinian culinary world will have no tolerance for this woman.

But I never discourage. I guess I have faith that there’s an inherent worth in wholehearted endeavor that’s independent of whether it works out as planned.

josie's avatar

I think it is.

marinelife's avatar

I think it depends on how you tell them. If you tell them that these are things about your career path that you did not anticipate when you started and list them, that is OK.

DaphneT's avatar

It’s mean to discourage people in a meanly manner. But they won’t thank you later if they find you could have given them the down and dirty of the job and didn’t.

Just remember how bright eyed you were and would you have made the choices you did if you had known.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Find out how much they’re aware of the reality of your job before giving advise. That way, you can figure out if they need the advise or not.

Bellatrix's avatar

No. You are being honest and you have first-hand experience. I know exactly where you are coming from. I tell people the truth too. Not to discourage them, but to hopefully get them to do some research (ask questions, find out how many real jobs there are out there, understand the work-life balance issue) and definitely to advise them to take off the rose-coloured glasses. If they go into it with their eyes open, great. If they don’t, and have these idyllic ideas about what the job entails, they will be disappointed.

Aethelflaed's avatar

What exactly is it you do again?

jrpowell's avatar

I went through something similar with my sisters kid a few months ago. For some strange reason he respects me. We were talking about his plans come September. He was thinking that being a archaeologist would be fun. And I agree that it would be but unless you are very lucky you will end up with a ton of debt and work at Starbucks.

He likes to use his hands and fix stuff so we tossed around ideas like electrician, plumber, and mechanic. All are good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

So in the end he is enrolled to learn how to fix airplanes since he has always been a plane nerd and also enjoys taking things apart. We also discussed going to school to be a archaeologist but maybe just taking some classes at night once he has a solid day job.

People get so much debt from school. The school isn’t honest about debt and job prospects so you should be.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

No, I think you’re being honest and realistic. I highly respect that. I encourage you to discourage people.

nikipedia's avatar

@johnpowell, you raise a good point that I hadn’t even thought of. Luckily, my degree is paid for—but in so many fields, people go into it under the assumption that more education is always good, and come out of it with more debt than they can possibly handle. I just read yet another article this morning about how fucked the whole country is by student loan debt.

@Aethelflaed, finishing my PhD in neurobiology.

@CWOTUS, you are certainly on to something. I have optimistic days when I think that maybe it will all pay off eventually, but after a few recent, horrifying incidents I am realizing just how seriously fucked I really am. The best case scenario is making about 80% of what I did when I was 22 for the next 5+ years until I land a faculty job from which I will probably be fired anyway.

serenade's avatar

IMHO, “just don’t do it” isn’t mean, it’s just not particularly helpful. It’s confusing and doesn’t provide for a next step. Instead, I would work on an “elevator-pitch” length response that speaks to the reality of the average person’s prospects, and some alternate avenues to consider.

There are people who will be singularly compelled to follow your path, and those people might be successful because they’re willing to do whatever it takes. There are others who are capable of doing the work but not capable of enduring the hostile or abusive environment. And, there are those who may or may not be capable of hacking the work, but just haven’t given consideration to more lucrative or user-friendly alternatives. I think a good response would include reasonable disclosure of the challenges and suggest happier alternatives to consider as part of your 2ยข.

wundayatta's avatar

What is this? Meta-advice? Advice about advice?

Honestly, I try to stop myself from giving advice as often as I can remember to do it. Instead, I try to tell stories. Of course, sometimes it’s so much fun to let ‘er rip and tell someone what they should do, but really, most people ignore it when someone tells them what to do. That’s not what we really want, I don’t think.

What we really want are stories. Experience. Don’t tell me if I should enter neuroscience. I’ve got my heart set on it. But do tell me how you got there and what it has been like. Also, tell me what you are like, if you can. Tell me about your struggles and ups and downs, so I can make some kind of meaningful comparison between your experience and what mine might be like.

If you tell your own experience, then you aren’t giving advice. Then you can never be held accountable for the quality of your advice. It isn’t advice. It’s experience. You didn’t tell anyone not to enter the field. You just told the truth about what it was like for you.

Seriously, that is my theory about providing advice on fluther, too. I tell my experience. The closer I stay to my experience, and the farther away I stay from telling people what to do, the more people seem to like it. They especially like my more authentic stories—the ones about being crazy and whatnot.

It’s kind of refreshing, actually. It suggests that people are looking more for stories they don’t usually hear than they are looking for being told what to do. And none of us are experts on anyone else’s life.

I always hated it when people gave me advice. But I love it when people tell me stories. That’s why I ask questions that invite people to tell stories (or I try to), and I try to tell stories in place of answers. Then I’m not telling you what to do, and I’m not asking you to tell me what to do. I’m offering a gift, and you can do what you want with it. And if you don’t like it, you really aren’t making me feel bad, because I never put my pride on the line and told you what to do. You can’t reject a story. It’s out there now. I’m not telling you what to do with it.

I will say this, though. I seriously hope you get some equanimity on this. It must feel awful to think you are tearing down someone’s dreams. Good luck with that.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I think the problem isn’t the brutal honesty, it’s the unsolicited advise. If people specifically ask for your advise on this, go ahead and give them the brutal honesty (though, I think Wundy’s idea of stories and framing things as “what I would do differently” and not “what you should do”, and owning your experience as just that – yours – is spot on.). But just randomly advising someone on their FB wall? Not ok. It’s both unsolicited advise, which is rude and a bit of a boundary violation, and in a really public setting. This kind of discussion, asked for or not, is really best suited to a more private arena.

Blackberry's avatar

Essentially, no.

augustlan's avatar

I can see how it could be perceived as mean, especially when someone is all excited about their chosen path. Doesn’t seem like it actually is mean, though. You obviously have good intentions and are trying to spare them some pain down the road. I like the suggestions you’ve received to talk about your experiences and the pitfalls you’ve encountered, and to be gentle about bursting someone’s bubble.

wildpotato's avatar

No! I really wish someone had said exactly this to me when I decided to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy. So glad I opted for an MA feeding to PhD program, because now I can get out. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read your second paragraph. I have a strong impulse to scream it at my whole family.

I think it’s not mean, it’s realistic. People should know what pursuing a dream will cost them. And people hardly ever think to solicit advice about the negatives of a career path in academia because, as you say, until very recently with this spate of articles, the risks were not apparent to people outside the bubble.

cookieman's avatar

I went to a technical high school and majored in architectural and mechanical drafting. I really wanted to be an architect.

I worked hard and was at the top of my class. I applied early and was accepted into the Boston Architectural Center for undergrad.

My final year of HS, I landed a great internship at one of Boston’s largest architecture firms. They taught me a ton in a year.

A month before I was to start college, the principal architect I worked for took me aside and said, “You’re really good, but you don’t want to do this for a living”. He then proceeded to detail his experiences, struggles, and disappointments. Stuff they never mention in school.

I found it very helpful.

Aethelflaed's avatar

You know, that article is interesting. Because, it seems like there are those articles for every single job out there. The humanities, obviously. But hell, I’ve seen them for comp-sci and MBAs (see, they’re screwed over because there are too many now). All jobs/careers get romanticized, and then have these downsides that you find out about later, and everyone’s screwed in this economy.

mattbrowne's avatar

Not necessarily. I discourage people from playing the lottery, for example.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I suggest that when asked for advice, it is unkind to withhold cautions that may help them avoid unnecessary disappointment and suffering.

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