Tech employees.

‘Follow your heart?’: Some career advice will just lead you to a dead end

In a world where we are bombarded with messages of self-fulfillment such as "follow your heart," many young people enter the job market with high expectations, only to discover that reality is completely different. The big titles and glamorous images, alongside the enticing terms of employment, obscure the fact that hard work, patience, and effort in creating real value are the keys to managing a meaningful career, even in a changing world. "Follow your dreams" may be the worst career advice for young people. 

The biggest fear of young employees, 'juniors', when entering new workplaces, for example at interns at law or accounting firms, is that they could waste their time in Sisyphean tasks such as photocopying or shredding documents. In practice this almost never happens, but yes, many times junior employees are required to perform jobs they might feel are below them. When I was an intern at a (regarded and coveted, it should be noted) law firm, one of the less glamorous tasks I was required to perform was to cancel a parking fine for a relative of one of the firm's senior partners. I remember how resentful I was of the assignment. I felt that after all the way I went to get to this office, the arduous path in the academy, the certification exams, and the pressure, this task is beneath me and really not in the job definition. Certainly not what I told my parents I do at work. But I did it anyway. I took two buses to the city hall, I walked around the corridors there for two days until I finally managed to cancel the fine. Because that's how it works. This was the priority of my superiors and at the beginning of a career, not all tasks are satisfying and shiny.
1 View gallery
עובדים בחברת קמביום ג'וניורים
עובדים בחברת קמביום ג'וניורים
Tech employees.
(Photo: Alon Elshaich)
In the last decade, countless studies have been carried out on the preferences of members of Generation Z. Hundreds of tips have been written for employers on how to recruit those employees and retain them in the changing job market. Guides, surveys, and articles detail and offer strategies for adjusting workplaces to keep employees happy and engaged in the workplace. The problem is that with all the recommendations and advice, employees who enter the job market may mistakenly believe that their work will always be meaningful and 'dreamy'. That work will be a source of inexhaustible happiness for them. A playground of sorts. And in high-tech companies - it also comes with a real game room. Employers tell of juniors without experience who expect to be promoted within two months of starting work and make demands that are perceived as 'insolent'.
The expectation of work that is always satisfying, meaningful, and empowering quickly collides with reality: the work demands, the daily tasks are not always exciting and sometimes they involve performing tasks that are not enjoyable and certainly not exciting.
Building a career and occupational value requires patience, consistency, and a willingness to learn new things that are not necessarily part of our passions or dreams. "Do something you love and you won't have to work a day in your life,” is a beautiful slogan and it can generally be true, but not every day. Career advice that sends young people chasing their dreams or 'following their hearts' may be the worst advice for those making their way in the job market, especially in these days when changes are dramatic.
And the changes are really dramatic. In a recent survey, 85% of workers in the U.S. testified that they are considering changing jobs during the year. The phenomenon of large resignations after the Corona period continues and increases. The turnover in workplaces increases as the American economy strengthens. At the same time, the introduction of AI tools is changing jobs and creating new jobs. By the end of 2025, members of Generation Z will make up 27% of the workforce in the OECD countries.
Some of the phenomena that characterize young workers in the current labor market include "quiet resignation" - that is, doing the minimum necessary at work and actually resigning without officially resigning and chasing 'lazy' jobs that are characterized by high pay for little effort. These phenomena challenge employers who wish to create productive work environments and achieve business results.
To maintain 'engagement' in the workplace, Gallup suggests that employers strengthen the sense of meaning and mission, talk with employees regularly, encourage a sense of community and tell them opportunities for growth and advancement. In her article in the Wall Street Journal, Bonnie Hammer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal, argues that instead of chasing career dreams it is better to chase opportunities. She suggests that people be open to trials, connections, and the acquisition of new skills that can advance them in the future. The junior, tedious jobs of the beginning can open up opportunities and teach you new skills that will be useful later on. The beginning, by the way, is not only in the transition or conversion that you do along the way. Involvement in work, she claims, starts with being involved in work and doing everything that is required in the best way - and more.
Today there are AI tools that can assist and optimize many of the 'tedious' jobs that were reserved for juniors. But if we put the technology aside for a moment, and also remember that the AI tool that knows how to photograph documents for us has not yet been invented, these tasks have value. While perceived as boring and unrewarding, the basic tasks allow young workers to learn about the organization, the field, and the industry. To learn important lessons about perseverance, about opening doors, about resilience and about making connections. In most cases there are no shortcuts.
At the beginning, or after moving into a new field, the grade sheet or the educational institution can be a starting point to get you in the door, but the real value in the job market is measured in work, effort, consistency, and results. Employees are required to prove themselves time and time again by meeting expectations and demonstrating abilities. The attitude, the spirit, and the willingness to perform the tasks, even the boring ones, in the best way and to invest effort beyond what is required is what will pave the way for recognition and promotion.
Going above and beyond is the key. In any task, those employees who not only complete the task but also make an effort beyond what is required are those who are appreciated and will eventually create for themselves the opportunities and connections that will lead to promotion.
Climbing the career ladder requires an understanding of the organization, of the interaction between the departments, of organizational politics and of making connections. Starting 'from the bottom' has value in that it allows learning about the organization, understanding how things work and recognition of the different parts of the organization.
Our professional value, unlike personal value, is acquired. And the way it is acquired is through work, perseverance, acquiring skills and presenting results. Personal value is innate to the fact that we are human. When the two are not distinguished, young employees may become frustrated when they expect a quick promotion that does not happen or appreciation and feedback that aren’t forthcoming.
Self-fulfillment, satisfaction, and meaning
Contrary to popular advice, work does not have to be the place where we fulfill ourselves or find our purpose. Work can also be just work. To the credit of Generation Z, many of them demand that the workplace also allow them to live. According to a McKinsey survey conducted in February of this year, the second most important factor after salary for choosing a workplace for members of Generation Z is the balance between work and private life. They want to do things they like to do and that are meaningful to them outside of work hours. That doesn't mean work can't be meaningful or fulfilling. Excessive dependence on 'self-fulfillment' can cause frustration as it can lead to disappointment and burnout.
Some of the decisions we are required to make during our careers are practical. They require accepting positions that are not particularly exciting or working in temporary jobs or performing basic tasks. Focusing on self-fulfillment or passion alone will not allow you to make the same practical decisions that are required throughout your career.
And here comes the part of chasing opportunities. A positive attitude towards basic tasks makes it possible to discover new interests, make contact with new people and better understand the field of work. It allows exploration and inspiration for the next step in a career.
Essential workers too
We are in a time where change is the only constant. The labor market is undergoing upheavals with ever-increasing intensity and frequency. The corona epidemic, a global economic crisis, wars and technological disruption in the form of AI, create chaos in the labor market. These repeated phenomena lead to widespread waves of layoffs and a general feeling of instability. Therefore, one of the popular career tips 'make yourself vital and critical' has lost almost all its relevance. Because, today no one has the way to predict what will be necessary and vital or critical and who or what will be able to replace you tomorrow? If in the past, every parent wanted their children to learn programming, today it is no longer the safe bet. Following an accelerated increase in the capabilities of Generative AI tools, knowledge of programming no longer constitutes a professional insurance certificate. Moreover, in the new world of work, a built-in tension has arisen between employees who continue to try to be critical and irreplaceable and the ambition of managers to avoid a situation of unique centralized employees in order not to develop dependencies. Moreover, an employee's too strenuous attempts to be irreplaceable may give them the image of an egoist with problems with teamwork and systemicity.
And therefore, the formula, just like the job market, also changes frequently. The key is connections. To become a valuable employee, with high survivability even in waves of extreme layoffs, professional knowledge will no longer be enough. In almost every organization there are employees with phenomenal abilities and knowledge, who are authorities in their field, such employees on whom the success of the organization depends to a large extent, but they are few and these tips are not intended for them. What can create unique value for employees in this era is building a wide and deep network of relationships inside and outside the organization. Good and maintained relationships with colleagues, clients, and managers can in many cases change the picture and create opportunities even in times of crisis and especially for replaceable employees.
The career path of every employee consists of opportunities and decisions that are influenced by reality and the surroundings. Therefore, the brilliant career advice that ignores these basics - the creation of professional value, from branding and personal positioning, hard work that provides visible results, continuous learning and development and of course the extensive and strong network of connections - end up leading to frustration and dead ends.