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5 Popular Career Rules You Might Want to Break + Resources

Thousands of articles are published each day about career guidelines and several Career coaches sprouting everyday, getting swept up in

career rules you might want to break

Thousands of articles are published each day about career guidelines and several Career coaches sprouting everyday, getting swept up in the tide of conventional wisdom is easy. We’ve all heard well-meaning advice from parents, mentors, and colleagues: “Stick to a linear career path,” “Always say yes to new opportunities,” and “Climb the corporate ladder for success.” These so-called career rules have been passed down from generation to generation, shaping how we approach our professional lives.

But here’s the truth: not all career rules are meant to be followed mindlessly. Sometimes breaking these rules can lead to more significant personal and professional growth. This article will challenge five career rules you might want to break. So, if you’re currently working or on the hunt for a new job, read on to discover why it’s okay to question the advice you’re hearing and consider stepping off the beaten path.

Why You Shouldn’t Always Listen to Career Rules

Before we explore the career rules you might want to break, let’s talk about why exercising a healthy dose of skepticism regarding career advice is essential. While some rules are based on timeless principles, the job landscape constantly evolves. What worked for previous generations may not work in today’s dynamic and rapidly changing world. By unthinkingly adhering to career rules, you might miss out on exciting opportunities for growth, innovation, and personal fulfillment. Embracing flexibility and thinking outside the box can lead to unexpected successes and a more fulfilling career journey.

Career Rules You Might Want to Break

1. Linear Career Path: Embrace the Nonlinear Journey

What the Rule Is: The linear career path advises you to move upward through promotions and advancements within a single field.

Why It’s a Rule: Society often equates success with steadily climbing the corporate ladder.

Why You Should Break It: Embracing a nonlinear career path, where you explore different industries and roles and even take steps backward to pivot, can lead to a richer and more diverse skill set. This approach, known as being a “T-shaped professional,” allows you to bring unique perspectives and innovation to your work.

2. Saying No at Work: Prioritize Your Well-being

  • What the Rule Is: The prevailing wisdom is to say yes to every task or project that comes your way.
  • Why It’s a Rule: Accepting more work is often seen as a sign of dedication and ambition.
  • Why You Should Break It: Learning to say no strategically can help you focus on tasks that align with your strengths and passions. By avoiding burnout and overstretching, you can deliver higher-quality results and maintain a healthier work-life balance.

3. Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Redefine Your Success

  • What the Rule Is: The traditional view of success involves steadily ascending the corporate hierarchy.
  • Why It’s a Rule: Climbing the corporate ladder is seen as the epitome of achievement and financial stability.
  • Why You Should Break It: Success should not be solely defined by your position on the organizational chart. Pursuing opportunities that align with your values and passions, even if they don’t lead to a corner office, can lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful career.

4. Sticking to Your Niche: Embrace Uncertainty

  • What the Rule Is: Focusing on a specific niche is often recommended for becoming an expert in a particular field.
  • Why It’s a Rule: Specialization can lead to more profound knowledge and recognition in your chosen domain.
  • Why You Should Break It: Embracing uncertainty and exploring multiple disciplines can foster creativity and innovation. T-shaped professionals, who possess both depth and breadth of skills, are better equipped to solve complex challenges and drive innovation.

5. Pursuing Stability and Security: Embrace the Unknown

  • What the Rule Is: Pursuing stability and job security is a common career goal.
  • Why It’s a Rule: A stable job is associated with financial security and reduced risk.
  • Why You Should Break It: Embracing uncertainty and taking calculated risks can lead to personal and professional growth. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can lead to new opportunities, skills, and experiences that ultimately contribute to a more fulfilling career.
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Forbes – “Why a Nonlinear Career Path is More Rewarding”

  • Link: Forbes Article
  • This article explores the benefits of deviating from a linear career path and highlights real-life success stories of individuals who have embraced unconventional trajectories.

Harvard Business Review – “The Power of T-Shaped Professionals”

  • Link: HBR Article
  • Delve into the concept of T-shaped professionals and learn how developing a breadth of skills in addition to deep expertise can lead to greater innovation and adaptability.

Inc. – “The Art of Saying No: How Refusing More Work Can Lead to Success”

  • Link: Inc. Article
  • This article provides practical insights into the strategic art of saying no at work, helping you navigate your workload and prioritize tasks that align with your strengths and goals.

TED Talk – “Embracing Uncertainty: The New Path to Success”

  • Link: TED Talk
  • Tune into this thought-provoking TED Talk to gain a fresh perspective on how embracing uncertainty and calculated risk-taking can lead to personal and professional growth.

Fast Company – “Redefining Success: It’s Not All About the Corner Office”

  • Link: Fast Company Article
  • Challenge the notion of corporate ladder climbing and explore alternative definitions of success that prioritize fulfillment and purpose.

LinkedIn Learning – “Breaking Career Rules: A Guide to Thriving in a Nonlinear World”

  • Link: LinkedIn Learning Course
  • Enroll in this comprehensive online course to learn practical strategies for thriving in a nonlinear career path, including leveraging diverse skills and navigating uncertainty.

Book: “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

  • This book offers practical tools and insights for designing a fulfilling career and life, encouraging readers to break free from conventional thinking and embrace experimentation.

Podcast: “The Unconventionalists” hosted by Mark Leruste

  • Link: Podcast
  • Dive into this podcast series that features conversations with individuals who have defied traditional career norms and achieved success on their terms.

Medium – “Career Development” Publication

  • Link: Medium Publication
  • Explore a wide range of articles and personal stories within the “Career Development” publication on Medium, offering fresh perspectives and unconventional career advice.

Your Network: Real Stories, Real Inspiration

  • Connect with professionals in your network who have broken career rules and carved out unique paths to success. Personal anecdotes and insights from those who have walked the path can be invaluable sources of inspiration.


In the world of careers, not all rules are created equal. While some career advice holds true, others may hinder your potential for growth and fulfillment. Remember, it’s okay to question these conventional rules and consider breaking them to discover your unique path to success. Embrace the nonlinear journey, prioritize your well-being, redefine your version of success, explore beyond your niche, and dare to embrace uncertainty. By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to reimagining your professional success and achieving a career that is authentically yours. So, the next time you hear a career rule, ask yourself: is it time to break it?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

1. Why should I consider breaking traditional career rules?

  • Conventional career rules may not always align with the evolving job landscape. By breaking these rules, you open yourself to new opportunities, innovative thinking, and a more fulfilling career path.

2. What is a nonlinear career path, and why is it important?

  • A nonlinear career path involves exploring different industries and roles and taking steps backward to pivot. It’s important because it allows you to develop a diverse skill set, think creatively, and bring fresh perspectives to your work.

3. How can saying no at work lead to success?

  • Learning to say no strategically helps you focus on tasks that align with your strengths, prevents burnout, and maintains a healthier work-life balance. Quality over quantity often leads to better results and personal well-being.

4. Isn’t climbing the corporate ladder the only way to succeed?

  • Success is no longer solely defined by climbing the corporate ladder. It’s essential to redefine success based on personal values, passions, and meaningful contributions, even if it means exploring non-traditional paths.

5. What are T-shaped professionals, and why are they valuable?

  • T-shaped professionals possess both deep expertise in one area (the vertical stroke of the “T”) and a breadth of skills across various disciplines (the horizontal stroke). They are valuable for their ability to innovate, solve complex problems, and adapt to changing circumstances.

6. How can embracing uncertainty enhance my career?

  • Embracing uncertainty pushes you out of your comfort zone and encourages calculated risk-taking. It fosters personal and professional growth, cultivates adaptability, and prepares you to thrive in dynamic environments.

7. Is it risky to break career rules?

  • While breaking career rules involves risks, calculated and informed decisions can produce rewarding outcomes. It’s about finding a balance between stability and embracing growth opportunities.

8. What resources can help me navigate a non-traditional career path?

  • Various resources, including articles, books, podcasts, and online courses, provide insights, real-life examples, and practical strategies for thriving in a non-traditional career journey.

9. How do I convince others that breaking career rules is a valid choice?

  • Communicate your decisions confidently, backed by research, and clearly understand your goals. Sharing success stories of individuals who have broken career rules can help validate your choices.

10. Can I combine elements of traditional and non-traditional career approaches?

  • Absolutely. Your career journey is unique, and you can blend elements of both traditional and non-traditional approaches to create a path that aligns with your aspirations and values.

Remember, breaking career rules isn’t about disregarding all advice; it’s about critically evaluating advice, considering your personal circumstances, and making informed choices that lead to a more fulfilling and successful career. 1
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