The Three Worst Career Tips I Have Ever Heard

The first bad piece of advice I heard was: “Find a job you are passionate about, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

What a crock that is. And yet, how often do we hear it from misguided charlatans who have more experience hawking their latest “self-help book” than actually working in any profession?

Please, be passionate about your family, your friends, your health, your home, your hobbies, your vacations, and your faith, but keep your job in perspective. Yes, there are days when we all love what we do, but let’s be realistic and understand that some days are not great. At times, we become frustrated, irritated, upset, and ready to “walk away,” which is normal.

I have enjoyed many days of managing private clubs and often celebrated with my employees, and at times my members, when all was going well. But there were also downtimes. Having to terminate a popular employee and not being able to share the reason with the membership comes to mind. As does wrangling with that unreasonable board member who had a personal agenda. And I can’t forget the times when some members would never be happy no matter how we attempted to solve their imaginary problems.

Working in the private club executive search business the second half of my career has also been rewarding most of the time. I like helping great candidates succeed with their careers and club search committees find the best executive talent for their clubs. However, there can often be the search committee “outlier” who never believes any of the candidates possess the talent necessary for their “unique club,” so why don’t we just start the process all over? Oy vey! Those are the times when I thought about going back into club management. Well, maybe for a moment or two.

The second worst piece of advice is one that I ignored late in my career, and as a result, I learned a painful lesson. It suggests that when you ponder new career opportunities, always take the job that offers the most money.

While I was working happily in a great job, with an outstanding management team, at a world-class facility, an executive recruiter approached me with a “once-in-a-lifetime offer.” I was reluctant to look at the opportunity, but the financial and benefits package was significantly more than my current position provided. Even though there were flashing caution signs about the culture of this new company, the dollar signs dancing in my eyes were too strong to ignore. What a mistake.

It didn’t take more than a few weeks to realize the magnitude of my misjudgment. There was a total misalignment of my values and what my boss believed. My management philosophy has always been member-centric, and I firmly believe that high member satisfaction will translate into a healthy
financial result for the club. That concept was foreign to my new employer, who focused on driving bottom-line profits with little or no regard for member experiences. Thankfully, I exited on terms acceptable to both of us. After that debacle, I clearly understood that no amount of money can compensate for a miserable work environment, and I didn’t make that mistake again.

The third piece of bad advice I hear too often is: “Once you find balance in your work and personal life you will be happy.” Forget it. There will never be balance in private club careers. I always tell general managers that instead of looking for balance they need to create “harmony” with their career and personal life.

Some workdays may stretch beyond what you anticipated, and others might allow some unexpected time away from the club. The key is to ensure that you and your family understand the nature of the business, what it requires and when your family members can expect you to give them the quality time they deserve. If you have alignment with the expectations of your employer and with your family and friends, you can withstand the demands of your work life and truly enjoy your time away from the club. Harmony is the goal.

Don’t get me wrong. I have built great friendships with teammates and members over the years, and many have become lifelong friends. I was fortunate to experience many projects and turnarounds that I was excited about, and there isn’t a club where I worked that I don’t hold dear. These fond memories have become part of the fabric of my life.

The private club world can provide you with an outstanding career if you remember to focus on your priorities. You should reserve your passion for family, friends and what is truly important in your life. Don’t ever seek a new opportunity because of the flashing dollar signs, and always strive to bring some harmony into your work and personal life. This much I know for sure.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINENovember/December 2023

“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.