Can Excellent Advice Make You Unhappy?

Wonder Woman at Work

Wonder Women mementoes (displayed in my office) from my dear friend and writer Jeanne V Bowerman

There are a few people I read religiously for insight and perspective on work/business life. Probably on the top of the list:

I’ve just had a sudden epiphany about this reading I do. Maybe you can tell me if it’s really something notable, or I’m just spinning a story.

First, all of these men are entrepreneurs and have been greatly successful by conventional standards.

Second, their advice makes me (at times) unhappy, dissatisfied, and anxious in regards to my work life, or feeling like …

  • I’m not doing a good enough job.
  • I can’t control or change the things they’re talking about.
  • I should go do something else (or otherwise settle with something less than what they advise).

Here’s an example of what I mean—this is from Seth Godin’s blog post “All I Do Is Work Here”:

Then, a few days ago, I heard from someone in a different group at the same company, asking for help with a project she was working on. I explained that the last time I helped someone in her group with a project, I was misquoted, my time was wasted and they violated whatever trust we had. Susan said, and I’m quoting precisely the same line, “All I do is work here. They pay my salary, but I’m me, not them.”

No, Susan, you are them.

The reason your brand is falling apart is because so many of your colleagues are saying the same thing, denying the same responsibility. Consumers don’t believe (or care) that there are warrens and fiefdoms and monarchies within your company.

Also check out “A small, gentle question that could change your life” by Mark Hurst.

I don’t dispute the truth of what’s being said in these posts. However, people like Susan cannot control the corporate culture they work in, or the decisions of other people. She can only control her own actions.

If she can’t change other people’s behavior or particular values of her company, does she need to find another job—even if she’s making an important contribution? Become an entrepreneur instead?

Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, though that feels like the idea du jour.

How would the entrepreneurs delivering this advice fare in an environment where they don’t have absolute control? Would the advice change?

There are trade-offs to working for someone else—and working for a company or brand does not mean that becomes your very identity. Such close identification feels toxic, with potential to produce anger, frustration, anxiety, and dissatisfaction.

Yet the cultural message these days, in books like Godin’s Linchpin (a book I bought for 15 of my staff) is that we all ought to be contributing very meaningful or emotional work, which probably is wrapped up in our identity.

Doing emotional work—delivering with passion, generosity and integrity—is something everyone is capable of (as Godin himself says). And it requires emotional resilience, confidence, maturity. When you’re emotionally wrapped up in the outcomes and your purpose, does this really make you happier? Does it produce a better outcome?

This is the question I struggle with. Where do you come out on the question?

Note: This blog post by Kenny the Monk begins to tackle the question. Even though it’s written for people who may be losing a job, it’s really for anyone facing predicaments in work life.

Posted in Life Philosophy, Work-Life.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I've wondered this many times. On even a more pointed note – would the same entrepreneurs have even gone on to become gurus of advice if that first time they thought outside the box things went badly? It's very difficult to say…and so many of them have now moved on to the much safer ground of teaching others to take risks and change careers, giving speeches and seminars but not doing all that much risk taking… I think, personally, that you have two responsibilities in your professional life. You have to fulfill your own need to be useful and successful,… Read more »


There are many things to say about your entry but one important and simple note to mention is this: Life has everything we need but we are given the voice from within to guide us and choose what we think is best. Every person, every word, every thought is given to us in assistance but if we don't feel quite right about it, then it isn't right for us. There's no such thing as the best advice because what's best for me may not be the best for you. Reading is very helpful in our development but it's dangerous to… Read more »

Brian Sheehan

The times I've faced answering questions like this one have usually been precursors to significant change in my life. I had a high degree of fear of the unknown, along with my ever-present self-doubt, so I did what I could to gain knowledge about writing a book at the core of my heart. For years, I had fed myself on all sorts of books and information, reading about writing, reading about memoir, reading about writing to save my life, reading about publishing, reading about everything, doing everything I possibly could, except the actual writing. I nodded along with the advice… Read more »


Oh, I agree that when starting out all writers have a lot to learn, and that a guide to get them through this is essential. Sometimes it's just the ability to get that first level of competence from a book without letting the writing world at large see how green one is is worth the price of a few “how to” manuals. I know a lot of authors, though, that read endlessly through exercises and methods and process-guides, buy software to organize and outline, attend webinars and seminars and groups, and never find the time (or possibly the courage?) to… Read more »


It must be very difficult and exhausting to live like this. Could your endless questioning stem from an attempt to make everything perfect? To avoid mistakes? I know how it feels when you have hundred options available at the same time and most of them seem feasible. What to choose? What makes more sense? What's the best? Have you tried to write things down on the list? In paralyzing situations, I find it helpful to just write it all down and evaluate each option/thought, one at a time, narrow it down systematically until I reach a conclusion. Then, STOP! Otherwise… Read more »

Brian Sheehan

Love those. Also fond of “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.” Lao Tzu


Thank you, Jane! I could lead the discussion further but maybe it's better to leave it alone for now 🙂
I'm thinking of reading Committed at some point in the future.