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Trendy fads won't help your career

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Get this: executives are worrying about how they look in swim trunks that "balloon" when they get in the water at a corporate outing or the boss's retreat. That's right, there's a whole story about it in The Wall Street Journal.

Yes, I know I made a fairly convincing argument some years ago for how clothes do make a difference in your management career. Don't remind me.

On the flip side, I had a CEO who owned exactly one tie and a board director who wore hiking shorts. Today I'm wearing a flannel shirt, cargo pants and Converse All Stars. So what? Nobody cares.

Look, when it comes to your career, climbing the corporate ladder and all that, most people spend way too much time sweating the small stuff and not enough time dealing with what really matters. Want to know why people do that? I'll tell you why. Two reasons:

First, there's that dumb serenity prayer. You know, the one that says, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." Here's the problem. The wisdom of that statement hinges very much on your particular definition of what you can and cannot change.

Here's a great example. If you're looking for a job or a promotion, there are so many things about the process that you don't understand so you assume it's more or less out of your control. So what do you do? Obsess over the minutiae. I have a friend who calls me up in a frenzy over how to address a thank you note after an interview. It's nuts.

Sure, you can control the minutiae, but who cares? Not to mention there are lots of things you can do to seriously improve your chances of landing a job or promotion, but they're way more difficult than writing a note and take a lot more time than buying a tie. I call that taking the easy way out.

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Which brings us to the second reason. There are thousands, maybe millions of people out there who are trying to get ahead, just like you. The only difference is they've figured out how to make money by selling you on all sorts of trendy myths and fads, meaningless fluff that masquerades as self-help or career advice. Gen Y consultants, personal branding "gurus," career and life coaches -- they're all over the blogosphere and social media.

No, it's not a conspiracy; it's a free country and they're free to capture your eyeballs any way they see fit. If you're willing to buy what they're selling, that's all well and good.

For example, Gen Y careerist Penelope Trunk likes to tell people to advance their careers by getting plastic surgery, why Gen Y can do your job better than you, and how Christmas is destroying corporate America. You just can't make this stuff up. And you know what? People love it. She's got more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

I'm sure Trunk thinks I'm some sort of demon the way I pick on her from time to time, and while I might think much of what she has to say is ludicrous contrarian bunk, I give her credit for making a living at something that, frankly, is very hard to do. Good or bad, right or wrong, it's the American way. You go girl.

And don't even get me started on Mr. Me himself, Dan Schawbel. Selling a generation on career success being all about personal branding. What a bunch of nonsense. If this guy's the voice of the millennials, I think we've got way more than a $15 trillion national debt to worry about when it comes to the future of America.

But I digress.

The point is this: When it comes to important things like landing a great job, climbing the corporate ladder, and building a successful career, there's no quick fix, miracle diet or dopy fad that will help you. Likewise, you can't dress, tweet, text, like, share, or post your way to a bright future.

And when it comes to the serenity prayer, try to keep an open mind to the possibility that you have more control over your success and your happiness than you realize. You can change a lot more than you think -- like big things that really matter -- but not if you waste all your time on small stuff that doesn't.

One more thing. If you need help, just click here and I'll take care of you. Don't worry, I'm not a career coach; it's on the house.

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