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Ursula Burns, Mark Cuban and more on the career advice you should ignore in your 20s

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox speaking at the 2105 CGI Annual Meeting in New York.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox speaking at the 2105 CGI Annual Meeting in New York.

The first few years of your career is often filled with uncertainty around job decisions, salary agreements and even your personality in the workplace.

For many professionals, mentors and older colleagues are key to helping them make the right decisions professionally. But many successful people also say they looked back and realized that advice they were given at the outset of their careers wasn't always helpful.

Below, five executives share the advice they were given that they warn millennials to ignore:

 1. Uber's Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John

Bozoma Saint John is the Chief Brand Officer at Uber.
Getty Images
Bozoma Saint John is the Chief Brand Officer at Uber.

In an interview with Rebecca Jarvis on her "No Limits" podcast, Bozoma Saint John discussed the well-intentioned advice from a female executive that turned out to be bad for her success.

Early in her career, she said that she was told by an older female colleague to never wear red nail polish or red lipstick in the workplace.

"It would be a bold message, and you don't want to do that," she says the executive told her. "You want to be sort of understated and let people take you seriously."

While the advice was meant to help Saint John's career, silencing her presence actually hurt her.

"The damage it did was made me question whether or not I could be bold in an office because I am a bold person," said Saint John, who served as an Apple executive before joining Uber in June 2017.

Saint John says she walked around in a slump for months as she tried to hide her personality.

Eventually, a good friend asked her what was going on, observing that, "This isn't you." Saint John says a light bulb went off that made her realize the only way to succeed is to bring her full self to work.

"By bringing your whole self to work you can bring full ideas and the wholeness of you," she said. "You are the only you — so why not bring that?"

2. Microsoft's CTO Kevin Scott

Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott
Photo courtesy of Microsoft
Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott has worked at tech giants like Google, LinkedIn and now Microsoft. Over his 20-year career, he has received a lot of advice, both good and bad, but says the worst advice is the idea that young people have to be patient.

"There are all sorts of situations where people tell you to be patient, and you need to wait for this, or you're not ready for that," he tells CNBC Make It.

Scott says patience should be applied on a case-by-case basis, because "sometimes, things just can't go faster than they are." He advises young people to carefully assess whether the advice is right for their career.

"You have to understand if the advice they are giving you is to help you manage a situation about them, or if the advice to be patient is about you," he says.

3. The Pink Ceiling CEO Cindy Whitehead

As the CEO of The Pink Ceiling, Cindy Whitehead makes it her mission to share her knowledge of failure and success with other business leaders. Her company offers consulting and seed funding to start-ups that are working to improve women's lives.

In an interview with CNBC Make It, she says the biggest lesson she hopes her success teaches young people is to ignore any advice that tells you to follow a blueprint.

"The worst piece of advice is to show up and follow all of the rules," she says. "The idea that we sort of recommend to young people that you stay quiet and do what the norm is as opposed to challenging that, and if it doesn't make sense going ahead and breaking it."

Whitehead says young people should avoid seeking permission to be themselves.

"My hypothesis is there are a lot of people like me who are driven and have a love of science, but they are completely demotivated by society, which has beaten the individuality out of them," she says.

4. Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns
Getty Images
Ursula Burns

On Rebecca Jarvis' "No Limits" podcast, Ursula Burns shared the advice she often ignored throughout her career. As someone with many opinions, Burns says people often told her she needed to be quieter in the workplace.

"Why fight it? You're not going to benefit from this," she says she was told.

But the one-time intern who worked her way up to CEO says remaining quiet at work was not the key to her success.

In fact, after speaking up and confronting a VP at a 1989 company meeting, Burns was promoted from an entry-level position to an executive assistant role. From there, she continued to use her voice and leadership skills to work her way up the ranks at Xerox.

"On average, it's better to open your mouth than to keep your mouth shut," she said. "That I'm totally convinced of. Second thing, on average people are waiting for somebody to open their mouth and if all it does is catalyze for other people to open their mouth then that's good."

5. Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban speaks onstage during the THRIVE with Arianna Huffington panel at The Town Hall during 2016 Advertising Week New York on September 28, 2016 in New York City.
Slaven Vlasic | Getty Image
Mark Cuban speaks onstage during the THRIVE with Arianna Huffington panel at The Town Hall during 2016 Advertising Week New York on September 28, 2016 in New York City.

"Follow your passion" may be a widely-accepted career trope, but according to billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, it can easily be the worst advice given.

In a 2012 blog post, he says, "Think about all those passions that you considered making a career out of or building a company around. How many were/are there? … Why were you not able to make a career or business out of any of those passions?"

If you were able to make a career out of your passion, he asks, "What was the key to the success? Was it the passion or the effort you put into your job or company?"

Instead of following your passion, Cuban says you should follow your effort as that's the real indication of how far you will go.

"Look at where you apply your time. ... You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don't use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you," he said.

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