Dolly Parton, Oprah and Melinda Gates All Agree That This Advice for Ambitious Women Is Stupid

Eva Rinaldi via Flickr

Do you want to get ahead in life? Do you want to work your way up the ladder at work or take charge of your own brand and make a difference in the world? However you define success, if you want to be the best and brightest in your chosen industry or career field, there’s one thing to keep in mind – not all advice is good advice.

Dolly Parton, Oprah Winfrey and Melinda French Gates are all powerful female moguls. They have all found success in different industries and in different ways. They have many differences, but what unites them is that they are powerful, successful women.

When asked what advice they would offer other ambitious women, they all had similar responses. Instead of straight up offering career advice, they explained what advice to ignore and why they chose to ignore this specific advice.

In a nutshell, the advice you should ignore is to change who you are to fit in. While they phrased this advice differently, it all came down to the same thing.

Parton explained that when she was younger, she was told that in order to get ahead she needed to tone down her style. On Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast, she explained, “The main advice that people wanted to give me was to change my look–to go simpler with my hair and the way that I dress, not to look so cheap. Nobody was ever going to take me seriously, they would say.”

Parton chose to ignore this advice. She said, “The way I look and the way I looked then was a country girl’s idea of glam, just like I wrote in my ‘Backwoods Barbie’ song. It was really like a look I was after. I wasn’t a natural beauty. I just like to look the way I look. I’m so outgoing inside, I need the way I look to match all of that.”

Winfrey has a similar story about why she quit the show “60 Minutes.” While it wasn’t her physical appearance that she was asked to tone down, she was told to act in a way that wasn’t true to who she is. In her case, she was told that she needed to be less emotional. She explained, “I was working on pulling myself down and flattening out my personality — which, for me, is actually not such a good thing.” She ended up deciding not to change who she was, so she quit the show.

Meanwhile, French Gates explained that when she first graduated from college, she tried to fit in and realized “fitting in is overrated.”I spent my first few years at my first job out of college doing everything I could to make myself more like the people around me. It didn’t bring out the best in me–and it didn’t position me to bring out the best in others. The best advice I have to offer is: Seek out people and environments that empower you to be nothing but yourself.”

If you feel like you have to change who you are to get ahead, it’s time to rethink that advice. Being themselves certainly worked out well for Parton, Winfrey and French Gates.