Today’s piece of wisdom from nearly 60 years’ of experience is to work hard.
Work hard. That doesn’t necessarily mean work 60 hours a week for your entire career. It does mean while you are at work and getting paid for working WORK! Get off of Facebook (unless you’re researching something or actually working there), quit interrupting others and keeping them from their tasks by chatting about what you did last weekend, and get off your damn phone. (I know, now I sound like an old person and I have Clint Eastwood’s voice in my head (“get off my lawn!”).) But it’s true. Your employer is paying you to work, so you should have enough consideration and respect for them to do so. They hired you for a reason that has something to do with accomplishing goals and if you think you deserve to be paid for doing nothing to help them to that end, you are wrong. There is another person right behind you willing to actually work for the money you are being paid. Save your Facebook, chatting, and texting for your breaks.
Working hard also means learning. A job description is a list of the tasks that the person before you handled. That doesn’t mean that that is all you should ever do. Expand your expertise. You never know, you could impress the heck out of them. Learn at least one new thing every day. Learn about your company and what they do–the 30,000 foot view. Learn how each piece of your company works together to make the end product or how each person in the company works together to produce the end service. You can learn something from every single person you work with.
Working hard means showing respect. Even though I am older than 99% of the people in my firm, I show respect to them all, even the people who are younger than my kids. They are attorneys, I am not. We are all part of the team, but we also have our place. Everyone deserves respect, but if you aren’t friendly or helpful to those superior to you, or if you refuse to help out because it’s “not your job,” or if you just flat out refuse their pleas for assistance, that is not in the least bit respectful. Everyone is busy and I know that sometimes when I get 10 requests for assistance at the same time, I get a little bit overwhelmed. But once I actually look at what it is they each want and prioritize what needs to be done first, I somehow manage to get it done and then they can get on with their work. If you respect others and prove your value, guess what? They will respect you back. And respect is a wonderful thing to receive and the perfect complement to your paycheck.
Working hard means you may have to start at the bottom of the ladder instead of graduating from college and sliding into the number 2 position. You have to prove yourself and prove that you have what it takes to make it there. Remember that you can be a shining star even at the bottom of the ladder. Make it your goal to obtain a position and then make it yours. Do what you are expected to do and then . . . do more. Indispensable isn’t a word I like to use for this, but admiration, appreciation, recognition, and acknowledgment are more along the lines of what I want (did I mention I’m a Leo?).
Working hard means being part of a team. In a law firm it usually means everyone has their place on the team and the team works together toward the end goal. Sometimes, particularly when you are actually in trial or working on a deadline, everyone on the team has to do whatever needs to be done. Don’t ever be sitting down texting your friends while the boss is running the copy machine. But you could be researching or drafting something while the boss is making coffee. Do what needs to be done.
Working hard means having a career–not just a job. When you have a career, you spend time developing it. You join associations geared toward your career, you read the latest updates on trends in your career field, you become certified if that’s available in your career, you mentor others to love your career as much as you do, and you keep learning and improving yourself and sometimes, by your example, you improve others.
Just be respectful. In my long legal history, I have been fortunate enough to have really great bosses. Bosses who will stay until the project is finished even if it is 2 a.m. (although I usually send them home because I can be much more efficient at that time without them hovering). Bosses who will answer any dumb question I may have (and it’s amazing what I’ve learned from answers to dumb questions). Bosses who ask for (and listen to) my input on issues. Bosses who appreciate my “laypeople won’t understand this” comments. Bosses who don’t question most of my suggested edits to their documents anymore. But all of this is only because I have proven myself. I’ve proven that I’m interested in every document I touch, that I’m trying to make them look better, that I care what people think about them and our firm, and that this is my career and I love what I do.
You have to work for a long time, so spend it doing something you actually enjoy with people you actually like. Even working for a long time seems short in the scheme of it all. And life is far too short to spend 30 years being miserable every single day. Find what you love and do that. Don’t go into a job just because you have grand ideas of making zillions of dollars there because that’s just not worth it. If you love getting up every morning and going to work and getting a regular paycheck for doing work that you enjoy, that is what matters. Even if you don’t “love” getting up because, like me, you’re not a morning person, a job that is interesting, challenging, and fulfilling is worth much more than a boring job that you hate.
Steve Jobs said it best. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”