I always find the most interesting things when I clean the garage. The image above is from a fragment of a June 1990 journal I wrote for my soon-to-be wife Elizabeth. She was frustrated by the job she had at the time and asked for my advice on how to deal with it. I was seven years into my career at that point and had been promoted to supervisor at AST. I gave her what I thought was my best advice, but does it still hold up after 25 years? Here’s what I wrote.
You asked me to write down some of my philosophies about work. Well, here they are, and I hope they are as helpful to you as they have been for me.
My philosophy comes from something a counterperson at a Haagen-Dazs ice cream parlor once told me: “If you’re waiting for the [work] day to end, you’re just wasting your life away.”
Realize that you spend about 35% of your time each week at work (excluding lunches and commuting time). That’s a big chunk of time to commit to a single activity. Make the most of it.
Do work that satisfies you. Choose work that interests you, gets you involved, and gives you a sense of challenge and growth.
Have a good attitude on the job. People with good attitudes usually move ahead in terms of raises and promotions. People with bad attitudes usually get fired.
No matter what profession you have, your ultimate job is to solve problems. Your company hired you to fill a certain need. Once the company trained you, it expects you to fill that need with a minimum of interaction on their part. The less work you make for your superiors, the more they will appreciate you as a worker.
Focus on results. What results do your superiors want in this project? How are you going to get them? Can the results be surpassed or improved upon?
You have to do a certain amount of drudge work on your job — unpleasant tasks from annoying little errands to laying off your staff. It is part of your job, and you must do it no matter how much you dislike it.
Volunteer for projects. It will offer you a chance to grow in your position and enhance your value to the company.
Deal with coworkers professionally while you’re on the job, whether they’re your best friends or even if you can’t stand them. Focus on the work; not the personality. Treat others respectfully and courteously, and they’ll treat you the same way. If they don’t, they are being unprofessional and not you.
What I wrote in 1990 still holds up, but there are a few things that I learned since then.
At the time I wrote that journal, I thought that hard work and meeting your employer’s needs would always guarantee respect from others and success. I learned — from a number of painful experiences — that this isn’t always the case. Jobs come and go, and I have been through a few since I wrote that journal. Companies come and go too. AST folded long ago. You can’t always depend on an employer, but you can depend on yourself and your values.
Your career is about you. At the end of a work day, you should feel happy about the work you’ve done or at least how you handled the challenges of the day and kept your sanity and reputation intact. Professionalism, dedication, and responsibility aren’t solely to benefit your employer. They are for you. They show you that you’ve done your best, upheld your integrity, and proved to yourself that you are worthy and competent. You can’t always expect your superiors and coworkers to appreciate your best efforts. But you can go home at night, look at yourself in the mirror, and be proud of the person looking back at you. A job well done is a part of a life well lived.