In honor of Labor Day in the United States, our discussion turned to the topic of “work”; what advice would we give our children about choosing work and making the most of it? Well, I’ve done my best to distill the conversation into seven salient tips.
1. Don’t solve for the rest of your life; look forward one hill at a time
While it’s important to have aspirations for the future, it’s nearly impossible to map every step of the journey. So, just figure out how to cross the next hill, as it may reveal options of which you weren’t aware. In fact, “your future job may not have been invented yet!”
2. The next step in your journey may not be perfect, but it may be necessary
Rewarding careers are rarely easy; they almost always require steps few are willing to take. Whether it’s becoming a world-class athlete, scientist, entrepreneur, or surgeon, you will likely have to choose something difficult and less-than-desirable. Additionally, as one friend put it, “the world needs ditch diggers, too;” so we are fortunate that people do choose difficult professions. Finally, when it comes to some of these jobs, “don’t be too worried about what others think,” as they’re not invested in your journey.
3. It’s not just what you’re going to be doing, it’s with whom you’re going to be doing it
Remember that 8 am to 6 pm is the vast majority of your waking hours; you’ll be spending that time with people you hopefully like to be with; with the right people, most work can be rewarding. Further, the right people can help you grow and prepare you for the next step in your journey.
4. Optimize for 3 things: your passion, your talent, and expected return
While “love what you do” is certainly valuable guidance, it’s important to also consider 1) whether your talents lie there and 2) whether your expected return is commensurate. “You can make money doing almost anything, but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to be hard,” so it’s important to optimize for all three dimensions: what you love to do, what you’re good at, and what can support your life.
5. You don’t choose your talents or intelligence, but you can choose how hard you work
As a corollary to #4 above, once you’ve selected the right path, it’s critical to “be relentless and do whatever it takes” to succeed; while others may be smarter or more talented, you are in control of how hard you work.
6. Your word is your bond; cherish your reputation
Everyone says this, but very few actually live by it. Think about how few people you can endorse wholeheartedly because they haven’t kept their word or don’t work hard. If you accept a new job, think twice before you renege because your existing employer make you a counter-offer as that would be breaking your word; when you leave a job, do so professionally and with respect to those who are staying behind. Your reputation is paramount.
7. In today’s day and age, it’s almost never too late
Here is the good news: even in your so-called “retirement years”, you can still learn a new skill and pursue a new passion; don’t ever give up on continuing to grow. Likewise, “if you dread it, leave it;” it’s not too late.