Love It or Leave It!

This week I was asked what type of advice I’d give to someone starting a career in public service. It wasn’t all that difficult to answer this question but while I was framing my response I realized that my advice would be the same no matter where the person was in their career or where they chose to work.

If you don’t have the experience you need to be selected for a certain job, start at the beginning and get that experience! Throughout my career, I’ve followed this simple, guiding principle: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. What I found by applying this litmus test to career decisions was that I was more likely to invest the time, money, and energy I needed to excel at something when it interested me!

Work doesn’t have to be just about “making a living”, although this is the reason most of us work. “Making a living” implies that you’re willing to settle for a certain job until something better comes along. This approach might be sufficient when you’re just starting out but what does “better” mean to you? Is it just about the money? Are you looking for better working conditions? Or do you want to do something you truly enjoy and get paid for it too?

In my mind, the latter choice embraces the first two definitions of “better” because no matter what you’re paid or where you work, if you truly enjoy what you do, “making a living” will not only happen, but your opportunities to earn a better living will also grow! Doing what you love develops inner confidence; this translates into excellence and that comes across in job interviews, performance reviews, promotion opportunities and professional recognition! No matter what your interest, sincere dedication will come from those internal motivators borne out of enjoyment.

Finding a job you love doesn’t require mentorship but learning from those who have gone before you can’t hurt! Networking with people who work in an field that interests you doesn’t mean hearing about job openings where they work. Networking is about learning from people who are already earning a living by doing what you enjoy; it’s about improving your knowledge-base and better preparing yourself while improving your competitive status for employment in a field that interests you. This goes back to “doing what you love”, doesn’t it?

Let me ask you, if you’re a hobbyist, don’t you love to connect with people who share your interest? You may Tweet about your hobby or go to conventions to learn about the latest trends in your hobby. The same holds true with job networking. Connect with people who already work in an area you love … this will help you stay in touch with the latest trends in that field; it will give you ideas about what’s next in your learning cadre; and if you happen to learn about a job opportunity along the way, that’s your bonus! It just shouldn’t be your only reason for networking. Networking is about “connections”. It’s about staying abreast of something you enjoy; it’s about sharing & developing your ideas; and it’s about making contact with people who share your interests.

Set realistic goals for yourself, update your goals often, and always keep learning throughout your career. I don’t think anyone would argue that “Knowledge is Power”. But “power” doesn’t have to emit negative connotations. In the employment sense, “power” is about having the confidence to deliver the best product you can and to do so to the best of your ability. This type of confidence transfers almost imperceptibly to employers and doesn’t come across as “arrogance”.

Employers don’t expect their entry-level candidates to know it all on their first day of work. What employers want from their entry level employees is the sincere and humble confidence a job seeker transmits during the job interview and their willingness to learn and grow. This is the best sales pitch a job seeker can give …. and it can’t be faked. Humility is what separates the truly confident, interested job seeker from the one who’s trying to camouflage their weaknesses during an interview. Confidence ties into my original premise: “If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Don’t worry too much about what a job pays; focus on what you will learn from the job so you can translate that experience into the next rung on your career ladder. Today’s workplace expects entry-level employees to move up in the organization about every 3-5 years or to move on to greater opportunities. So, even though employer loyalty is a bonus, let’s be honest: that kind of loyalty has the potential to create a stagnant cesspool of unrequited dreams, especially if the organization doesn’t invest in developing its employees.

With every career move, it’s important to set yourself up to learn what’s needed so you can take the next step in your professional journey. Make your steps “baby-steps” too. If you take on more than you can handle at one time, it could make you despise what you used to love doing. Bite off only what you can handle at the moment. Enjoy what you’re learning and use it, practice it, and develop your skills in that area. Eventually, what you’ve learned will become second nature to you and that’s when you’ll know it’s time to take the next step ollyour professional journey.

When you stop being curious, it’s time to retire! That says it all! When you’re done learning, you’ve reached the pinnacle of your abilities and, hopefully, you’ll also be at the top of your game. Either way, when you reach this point, it’s time to do something new … and perhaps you’ll explore “life after retirement”!

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Alan L. Greenberg

Well said. I’m retired now and the only regret I have about my career is that I can’t do it again. I think back to an early boss who was a tyrant but unwittingly became a mentor with some of his advice (or commands). I later would pass the same information to my subordinates, although a bit more genteel. He would say, “Don’t just do your job – take the initiative to do more than your job requires.” Another one he used (this was an era when the profile of the “govment worker” was a lot different than today) was “If they’re paying you to work to five o’clock it wouldn’t hurt to work fifteen minutes longer.” Last but not least – “If you’re out of town and your assignment is done you don’t have to take the one o’clock Greyhound home. Stay longer and see some more people.” This boss was similar to legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. When a reporter asked a player if Lombardi treated his stars different than the scrubs the player answered, “Vince treats us all the same, like pigs.”

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