There is a worn-out cliché that talks about the importance of working smarter and what that has done is to negate the benefits of working hard. Hard work is the backbone of any career and parents often tell their children to work hard and be responsible. Over time, and when productivity habits set in, the effort exerted may become conditional. I have worked as a career coach for several years and heard many reasons why someone quit working hard. It may be due to a “bad” boss, poor working conditions, a lack of a pay increase, not receiving recognition, and the list continues. While there may certainly be merit to these feelings, it serves no real purpose to make working hard a conditional characteristic. If you care about your career development then working hard needs to be a top priority.
Putting in Your Best at Work
Your job has a specific description, or at least an expectation of what it is you are supposed to accomplish. Over time you can determine what the minimum amount of effort is needed to complete the required duties – and that may be enough for you to feel good when the workday ends. Then there are circumstances that influence the amount of effort you put in. There may be too much work, an upcoming deadline, or person in authority who is pressuring you to do more. You may willingly or grudgingly do more as requested, but when you really stop and consider this job, do you realize it is your career at stake – and the attitude you develop about your job will also become the attitude you develop about your career? If your performance is minimal it is usually accompanied by feelings of job dissatisfaction and that may cast a negative mindset over your career. Putting in your best means you care about your career, if not your job, and it means you view your effort in a wider career perspective.
Feeling Good, Purposeful Intent
So how do you feel good about a job and maintain it even when circumstances cause you to dislike it? You cannot force yourself to feel positive emotions when there are events or people who prompt negativity. Which can do is to change your perspective. You can decide that you are going to feel good about yourself as a professional or as an employee despite conditions – and anchor it to a stationary position statement that is focused on your career. You can create this mindset with purposeful intent. Your career is a series of steps and progress will occur over time and likely through more than one position or job. At the heart of this is you as a person, and it is you who is learning and growing. With purposeful intent you can view each job as input – providing skills, knowledge, and direction. If one job does not meet your expectations or provides difficult conditions to work in, itemize what you’ve gained from it and decide upon your next step.
Become the Employee You Like
Consider for a moment that you are a hiring manager. What is the type of candidate you would consider hiring? Is it someone whose tone displays obvious frustration and does not seem to have much to say about their current or existing employer? That is not a likely candidate for your position. Now consider a candidate who comes along and has a professional presence, demonstrates a clear understanding of their career path or goals, and explains what they have gained from each of the jobs they’ve held throughout their career? That is a candidate who will likely gain your interests, even if they are not considered for the position.
The point of these scenarios is to show the contrast between someone who possesses an underlying feeling of career helplessness or career help. If that is the person you would like to hire, then become that employee now. Your disposition will carry over into your tone and vocabulary. As a professional writer I can spot that in a person’s resume through their choice of words and how they describe their jobs when I talk to them. Someone who works hard and views their jobs as a learning experience will develop a self-confidence about who they are and the talents they possess – regardless of job conditions or demands made of them.
Developing a Career Focus
You can begin your hard-working mindset right now by starting with your career plans. If you cannot articulate the specifics of your career, now is the time to begin. At the very least decide upon a short-term and a long-term goal. This will give you a sense of direction that can help you find benefits instead of thinking about the working conditions. The purpose of developing a career plan is to provide you with an ability to create purposeful intent. When you walk into the workplace each day you can remind yourself that you are able to learn from any situation – even if what you learn is that you have not received the expected maximum value for your career and now need to formulate an exit strategy.
An important component of a hard-working mindset is maximizing your learning and growth potential. If you have developed a productive working relationship with your supervisor or manager, ask them if there is more that you can do. For example, you can take on an extra project that is based upon a departmental or business need. To some people this may seem to be counterintuitive and an attempt to become a “teacher’s pet” – or other negative phrasing. But if you are asking from a perspective of having a genuine interest and seeking professional development, and the need is recognized, this will create a feeling of accomplishment within you. As you continue to work hard you may even extend the timeline that you work for this particular employer. You will also likely be viewed as a valuable employee – although what you feel inside matters more.
Developing Peak Performance
Working hard can have a variety of descriptions, including maximum effort, maximum productivity, or going above and beyond what is required. Hopefully your list does not include working long hours; although for some people who are truly passionate about their work, time may not be a relevant issue. The most meaningful correlation I can offer as a career coach is that of peak performance. This working definition speaks to the heart of what working hard should mean. It is striving to maximize your performance so that you are doing the best you can with your current skills and abilities. You are feeling that you are at the “top of your game” so to speak – because you are doing more than just getting by.
What I like about the phrase peak performance is that it signifies the cyclical nature of your daily effort. There are going to be times when you aren’t at your peak and that is certainly understandable. There will be some days that you find yourself working to the very best of your abilities and other days, not so much. As the saying goes, “life happens” – and it certainly can. But try not to let job conditions be the reason that you do not find yourself at peak productivity, which can include the implementation of new policies, additional demands made of your job, or a supervisor who doesn’t “get” or understand you. Always be in control of your actions and reach for peak performance as it is a matter of your career development. Learn to develop productive work habits and watch your career continue to evolve as this sense of self is reflected in the outcomes you experience, personally and professionally.