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Three Hard Truths Every Young Professional Needs To Hear

June 5th, 2013 | Posted by JG in Getting Ahead

Most of us were raised by parents born in the 1950’s or 1960’s who were determined to bring up kind, well-adjusted children with high self-esteem.  While these goals were noble and admirable, the unintended consequence of this suburban-style, trophy-for-everyone, my-kid-is-talented-and-gifted has resulted in the creation of an entitled generation of workers with a warped sense of reality and often unreasonable expectations.  As a young professional myself, this post will take a look at a few things I’ve observed that may reshape how you think about work.

Stressed at computer

1.)    You are replaceable

Now I know that you’re special to your friends and family and unique in the eyes of God, but unless you’re a beast of a computer programmer, a highly skilled surgeon, or someone like LeBron James…you can be replaced pretty quickly.  Contrary to popular belief, your ability to make a powerpoint, manipulate data in Excel, give a presentation, think critically, make phone calls, go to meetings, use buzzwords without blinking, and implement (fill in the blank) can be done by hundreds of millions of people from all over the world.

Now I’m not trying to be a Danny-Downer, but I just want to emphasize what many people have already discovered during this most recent recession.  Always have other options, take your job seriously (but not too seriously), and be prepared to explore other opportunities.

2.)    Working long hours doesn’t usually pay off

Before I break this down, let me qualify what “pay off” means.  Yes, if you perform at a high level for more time than your peers there is a great chance that you’ll end up with nicer raises and bigger bonuses than most.  Here’s the catch! The more you do in a given year, the higher your performance expectations will be for the next year.  This means that unless you find a way to get significantly more efficient in your day-to-day routine over time, you’ll only end up working more and more hours. 

While I’ve certainly been guilty of putting in a lot of hours myself, the question everyone has to ask is “what’s the end-game?”  If you’re wildly passionate about what you do then congrats, if not, seriously ask yourself if your expected financial return on your time is worth your physically fittest, most energetic, and most attractive (for you single folks) time of your life.  If it is, go for it.  If not, well, think about it!  Only old men and women ever feel like they’ve made enough money, everyone else looks up to that next number, whether it’s 50/100/200/300/400k or more.  If you’re in the “or more” category, shoot me an email and let’s be friends.

3.)    Getting the job done is only half the battle, appearance is the other 50%

I’m not sure how many of you all watch Mad Men, but the main character, Don Draper, dresses impeccably and is always highly confident in articulating whatever random advertising ideas comes to his head…before drinking half a bottle of Canadian Club and leaving work early to visit his side-chicks.  My point in mentioning this is that brilliance and execution is only a fraction of what really matters.  The other component is how you made it look.  I just got done chatting with a buddy who said, “JG, working hard matters less than having people think that you’re working hard.”  No matter what industry you’re in, how you say something is just as important as what you’re saying.  I’m sure you’ve heard your parents tell you to dress for the job you want and not the job you have.  Same principle.  Human beings are less data-driven than you might think, your mangers/bosses/VPs make decision from gut feelings more frequently than they do pulling stats on who was a part of certain “cost-savings initiatives” and “business development projects.”

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this post wasn’t a buzzkill, but rather an honest look at a few concepts that people of my generation have a tendency to overlook.  Don’t get me wrong, working to the best of your ability is important from a virtue and self-pride standpoint, but the idea that success (however you may define it) will come purely as a function of hours-worked and results-delivered will lead to frequent disappointment.

What do you all think?

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5 Responses

  • JG says:

    This post is getting a lot of action! Thanks everyone

  • DRO says:

    On the long hours…in many occupations more hours worked will probably lead to more pay in my opinion. Part of it has to do with your point #3, if people see you working long hours, they’ll probably think you’re diligent and focused, or maybe that you can’t get your work done efficiently enough but at least you’re dedicated. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, where he states that to be an expert at something you need to work at it for at least 10,000 hours. If you and a colleague start the same job at the same time, but you consistently work longer hours, then you will most likely be the expert before your colleague because you will reach those 10,000 hours first.

  • Marcy says:

    Very good post! As an HR professional, who is 25 working with alot of Generation X’ers this holds truth. I dress to impress and my worklife balance means alot to me. Our generation (The Y’ers)values personal time so working long hours will probably make your manager happy but will have you feeling miserable. Working long hours doesnt necessarily mean you are doing “work” or “working hard” or even “working better” it just means you put in hours. Nonetheless great post!

  • David says:

    Well, since I’m one of those parents and have three young professionals there is truth in all three statements. However, my generation did at least #2 and #3 well!

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