Mike Rowe always talks about “hard work” and “work ethic” with points that seem to resonate. But as we’ve become a more digital, intellectually driven workforce, are people losing sight of what “work” actually is?
Work takes many forms. Not all of it is glorious. We’re interested in status, but sometimes forget status wasn’t always a thing. People had to start at the bottom to get to where they are. This practice used to be known as working your way up, paying your dues, or not being an entitled asswipe. I added the last one.
The struggle is real.
Not long ago, and I mean about ten years ago, there was still the concept of “paying your dues.” That is, being a bottom-feeder, but leveraging your time as someone at the bottom to learn the business, to get better at the job, to blossom from an ugly duckling with no skills into a graceful swan who at least combs its hair. It wasn’t glitzy, it wasn’t easy, but everyone had to start somewhere. And that was always at the bottom.
Skills that matter.
Even in the digital era, where many of our jobs require technology, I see a shocking number of people who don’t have basic digital skills who never the less ask for the world. They’re doing it right now. Even when we don’t have jobs available, I frequently get unsolicited applications from people who have none of the actual skills required to work at Louder with Crowder. Yet they all apply anyway because it’s what they want. Their lackluster cover letters and subpar resumes illustrate such.
Respectfully, that’s why paying your dues matters.
Paying your dues does not equal complaining.
See, in order to work at a great company, in order to hit career success, you need to be a valuable asset to that company. This should fall under “basics.”
Ask not what your company can do for you. Ask what you can do for your company.
If you feel like this column is condescending or patronizing, oh well.
Do not mistake enthusiasm or passion for work ethic. Enthusiasm and passion are great, yes. And so helpful during long slogs of arduous work. But no amount of pep is going to make up for a blank face as you stare at Adobe Premiere. And yes, Adobe Premiere is required to work in the studio. No, “being a fast learner” is not a great skill.
Recognize opportunities, take advantage of them when they come.
Personal story from Brodigan, because it’s my one big regret. My first adult job out of college was working for an entertainment website. I went from the stock room at Barnes and Nobles to an office on Park Avenue. Where I was left to my own devices to, outside of a few chores, fill my day however I deemed fit. I could have spent the time learning all these new tools that were suddenly at my disposal: web programming, graphic design, video editing, etc. I could have spent the time building contacts. Instead, I spent my days surfing the Internet and downloading music from Napster. With the occasional trip to the bar for lunch. Hey, I made it! This was going to last forever!
Except when the original dot-com bubble burst, and I was suddenly unemployed, I was competing for a pathetic few jobs with people who actually did take advantage of those opportunities.
Don’t be a snob.
Another example, conservatives are supposed to be the ones who respect work ethic. Or have one in the first place. Conservatives complain about consultants and the establishment, and how they won’t ever give “grassroots” jobs. Yet when I, as a consultant, would say “hey, I’m looking for someone to do a thing,” suddenly no one was interested in working.
Seems like everyone wants jobs, but few want to put in the work required. That includes training for a job you may one day want.
Careers do not happen overnight.
Careers that appear glamorous on the surface usually are not glamorous behind the scenes. A lot of work goes into the final result. While work here is fun, sure, it’s also work. A lot of it. It’s checking emails over the weekend. Getting texts at odd hours. It’s a willingness to wear multiple hats and offer to help to do that which isn’t in your job description.
Most companies don’t care for entitlement egos. They don’t want to be “on the job training” as you enthusiastically learn. You’re responsible for you. You need to educate yourself. You need to equip yourself with the right skills and tools for the job you want. If you don’t have the skills for the job you want now, learn them.
Learning new skills requires work. Work requires perseverance. Advancement often means putting your career ahead of your friends, your hobbies, and sometimes your family. No, saying “I wish I was qualified but…” is not the same as being qualified.