Sean Johnson

Recession-proof yourself, part two: care more

“If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.” ~ Tom Watson

Most people think that they care about what they do – they want to do a good job, want to be a valuable member of the team. But I haven’t met a ton of people who I’d say want to be the best. Not the best in the world, mind you – simply the best version of themselves.

We wouldn’t admit this, of course. We’d say that we do our best all the time. Perhaps we even believe it. But I think it’s a lie.

Think about your last week at work. Of the 40 or 50 hours you spent working, what percentage of that time would you say consisted of you doing your absolute best? What percentage was you doing a “good enough” job? And what percentage, if you were honest, were you merely coasting?

How many meetings have you been in where your mind wandered, where you didn’t try to get the most out of it? How many assignments did you rush through to complete as quickly as possible? How many times did you cut corners?

If we were to look at my working lives honestly, the ugly truth would likely be that we spend far too little time investing ourselves fully in our work. If pressed, we could come up with excuses like “I don’t have the energy” or “they don’t pay me enough” or “it doesn’t really matter anyway – work to live”.

But if you’re someone who wants to not just survive but thrive during the recession, a sure-fire way to do so would be to invest yourself fully in what you’re doing. Simply put, to care more.

Care more

One of the most interesting things about programmers (and one of the reasons I’ve gravitated towards their circles in spite of not being a programmer myself) has been their pursuit of the craft. You can go out for drinks with programmers and be virtually certain that a debate will erupt at some point about the best way to solve a particular programming problem, or about the merits and demerits of certain languages or practices.

When you talk to many programmers, it’s not hard to get them excited about what they do. Their eyes light up as they talk, and they start throwing around words to describe code that might sound ridiculous to you – words like “pristine”, “beauty”, “elegance.”

How many people who work with you use language like that about their work? Do you? Why not?

The fact is, it takes the same amount of time to do something with passion as it does to do something without. It takes the same amount of time to create a beautiful report as an ugly one, the same amount of time to create a compelling presentation as a boring one, the same amount of time to contribute and take notes in a meeting as it does to space out.

And here’s the neat thing – it’s self-reinforcing. As you make the decision to care more about what you’re doing, you find yourself energized, and you find your work to actually be more interesting. Caring more begets caring more.

People who care more get noticed. People who care more get recommended. People who care more inspire others to do the same. And people who care more are rarely considered dispensable – because they’re so hard to find, most organizations would be nuts to eliminate your position, or to replace you with someone who’s dispassionate like everyone else.

So what would it look like to care more in your job? What would it look like for an account manager, or a salesperson, or someone in human resources? What would it look like as an intern? As a manager?

I bet that if you spent 15 minutes thinking about it you could come up with a clear, articulate picture of what your day would look like if you were fully present and engaged. And if you were to actually do it, I bet you’d get a lot more work done. I bet that the work you chose to do would be a reflection of your priorities and the priorities of the organization. I bet that work would be more inspired.

And I bet the people around you would notice.

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