How to Develop a Strong Work Ethic

Will Hunting, they boy genius from the movie Good Will Hunting, said that when it came to organic chemistry, he could “always just play”. He also said that Beethoven saw a piano at a young age and could “just play”. Well good for them! What about the rest of us? Can we too achieve greatness? And if so, how? There is in fact hope for us, and it comes in the form of two little words: Work Ethic. My favorite thing about work ethic is that it does not discriminate. It does not care if you are old or young, smart or dumb, black or white, fat or lite. You cannot be born into it, nor can it be given to you. You have to chase it down, but anyone can! With that said, let’s explore my definition of work ethic. Here is a list of some of my non-negotiable, must have, traits:

1. Show Up

This is the first one on my list because nothing really happens unless you are present. But showing up is easy to do if you are excited about the event or task, if you love the people you are with, if you have great news to deliver, and if you got a solid eight hours of sleep the night before. But what about the other times? When I think of people that fit the definition of work ethic, I can point to times when I knew they were tired, and they showed up! I knew they were busy, and they showed up! I knew that there was a hundred other places they would rather be, and a hundred things they would rather be doing, but they showed up! This notion of showing up is a cornerstone component, and the easiest way to go about improving your work ethic.

2. Ignore The Clock

Some people become enthralled with how much time they spend doing something. Whether they pulled an all-nighter studying for a final exam, got to the office at 7am, or stayed until 7pm. But all that really matters is what you do during that time. Those with the strongest of work ethics understand that the time required is whatever time it takes to get the job done properly, nothing more and nothing less. So walk over to the wall, take down the clock, shove it in your desk drawer and focus on the work!

3. Embrace Your Why

There should always be a WHY associated with an action. It is the fuel that lights the fire. Without a strong WHY it can be really difficult to maintain a strong work ethic. You might be able to fake it for a little while, but that chore will eventually get old. Some push themselves for love and passion. Some push themselves for money. Some push themselves to give their family a better life. Whatever your reasons are, they can be a major motivating factor. Do not be afraid to evaluate, understand and embrace your WHY. You can drastically improve your work ethic if you have a reason for your efforts. Know what that reason is and make a conscious choice to fight for it.

4. Follow Through

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The definition of work ethic must include follow through. There are a lot of cliché’s that refer to this notion. A couple that I like best are: “plan your work, and work your plan” AND “say what you do, and do what you say”. You have to be a person that is reliable. People have to know that when you give your word, that word will be stronger than oak. You will not miss deadlines. You will not show up late. You will not over promise and under deliver. And most importantly, you will not rely on a handful of excuses to let yourself off the hook.

5. Be Selfless

If you were the Wizard of Oz, there is a chance that you could be a selfish hard worker. Think about it, you are up there all alone in your castle, making decisions that affect a bunch of people you’ll never meet, and nobody is around to tell you right from wrong. But that is not reality. The truth is that the vast majority of us have to work with and for people in some way or another. We do not have the luxury (or misfortune, depending on how you view it) of working in complete isolation. So with that said, the people around us will inevitably have demands of us. Client demands, boss demands, and of course colleague requests (“can you please handle my presentation today? I came down with a terrible headache last night”.) The people that stand out to me are those willing to think outside of themselves. They will from time to time take on extra work in order to help someone else out. You can improve your work ethic by taking on more than just your own business. Sometimes you are called to do more, and the definition of work ethic means answering that call!

5. Be Resilient

Not a whole lot to say here. Things will not always go your way. Deal with it!

6. Respect Your Talent

I am a big sports fan, so for this one my mind immediately goes to an athlete like Michael Jordan. He was born gifted. He was born with a god given talent for the game of basketball; there is no doubt about that. But it has been said that he was also one of the most tireless workers that has ever played the game. He spent countless nights in the gym shooting thousands of shots and working on his game. And he did all of that after he was already one of the best players in the NBA. That is the definition of having respect for your talent. He took his talent and he ran with it. He never rested on his laurels. Had he never practiced at all, he still probably would have succeeded on talent alone, but he never would have reached his full potential (and given us so many jaw dropping moments on the court!). The point is that we all have talents that we have been born with, which is wonderful. But that is only half of the story. It is what we choose to do with that talent that will separate us from the pack. Those that are always striving to be better are the ones that will leave a lasting legacy. And then, and only then, might they be mentioned in a career blog years later!

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