At this point in your life, you’ve probably heard the term “work ethic” at least a few times. It’s the idea that motivating yourself to work hard is an inherently good thing. Along with other personal management skills, like time management and resolve, strong work ethic is a major factor in the success you’ll achieve in your career.
Work ethic doesn’t just mean blindly putting a great deal of effort into a task. Neither does it mean spending lots of time on a task. Both of those conditions may be true, but it is also necessary that you think about how best to complete the task. If you can finish something just as well while spending less of your mental energy or physical labor, that is how it should be done. This is what’s called working smart.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to deceive themselves about whether or not they’re doing their best work. When set to a task, they’ll put in a minimum amount of effort while spending a maximum amount of time. Frequent breaks to check social media have become the norm. You’ve probably noticed this among some of your peers, and maybe even in your own behavior. How many of your friends will “study” at the library for five hours but only look at the book and class materials for one?
Others may not lie to themselves but choose not to apply themselves because they don’t feel that they’re being adequately rewarded for their efforts. They’ll work only as hard as they feel they’re being compensated for. It’s not an unreasonable way of thinking ¾ a person should be fairly rewarded for their efforts. In such a situation, you may be tempted to think, “Whatever, I’m on the clock and being paid for the time I spend here. It doesn’t matter if I slack as long as I don’t get caught.” However, there are two major problems with this line of thought.
First, it’s likely that you will be caught. You might get away with it the first time, but the next will find you looking for a new job. Explaining the reasons for your termination in job interviews will be less than pleasant.
Second, and more important, even though you’re being paid, it’s still your time. Only you get to choose how you spend your life. When you’re old, will you be happy to look back on the hours and hours of your minimal efforts spent for minimal achievements? Or would you rather your memories be of your best efforts devoted to work that matters? If you don’t feel you’re being paid enough, it’s up to you to find a way to do good work that you’ll be fairly rewarded for.
Early in your career, it’s fairly certain that you’ll have a difficult time landing a job that “matters.” It takes time to build an employment reputation that will garner the kind of responsibility you desire. However, work ethic is a habit ¾ you can’t develop it overnight. If you don’t cultivate it when the work is simple and easy, you’ll never build the reputation required to land your dream job. Even if, by some stroke of luck, you ended up in such a role without “paying your dues,” you wouldn’t have the practiced organization and self-management skills required for success in such a lofty position.
By working hard and smart, you’ll be sure to make the best use of your time. Even if you’re not being paid well enough for it at first, you’ll be ready when a more favorable opportunity presents itself.