Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CORE VALUE: Love Your Work & Work Tirelessly

People who love their work tend to be terrific at it and are great to spend time with. They're always "up." If you love your work you can work tirelessly. And if you work tirelessly, there's precious little you can't accomplish, and, there are few who can effectively compete with you. Some years ago we owned several radio stations in Wichita, KS. While I lived in New York, I spent a lot of time in Wichita and the surrounding towns, riding along with the stations' sales executives and meeting the advertisers. Once outside the city, it was mostly farm land, mile after mile. One beautiful Spring day, late in the afternoon, I asked the salesman to stop the car. I had been struck by the image of a farmer standing next to his tractor in his field just off the road. He was mopping his brow with a red bandana while leaning against his machine. And he was gazing over his land. He looked tired but I imagined it to be a sweet fatigue. There was a hint of a smile on his face and I'd have bet he was satisfied with the work he'd done on this lovely day, in his field. I would have bet my radio stations against a dozen ears of Kansas sweet corn that the last thing on that farmer's mind at that moment was how much cash the crop would bring. I'd have bet rather that he was enjoying the end of a good day's work on the land that he loved. For that farmer, the cash the crop would bring, at least at that moment, was incidental, important but nonetheless incidental, to the love he had for the land and his work. And when you love your work, you work tirelessly. And when you work tirelessly you get a remarkable amount done. And when you love your work, life is very rich indeed, quite apart from its monetary rewards.

I've been blessed. I've worked for CBS, NBC, the old Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, Storer Broadcasting, Time Warner and AOL. I co-founded an advertising agency with the iconic Jerry Della Femina and built, operated and sold four radio station holding companies. I've partnered with friends in a private equity firm. This has been taking place for almost forty-years. And in all of that time, and all of those endeavors, there was only one job I disliked. It was the manager that made work unpleasant and after only six months, I quit.

Do the math. You're going to work eight to ten hours a day (some folks more) and sleep eight hours a day. This leaves you a third or less of your day for most of your adult life; For family, friends and other interests. A third or more of your life will be spent at work. How sad it would be, if you had to, much less chose to spend it at work you didn't love. Just how much would you sell a third of your life for?

My dad made a good living at a job he found unsatisfactory. Towards the end of his career, he went back to college, finished his degree and taught in a New York City Community College at a third of his first-career income. He loved teaching and his life was measurably improved. We never missed a meal in his first, long term career, but we never would have missed a meal had he been teaching all along either. However, he would have lived what would have been in his view, a happier and more productive life. If he had only put it up for a family vote early on, or better still just gone ahead and made the switch, how much happier he, and we, would likely have been. If you don't love the work you are doing now, find something you can love as soon as possible. When you do find that position representing a product or service that you admire and can help people do or get what they need, you will love the busiest third of your life, and have a leg up on being a great salesman and going...you know where.

Each time I began a new executive position, I gathered everyone I had inherited and asked them in a group meeting if they loved working for the company? I suggested that if in their hearts the answer was "no" they think about what changes in the company culture, or their responsibilities, would make them feel differently? I finally suggested, again rhetorically, that if they believed nothing practical would make a difference in their negative feelings about their work, they should think about making a career change. I always finished by inviting them to come and talk with me if changing jobs made sense for them, because, if so, I would try to help make it happen. I always meant that and more than once fulfilled the promise.

Love your work. Next time I see you, I'll know if you do. Be forewarned. I may ask you if I can help?

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