If you think about how much time in our lives we spend building a career, it can be mind-boggling. Regardless of the job we have — entrepreneur, president, sales professional, full-time parent or high school custodian — we spend an immense amount of our lifetime contributing to our chosen path
In the working world, I very often hear the word “stress,” and I think it’s highly overused. When I hear people say they’re stressed at their job, I immediately think they’re not happy or they don’t enjoy what they’re doing. I am not taking away that people might feel a lot of pressure or have more work than they can possibly complete. But my definition of stress is a bit different. When I think of stress, I picture someone facing a harsh reality — something extreme like living under a highway viaduct with no home or food.
Research shows the average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. That equals one-third of your life. That’s why it’s important to pick the right path or paths where you will spend so many seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. What makes it the right path? The fact that you enjoy what you do.
I’ve learned five insights from my almost 36 years of being in the workforce, and from a very special high school custodian:
1. Match your values, personality and comfort level with your selection criteria. Invest time up front on research. I joined UPS because I identified with its values of integrity and the policies of promotion from within … and also because I like the color
2. Talk to people who are inside the organization or industry. This may be a little more difficult, but keep asking. There is nothing better than hearing about experiences firsthand.
3. Don’t be in a hurry or a rush. You may be pressured to give an answer or sign a paper, but always ask for a night or a weekend to thoroughly consider your decision. If you’re not granted that time, then it’s not meant to be.
4. Run thoughts and questions by family, friends, professors or mentors. Valuable points of view come from those who know you and have your best interests in mind. There is nothing wrong with wanting validation when making critical decisions.
5. Know when to make a change. If you find yourself on a path where you know you’ve given everything you possibly could give, and after doing an objective analysis you realize there are not many golden days, then it’s time to go in another direction. When you choose a career path and it’s just not working out, make the decision to change. There might be financial, family and other elements that need to be worked out, and it won’t be easy, but you’ll be glad you did.
My father, who passed away almost 20 years ago, gave me the two pieces of the best advice I’ve ever received, and I still remember them as if I heard them yesterday.
He said no matter what position or status you achieve in life, never forget that you are no different from the cleaning person. The only difference is that you might put your right shoe on first and the cleaning person might put his or her left shoe on first. Otherwise, we are all the same, pure and simple. I often wait for the cleaning staff in the evening at my office and greet them with a big smile and ask if they want coffee or water and thank them for what they do. Their job is as important as any other in the organization, and we could not function without them. All jobs are important.
My father also said to love what you do in life. I never really understood what he meant until he passed away. I am the oldest of the siblings, so I was in charge of his funeral. I was overwhelmed when, during his wake, the funeral home had to bring in additional staff and call on police to direct traffic to handle the crowds.
As you might have guessed by now, that special high school custodian I mentioned was my father. I didn’t know how popular he was until that day I had to say my final goodbye to him. I still feel proud and inspired when I remember all the people who attended his wake: Students, former students, principals, administrators and coaches, they were all there. He was a great man, and people told me he always seemed happy. It was because he loved what he did, and that’s why all these people loved him.
Love what you choose to do. I absolutely do!