Work Ethic

I asked a writer I know about whether or not he keeps a writing schedule outside of work (he writes for a living, then writes as a hobby/independent bookseller on the side). He said most days he’s burnt out on writing but will still do something—either write a poem or add a few lines to his latest novel. I told him I don’t have a strict specific schedule, but I give myself weekly goals to meet. It got me thinking about work ethic in general.

For the first three years in New York I busted my ass in school—both online and on campus—while looking for and earning a full time internship. I continued college, turned my internship into a job and after 36 months had my second and third degrees and a humble yet respectable resume. And with all the free time I found myself bored so I decided to write, publish, and create like I did as a teenager (a story for another time).

This experience highlights a hustle-friendly work ethic that impressed itself upon my character since I got my first paycheck from Pet Supplies Plus at 15. I was let go eventually, in part, I think, because I worked passed a certain time at night 15-year-olds weren’t supposed to work passed. But I found another job right after, and have for more than 15 years always worked. (Minus a month or two here and there between going in and getting out of the service.) And this constant desire to work has built a work ethic that frankly, has always been rare in others—at least, that’s my observation.

All I kept hearing when I got to NY was, “Getting a job is very competitive.” I have to partially disagree with that statement. When it comes to wanting something, like a job or a seat on the subway, sure there’s plenty of competition. Numbers alone make finding a job or a place to sit more difficult. However, once that hurtle is jumped the level of competition falls dramatically. Once on the job it’s not uncommon to see the same laziness I’ve seen at jobs all over the country—in kitchens, in the service, tending bar, creating marketing campaigns—whatever the vocation. People that are willing to work more than what’s expected or needed is rare, which is also why there are plenty of people talking about being entrepreneurs yet so few actually doing it.

A note on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is Instagram for professionals. Someone will post a selfie on Instagram, use just the right angle and lighting to make themselves look perfect. Then add a filter to really make things pop—a fake representation of reality. Same with LinkedIn. They’ll create a scan-friendly resume, list their accomplishments, fluff a bit of their skills like a pillow, present themselves in the best light, even if it’s a bit untruthful—a fake representation of reality. LinkedIn does not reflect work ethic. It may seem like it, but what’s on paper isn’t the same as what’s in person. And competence is only tested after the competition of getting a job is gone.

I think my own work ethic came with that first paycheck from Pet Supplies Plus. There’s no way it was more than a couple hundred dollars, if that. But I know the feeling it gave me—independence—even if I can’t remember the dollar amount. That need and desire for individual freedom has stuck with me ever since. I see it in others and I notice when it’s not there.

In America, work ethic is essential. It’s actually necessary and one of the country’s highest values. For the most part the country is a meritocracy, at least it tries to be. So working your ass off is a good thing, and if you do it you’ll be rewarded with independence, value, pride, and recognition. It just sucks that while I try my hardest to fill my time with meaningful work—either by doing my job, executing my personal weekly writing goals, or focusing on my education (still thinking about a PhD.)—so many people around me, in the biggest, toughest city in the world (if you can make it here you can make it anywhere), simply put: just don’t care very much.

It just makes it easier for people with a good work ethic to make it.

What are your thoughts on work ethic? Do people you know tend to try hard and do their best, or are they slackers?