We have seven children and are about to hit the tipping point where more of them will be out of our nest than in it. As they have gotten older, each of them has come to us with questions about what career they should pursue. Not one of them is the same, but they share common angst: “I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up yet.”
My short answer is, “Neither do I!”
There is no telling where the career journey will take you; – I’m a first-hand example of that. What I do now is not something I had planned for back in my college or early career days. Who would or could have planned for a search firm for churches and faith-based groups? That didn’t even exist when we started back in 2008.
My advice to my kids is three-fold: One: don’t worry about it. Two: follow this formula to figure out your place (link back to the article where I talk about finding your passion, that makes a difference, is needed, and can provide a living).
Three: here’s how you will succeed no matter what you choose.
I tell my kids, “If you will do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it, and at the price that everyone agrees to at the beginning, you will be in the top 5% of whatever career you choose.
Each of these things ties back to a core value that I think is vital for anyone in the workplace: a work ethic of integrity. Doing what you say you will do is unfortunately rare in our world. Here are some thoughts on this one simple piece of advice:
1. Keep your word – do what you say you’ll do.
One of the most important things you can develop as a new person to the workplace – or even as a seasoned employee, to continue to develop – is integrity. Following through with what you say you’re going to do and actually doing it builds trust with your employers and colleagues, develops your own sense of ownership and responsibility in your role, and opens doors for future opportunities. If you build trust with your manager and coworkers that you can deliver what is asked of you, they’ll be much more likely to want to work with you in the future. And this could also have long term effects – it’s a great thing to have a manager that can vouch for you without hesitation in any future reference check or recommendation letter.
More than that – research shows that being able to keep a promise is a practiced skill – and not necessarily something everyone does in the workplace. When survey participants were asked what their CEO could do better, 72% of them answered: “do a better job of keeping your promises.” It’s clear that if you develop this as a commitment and a habit, you’ll earn the trust and respect of your peers much faster and keep it for longer.
Another thing – when you’re just starting out, don’t worry about nailing your first job as your “dream job.” just focus on building integrity and a strong work ethic. Chances are, doors will open as you develop into a trustworthy contact – people may think of you for future roles, or they may be willing to connect you with someone who knows someone and so on. Conscientiousness goes a lot farther than just in your current job! A foundation of trustworthiness because you do what you say you’ll do is something that will travel with you throughout your career, and I believe it’s one of the first steps to finding “your place.”
2. Do it when you say you will do it.
Delivering on time communicates respect just as much as showing up to a meeting on time does. But it turns out there are more benefits behind the science of deadlines than just the effect it has on your workplace relationships: research shows that deadlines can help curb the temptation to procrastinate.
Having deadlines on goals also have the added benefit of serving as a “precommitment device,” meaning a deadline turns into an actionable tool for you to transform abstract ideas into actual work and progress. Practice keeping a good schedule on your assignments at work and you’ll likely see the benefits in your job as well as your personal professional development.
3. Underpromise, but overdeliver – deliver work on the previously agreed on terms.
The first time I did a remodeling project and a wise friend told me: “Just know that it will take longer and cost more than you planned.” Several building projects later, I’m sad to say he was right. Most people don’t deliver at the price they originally quoted. If you deliver at the price you quoted, you are in the minority!
Two core values stand out when I think about this third piece of career advice. First is the importance of agility: when someone asks, can you do this? Say yes! And then give it all you’ve got. This is what opportunity looks like. And it might mean that you have to be flexible or agile in some situations, but this is an invaluable skill to have. You’ll learn a lot from an environment that may be constantly changing, but learning to handle things as they come to you with grace, patience, and confidence will build an unshakeable spirit and work ethic. Second, I think it’s also important to be clear on the expectations of your work before you start: this will save you time, frustration, and it will also allow you space to “underpromise and overdeliver” on projects or assignments.
You’ll never regret agreeing to the terms of a project and then being delighted to find you can wow your supervisor by overdelivering on what was expected. But the reverse – overpromising, which inevitably leads to underdelivering because of time or resources or too-high expectations – is a terrible feeling in the moment which will ultimately cause cracks long term in the foundation of your work ethic and trust with work peers.
Success in business isn’t rocket science.
It’s actually pretty simple. People are undependable. Be dependable, and you’re among the rare few. That means doing what you say you’re going to do, on the schedule you promised, and at the price, you quoted. That’s the foolproof formula for getting ahead and/or promoted. Though simple, they’ll start to build a foundation in your work and career that will take you far beyond a single job or project and put your head and shoulders above the rest.