In 2006 my son Benjamin was diagnosed with Leukemia. Nine years later, he’s in 6th grade, taking honors classes and playing tackle football.
In August of this year my dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma. He’s been given 1-2 years to live.
Most people might read this and think, “Well, this is the saddest story I’ve ever heard.”
My intention is not to bring anyone down but to provide a unique perspective on what drives me and why. Rather than let these experiences own me, I decided to own them.
When Justin told me he was interested in having me speak about career success and what makes for an “ownership” mentality, I thought a lot about my life experiences. I won’t lie, it’s been tough. But I think my perspective here ultimately makes this conversation much more relevant.
Don’t let hurdles become excuses
Watching my dad go through this, I often find myself thinking back on the things he’s taught me.
The unfortunate truth in times like these is that there is no “pause” button in life. Life continues to move all around me regardless of circumstance. My dedication to high performance at work can’t diminish and being there for my family is not optional.
“No excuses!” my dad would say.
Sure, I could lock myself in my room, hide under the covers and wish everything was different. But honestly, where would that get me? Sure it might feel good, but it would only make things worse for the people who rely on me every day. I have no choice but to be the rock that my dad can depend on and, at the same time, be the rock that my co-workers know they can lean on.
I truly believe that there’s a direct correlation between surviving hardships in life and how you operate at work. It’s only through hardship that you realize sometimes you just have to get things done. Because what is the alternative?
Anyone who’s dealt with similar issues knows what it’s like. People ask how I’m doing. I lie and say I’m fine. The truth is that I’m in full blown robot mode. Not out of any kind of numbness or anything like that, it’s just that I’ve learned that I can only stay sane if I focus on what needs to be done next. When you’re going through something like this, it’s a lot like riding a bike: to stay balanced, you have to keep moving.
It would be easy for my dad to let his hurdles become excuses and I continue to tell him everyday to fight and keep pushing forward. No excuses. No matter what.
Act as if…
People always want to know what it takes to get promoted. To me it comes down to one thing; “act as if.” I can’t tell you how many times my dad said to me that to be successful, “act as if…” No matter where you are on the career totem pole, this bit of advice can take you to the next level. If you’re still young, or aren’t in that leadership position yet, act as if you are.
In a work context, that means to act like you are an owner of your company. Which is to say, that you should always take the same level of pride in your work, no matter how menial, that the owner of the company would. Own it.
If you’re leading a department, you’ve been put there for a reason. Don’t get overwhelmed. Be confident and provide the value you were put there to provide.
It’s that confidence in myself and the level of pride I take in my work that has propelled my career. You won’t get anywhere being meek in meetings, or delivering sub par results. That just doesn’t work.
This is something that can take you very far if you internalize it. Know that if you invest in your employer, they will invest in you.
Avoid the typical employee mindset of “working for the weekend” and instead adopt the owner’s mindset of working for the future. Showing up, punching the clock, and goofing off is like parking all of your money in a savings account and hoping for some massive return. It won’t come.
Instead, be proactive. Always look for ways to provide value. You wouldn’t think twice about improving your home to boost its equity. Why should your career be any different? It’s a no-brainer. Here’s what value means to me: think of what doesn’t exist yet, and build it. It really comes down to what I touched on before: having the same amount of pride in your work as the owner of the company would.
I read a great blog post recently that basically said millennials need to watch it. That as a generation, they are living up to their stereotype and need to get back to an old school work ethic. I agree wholeheartedly. To see success in any role, you have to own your role. Part of owning your role is being accountable. The umbrella that stops the rain. At a certain level, and I’ve learned this so much recently, there are things you just have to do, because if you don’t, no one else will.
My dad’s view of accountability is simple: accept responsibility for your actions and be accountable for your results. That’s just as true in work as any other aspect of life. You have to realize that most times, there’s no one to to turn around and pass the buck to. Sometimes you deal with difficult situations. By not taking accountability, small problems can become big ones. That’s how companies fail.
I think that’s at the heart of what makes a leader. Its an innate quality to recognize when other people won’t step up, and take it upon yourself to do so.
But for managers the question then becomes: how do you coax that out of your team? Sure there are some people who just do it, but not everyone is that way.
I think one thing that can foster that mentality is not being afraid to give others the power to do things. And when they are, it doesn’t matter how they do it, or even if they mess up. Just look for people who prove that they can go out there and at least try, and put their best effort forward. Those are your owners.
Whatever is going on today will pass. A year from now, today won’t matter. That’s at the heart of the perspective that drives my actions whether it’s my dad getting bad news from the doctor or getting on a tough call with a client.
Of course I get nervous and run through the “what ifs” like anyone else. But at the same time, I know I just have to do it. You have to focus on the result of that tough call or situation, that once it’s over, you’ll have what you need to keep pushing forward.
“Today I do what others won’t so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” ― Jerry Rice