We sometimes hear about an American work ethic, or variations on that theme, but what does that mean? The word “ethic” makes me think of morality, and implies that some work ethics are better than others…
Usually in our culture we assume that the more ambitious we are – or even the more aggressive we are – the better, and that drive gives us a better chance at success. (How we define success is a related topic, but one that will have to wait until later to explore.)
But recently I’ve seen some articles about a certain mega-company (think online retailer named after a rain forest) that drives its employees so hard that some claim it’s become a high-tech sweat shop, leaving no room for employees to have any quality of life outside of work. Is that what we strive for? Do we push ourselves so hard that we live unhealthy lives, just so that we can get a job that forces us to live unhealthy lives?
When I was in college, I had an acquaintance (a fellow musician) who told me something his father had often said when he was young. His father said this: “Just remember, every night when you go to sleep, someone else is still up practicing.” Talk about pressure. It made me grateful that my own father taught me something different. Don’t get me wrong – my dad taught me to be driven – he taught me that I could accomplish anything I wanted to, and that no one was going to do it for me. He taught me a certain work ethic with expressions like, “leave no stone unturned.” But he also taught me to put family and other people before career goals, and he showed me how to enjoy life.
I believe that we can be persistent and driven toward success, without sacrificing quality of life, as long as we keep our lives in balance. I write about that balance in my book, Spiritual Blueprint: How We Live, Work, Love, Play, and Pray.
But here’s something I’ve been thinking about recently – something I’ve had to admit to myself. Most of the success I’ve had in my life is due to two things: perseverance and favors. Perseverance is what I can do for myself – it means not giving up – and that requires patience. If we persevere, and “leave no stone unturned,” and if we don’t give up while we wait for the fruits of our labors to mature in their own time, we will receive the reward for our work. But favors – that’s not something I can do for myself. Favors are not something I can control. Favors are things that I have to hope other people will do for me, simply because they want to help me.
Much of my good fortune has been directly due to friends and colleagues helping me by introducing me to influential people or by putting in a good word with someone that opens a door for me. And for that I can take no credit – I can only be grateful.
So if we make as many friends as possible, and be the best people we can be, and if we go out of our way to do things for others, then others will want to do things for us. They will literally create opportunities for us. And it’s the combination of perseverance and favors that make things happen.
But here’s the rub – you can’t be a good friend, or be someone that other people want to be around and do favors for – if your life is out of balance. No one will want to do anything for you if you’re so driven that you become a jerk. If you allow yourself to get frustrated and lose your patience, then perseverance won’t pay off because no one will want to be around you, let alone help you.
My advice is: Don’t give up, but don’t become a jerk either. Keep your life and your priorities in balance. Make friends, and be a friend. And eventually, perseverance will combine with what some would call “karma,” and lead to increasing success.
James L. Papandrea is author of the new children’s book, The Adventures of the Space Boys: The Space Boys Meet the Moon Bully from 220 Publications, available at Amazon.