New Horizons

The majority of people who enter the job world approach their work with a very simple purpose: to get the most they can from their job while giving the least possible to their job. Ironically, we often value our work to the extent that it serves and upbuilds us, instead of doing work as the vocation it was meant to be: giving of ourselves to meet the needs of those who use our services.

Instead of striving to perfect the quality of work itself, we begin to measure the quality of our work against the benefits and results it brings us. This approach is tempting; we live in a world of uncertainty, of power-grabbing, a world that insists on self-accomplishment and success expressed in the form of material goods, security and comfort. Jobs bring the promise of money, stability, a future retirement and other substantial benefits. It’s easy to settle into a job, and allow that job to become a means to our own personal ends.

This can only lead to a certain kind of work ethic. We begin to form work habits that allow us to stagnate and do just enough to “get by.” Our day becomes a drowsy routine, where our only concern from eight to five is: are the bottom-line, minimum requirements for my job description being met? Instead of asking questions like: “Are my clients impressed and excited about the work I do for them?” or “How can I excel far beyond the standards normally expected of this position?”, we start asking these questions: “How little can I do to get my paycheck?” “Aren’t I exerting myself a little too much for this kind of position?”

The question that I often face, especially as someone who works directly with clients all day is: how do I do my work in a way that places the other person and their needs as central and over my own personal aspirations and advancement? This kind of question immediately leads us to question every level of our work day. When we honestly confront this question, it will begin to change the way we do our work, the amount of effort we give to our client, and the extent we will go to to make sure our client’s needs have been met above and beyond their expectations. And when we begin to see that the dignity of our work flows from the conviction that work is service for the betterment of others both great and small, any job no matter how “mundane” takes on a new quality of excitement and service.

As a member of Sequoia’s excellent web support team, we’ve been in conversation about this very issue. We’ve taken time to ask questions about the quality of our service, and what drives and motivates us to serve our client’s in a way that is thorough, thoughtful, and above-and-beyond. Below are some points that have been impressed on me this week:

1. Use every moment to your advantage from eight to five. It’s easy to separate our work day into “on” segments and “off” segments, where we will only work hard and utilize time wisely every once in a while. But resist this tendency! Utilize every minute of your time. “Free time” is rarely ever that. Strive to lay out your time from eight to five, so that you get the maximum amount of efficiency. I’ve found a simple, flexible daily work schedule to be immensely helpful in making sure that I keep up with all my clients and make extra time for each one. And this isn’t to say that deliberate “kick-back” time is all bad either. A quick Facebook update, a friendly chat with co-workers can be one of the best things for quality performance. It’s a great de-stressor and and a way to recharge throughout the day.

2. Devote time to expanding your knowledge base in your field. If there is one thing common to every job, it is change. Especially in our technology-information driven society, every job has changing dynamics that require devoted workers to constantly be on the learning curve. Francis Bacon may have been right when he said that knowledge is power, but knowledge also opens up new horizons of service. Devote a portion of each day to researching the changing, growing aspects of your job. What tools can you utilize to better your service to others? What information do you need from your superiors that will open up your ability to serve? Who are the leading experts in my field, and what are they saying about it?

3. Strive to become the best at what you do. Many people never even consider the possibility of being the best at what they do in their department or area of skill. But there is a certain excitement in realizing that work itself has dignity and is important: you begin to develop new personal aspirations of becoming better, faster, and more talented at what you do. A whole team of individuals that is working to become experts in their field is on its way to forming a growing company that will radically change the well-being of those they serve, and quite possibly the world.

American writer Fredrick Buechner described the idea of vocation as the intersection of our deepest joy and the world’s deepest hunger. Those of us offering services to our clients will find a kind of void in our personal development when we seek to better our livelihood and position to the neglect of those we are to serve. But surprisingly, as we commit to placing the needs and expectations of our clients first, we begin to find ourselves and uncover the true reward of work.