Just over three years ago, our eldest graduated from high school. The family took the new graduate and a few friends out to a dinner to commemorate the accomplishment. Feeling that the current public education system hadn’t fully introduced our young adult to Latin, I was compelled to offer a phrase for his consumption. “Quod Vitae Sectabor Iter” translates loosely into “What path in life will you take?” The suggestion is that one can either try to be something or do something.
To help illustrate the difference between being something and doing something, we gave the graduate two gifts. One was a nice, stylish dress shirt and the other a Leatherman utility knife. Both were given with the intent of being useful to and appreciated by the new graduate. However, the shirt was intended to represent being something while the utility tool was to represent doing something. Better to be useful than showy.
In an era where Social Media presents people at their best all the time, our natural inclination is to want to be something. Famous of some kind, attracting the adulation of the masses. A model, a Rockstar, an Athlete, a Internet Mogul, etc. We are consistently and constantly presented professional accomplishments like they are easy and attainable for anyone. Of course, this is also what we then want, or even expect to be able to achieve. What we see much less of is what was involved in accomplishing the end result that is presented. It becomes tougher to see the connection between effort and excellence. This disconnect is nicely revealed in Michelangelo’s quote “If people knew how hard I worked…it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
Artist, Austin Kleon, observes “lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb.” Sure, we want to Be More. The irony is that the only way to actually be more is to do more. What does do more mean? What does it look like? How can we try to implement ourselves?
The billionaire British businessman, Richard Branson, offered a perspective on the idea of doing more to become more. A quote often attributed to him, “Life is a hell of a lot more fun if you say yes rather than no.” This quote is typically presented as a suggestion to say “yes” to adventures or fun opportunities that may come your way. Say yes, to the latest party. Say yes, to an impromptu weekend getaway with girlfriends. Say yes, to a round of golf with friends. Perhaps, we could consider, instead of saying “yes” to fun things that are offered up, we said “yes” to opportunities or projects to do more at work.
Karl Pellimer, a Professor at Cornell University, initiated “The Legacy Project” back in 2004. It was and remains a ongoing survey of elders across a number of life areas. One of the areas studied involves how people feel about their careers looking backwards. A piece of advice offered is “say yes to new opportunities at work”. The people who adopt this approach seem to have had far more satisfying, fulfilling careers, while also having fewer regrets looking back.
“I’ve learned to treat the very act of saying yes as a victory; simply saying yes to the next step, the next task, the next conversation. If I do this enough times in a row, I will keep stretching myself out of my comfort zone, and I will eventually make something worthwhile.”
“I just decided that I was going to say yes to any opportunity that crossed my plate.”
“Soon David was working more hours than he’d worked in his life, but he was also deeply entrenched in work that was challenging and innovative. Because of his “yes” attitude, he became known as one of the go-to people inside the organization.”
“I suddenly had a much better sense of vision for how to help us be the best company that we can be. I also seemed to be much more valued by my manager and peers, because I had unique experiences from having put my shoulder to the wheel on such a variety of company-shaping projects.”
Whether it be taking on additional responsibilities, volunteering for new projects, leading a team, being open to relocating, etc., willing to do more, makes one more likely to develop new skills, separate themselves from others trying to just get by, and place oneself in the position of being the “go to” person for “getting things done”. Stepping up, leaning in, and moving forward when presented with an opportunity are all areas we can seek to do more in order to be more. Running away from the idea that “it’s not my job” towards “how can I help?” will result in more doors opening up.
The easy defense is what fool would let themselves be taken advantage of by never ending, yet escalating demands? If one is giving and giving day after day, month after month, year after year, and sees no upward trajectory in their responsibility, job title, or compensation, then this may be reasonable. But what example can we point to from our own experiences where we’ve seen someone, let alone been that someone who gives and gives above and beyond their basic job description for extended periods and goes unrecognized? It also would seem that if one is offering disproportional value relative to what one is receiving in return, their options in the marketplace outside of the current employer would be increasing. Eventually, somebody, somewhere will see those that outperform, those that are willing to step forward and take chances, and will tap them for desirable positions.
The 20th President of the US, James Garfield, offers a great guide. As a young student in University, he worked as a Janitor in exchange for free tuition. His work day was well underway by the time classes started. After a year, he got a job teaching classes. He taught a full course load while still pursuing his own studies. Within a couple of years, he became the Dean at the University. By doing more, he became more.
I have had the good fortune of watching a young man demonstrate the idea of Doing More consistently over the past seven or so years. As a recent graduate of a small town high school, this young man spent his weekends coaching with a ski racing program. Our youngest son was lucky enough to be introduced to the sport by Coach Will. Even as a still teenager, Will exemplified the idea of Doing More. He was always early, happy to stay late and do another run with the kids. He was always helping other coaches out as well. He made time to chat with the parents about their children and was rewarded with the odd Apres ski beer. Over the next couple of years, Will’s consistent willingness to step forward and do more, led to him receiving more opportunities and more responsibilities. He went from a weekend coach to a full time coach within a couple of years. He continued to do more by bettering himself with more education and certifications. He then got a job with Alpine Canada working as an equipment manager while still being a club coach on weekends and evenings. Doing more meant working harder and devoting more time, no question. He was then offered a job coaching with the National Team. He now has been around the world coaching high performance athletes chasing snow twelve months of the year. He has coached Olympians, World Champions, and has been nominated to receive several coaching awards. Barely old enough to rent a car by himself, Will, having just recently turned 26, has climbed to the highest levels with a consistent application of doing more. There’s no question his approach to saying yes, coupled with his enthusiasm and good nature has created the opportunities he’s received.
Regular readers may recall the 3Cs Framework to hiring and performance management introduced some months ago. The Do More idea, at its core, is simply a reflection of the 2nd C – Commitment. A quote by actress Sarah Bernhardt captures wonderfully the Do More idea, “It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”
Seth Godin’s Linchpin is a book about doing whatever one can in their work world to become indispensable. Godin notes that not only is it more satisfying and fulfilling on a personal level, but it is the surest form of job security in today and tomorrow’s workplace. Moreover, Godin asserts that the world needs more Linchpins.
Robin Sharma’s The Leader Who Had No Title is a book written as a story following several people who demonstrate this philosophy in their day to day job. The core theme is that it is a personal choice to step forward and lead regardless of role or authority. No need to wait for permission. Doing more is always worth it.
Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You is another worthwhile read that revolves heavily on this subject. It is written as a bit of a manifesto encouraging those entering the workforce, but offers useful reminders for all of us. His core message is “What you do is far less important than how you do it.” . A quote from this book: “The things that make a great job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.”
Finally, The Go-Giver is a book that also reflects this idea in a story like fashion. “The majority of people operate with a mindset that says to the fireplace, ‘First, give me some heat, then I’ll throw on some logs.’ And of course, it just doesn’t work that way.”