Many of us did not determine our career trajectory in our childhoods. In fact I would argue that, despite our planning, we typically fall into our work lives as an outcome balanced between need, opportunity, and desire. My first series of career moves were more heavily balanced toward need then opportunity. It wasn’t until later in life that I was fortunate to allow desire to become the driving factor for choosing my career trajectory.
I have worn many hats and, at the time of this writing, am actively transitioning again. This varied experience has afforded me significant exposure to a wide variety of work, leadership styles, and corporate and government structures, all feeding my entrepreneurial mindset.
In the 80s classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the somewhat famous (and mostly infamous) Mike Damone instructs his buddy to “act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be,” then takes a look around and adds, “Isn’t this great?”
Attitude is everything, but when it comes to work, the wrong viewpoint can lead to unproductive relationships for the worker and the employer.
As a kid, my cousin (whom I call my brother) wanted to be a veterinarian; he loved animals. When we were 12, he asked if I would help him get a summer job at a kennel. His mom wouldn’t allow him to work there alone, because kids have the unfortunate tendency to get into … situations (I will leave it at that). I, of course, was happy to help: receiving 25¢ for every cleaned cage seemed like a fair trade for a kid whose father didn’t believe in allowance (it’s a Latino thing, more on that later).
When agreeing to work with my brother, I had failed to factor in the fact that we lived in Southern California and summer temperatures often reached triple digits. Working in a dog kennel was not ideal, to say the least.
Our careers as dog kennel cleaners lasted a grand total of three days. (Side note: my brother still loves animals, but he chose to become a Marine instead of a veterinarian.)
My short foray into this particular world of work taught me a very poignant lesson: I did not enjoy cleaning up other people’s crap.
This early lesson shaped what some might call a “bad attitude,” as the experience seeded in me the idea that everyone’s contribution should include shoveling (insert: word of choice here) and an equal amount of basking in the glory of the outcome.
As a young worker working in what I perceived to be horrible conditions, I saw an owner who only spent time showing clean puppies to potential clients. She never rolled up her sleeves and got dirty, not even to train us; her training consisted of how-to instructions and lacked actual demonstrations.
Even at a young age, this ate at me. Why? Because I saw it immediately for what it was: an authority figure, with power in the control over our income and our subordinate roles, taking credit for our hard work without providing support or letting us participate in the more rewarding parts of the job. She reaped all of the benefits for our hard labor.
You might be thinking that I was just a kid with a chip on his shoulder. This may be true. But maybe I knew, at that young age, that I did not want to work a crappy job (pun intended) and not reap the benefits of the value that I was working hard to generate.
You may be asking, “Why so hostile?”
This employment dynamic continued to play itself out time and again in many of the jobs that I held as a child (and some that I worked as an adult). I could not, and still cannot, understand why it is difficult for superiors to give credit where credit is due, to elevate the value contributions made to an employer by its workforce. I still struggle with the desire to check people when they treat their workforce as pieces of machinery that can simply be discarded and do not require any support or attention.
I knew, even at a young age, that this was not an ideal work environment, and it was not conducive to a positive attitude. Working conditions vary and the jury is still out on the right mix between sleep pods and onsite dry cleaning to team outings and competitive work models – companies are in flux about what works. For me, the priorities that consistently deliver are inclusion, meaningful opportunities to own elements of the work, and shared recognition in the outcome.
So, how do you create positive work attitudes and equity in the workplace?
Look for Part 2 of this Blog Post next Monday.
Let’s keep talking about the World of Work
Share the experience that shaped your work attitude in the comments!
Find a couple of articles or research on the subject here.
If you need help, let’s chat here.