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October 12, 2011 / Alex Robertson

Why do you do your job?

I got asked this a few weeks ago while giving a lecture and I used an answer I often give to people who ask similar things. I think that as someone who has had over 20 jobs, from bluechip sales to cutting grass, in my short working lifetime I might have stumbled on something like a “formula” for how to at least enjoy/appreciate the job you’ve got!

I was speaking to a bunch of masters business students. I had explained my work history, given a 45 minute lecture and then spent an hour debating various points about the work I do. One of them asked me why I work for a charity when I so clearly loved start-up, SME and business. Shouldn’t I be out there doing that and “earning my fortune” hah.

This is (something like!) what I said.

As an entrepreneurial ‘youngster’ you don’t HAVE to be working on your own business straight away. Like me, maybe you haven’t had the right idea yet? Maybe the market isn’t right for it.

I think that you need to have two out of these following three things to have what I’d consider a good, challenging and enjoyable job.

1) Experience – are you learning new things? Are you challenged? Is this a place to learn?

2) Respect and responsibility – are you respected for what you do? Rewarded for it with position or responsibility?  Do you do it well no matter what the challenges?

3) Money – are you earning – otherwise it’s not a job

If you are happy that you have two out of the three above things you’ve got a pretty good situation – at least for a while. When you are happy you have all three – that my friends is when you have found a career!

So how does this match to what I’ve got?

1) Experience –  I am getting hands on training in recruitment, management, analysis, accounting, corporate finance, equity/debt investment, and business planning everyday. This can be nothing but invaluable in the future, as hard as it is to keep up sometimes.

2) Respected?  I am, after one year here, a Director in the Charity – responsible for a department’s development, and trying to drive it forward. I am good at my job and I’m getting better at managing people and the business. This is hard. But it’s great fun.

3) Money? Well I said two out of three ok! It’s the 3rd Sector. I’m not loaded, but I make a decent living wage. Often the experience you’re gaining early on, while earning small amounts, in your working life can lead to a higher salary later – so it should be well worth it!

So not every job for a young person has to be in a new start-up, or even in a business. There is a whole world of skills and experience if you are willing to take your two out of three. Most likely you might have to struggle with one of these for a while but when that opportunity comes and you have all three, it’ll be worth it.

So that’s the answer I gave and they nodded their heads and smiled. I think perhaps this is what they needed to hear. That not every job is everything. That sometimes it’s hard. That sometimes the right job isn’t going to be there right away.

But also that you don’t HAVE to go and work for Deloitte if you don’t get your own start-up into the market in the first year.

I’m not saying this is the only answer to the question of why you do the work you do, but it works for me!

I saw a Forbes business article posted today. It was a questionnaire on “should I be an entrepreneur or should I go work for the man”. It had basically split things into “am I a party loving , organised but quirky start-up guy” or “do I want a secure salary and to become really good at one thing”. Start-ups are neither – they’re both hard work and you can get a huge amount of experience in corporate or small business.

Remember every experience is worthwhile. Enjoy it, learn from it, apply it the next time.

I’d love to know what everyone thinks about this. Give me a shout on twitter @AlexDRobertson or in the comments below. Maybe even write a blog response!



Leave a Comment
  1. Dan Frydman / Oct 17 2011 4:28 pm

    Great post Alex. You got it right that not every job is going to give everything. We live in “now” society rather than a “growth” society. People expect success quickly – like business is some kind of X-Factor or work is The Apprentice.

    It takes more than 12 weeks to find what you’re expert in. You’re lucky to have found a niche in 12 months in your job – and with it a value (not necessarily monetary) that people place in your skills.

    I’m coming into my 12th year doing what I do. It’s still rewarding, mostly interesting and I enjoy it. I hope the guys on that masters course get that too – and don’t think they’ve failed if it takes them more than a year.

    • Alex Robertson / Oct 17 2011 4:34 pm

      Hi Dan, Thanks for the comment. I like your point about x-factor “now” society. Its frustrating because I know this yet still sometimes feel like it’s an uphill struggle to keep pushing forwards! I think that you’ve got to stick out a job that gives the best mix for you until it doesnt feel right anymore.

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