For many us, Labor Day means a long weekend filled with BBQs, last-minute getaways and soaking up the last bit of summer sunlight. And it’s easy to forget the holiday means more than the chance to wear white one last time (that’s not actually a fashion rule anymore, so I’m told). This is a day set aside to honor America’s working class — the people whose hard work and back-breaking labor built our country.
My dad, a steel mill worker in Detroit, was one of those real laborers. While he spent his days in truly hard work, day in, day out, I start my days sipping Starbucks, checking email, and organizing Trello boards. If my millennial generation is ever granted a holiday, it might be called Leisure Day. I don’t say this to diminish the contribution of my generation or to suggest we’re lazy. But I recognize that, for many of us, we have been given the privilege of working with our minds more than our bodies. And we have the generations before us to thank for it.
Even though my work resembles nothing like the true labor my father experienced, there’s a lot I’ve learned from him — lessons that I apply to my own work and that have shaped my career path.
Work can be enjoyable — but not always.
Younger generations have come to enjoy — and often expect — more than just standard benefits in their careers. We believe our work shouldn’t just feed our families, but also our spirits. While I agree work should be fulfilling, challenging and, yes, absolutely enjoyable, it doesn’t come without sacrifice, even when you love what you do.
Despite what some online marketers will have you believe, every day of entrepreneurship isn’t bliss. Behind every successful business, launch, or company milestone, is a hard working risk-taker who’s made some real sacrifices in order to celebrate that win.
The opportunity to grow in your career or carve your own path has never been greater. In many ways our contributions are easier and less back-breaking than the generations before us. But it still takes sweat, determination, and downright hustle to get ahead.
Work ethic still matters
My Dad worked more “doubles” than I can count, took overtime when it was available, and missed holidays to ensure shifts were covered and projects were complete.
Workplace culture has changed a lot since my father’s day, and so has his kind of rare work ethic. While flexible schedules and virtual teams are becoming more the norm, going the extra mile and being willing to drop everything when the situation calls is still a major differentiator between the average employees and the truly driven.
I’m not advocating you give up your life and become a workaholic. But I am suggesting that, especially early in your career, you dig in and commit. I’m a firm believer that especially in those early years when most newbies are watching the clock, going the extra mile and putting forth more effort will have a compound effect and catapult you ahead of the pack.
My dad and thousands like him faced the uncertainty and instability of the auto crisis- widespread layoffs, mergers, acquisitions, and new leadership- constant change. The long-term game plan of working for one employer for 30+ years and retiring with benefits, is gone. Our parent’s generation learned that lesson the hard way.
Expect change and, equally importantly, be prepared for it. If it’s not a change in technology that makes your position obsolete, it could be a change in ownership or leadership. Always continue self-improvement, seek opportunities to grow in your role and advance your skills, and …
My father dropped out of school to head to the factory, taking on a job that mentally and physically wore him down, until he retired on disability. But, in doing so, he provided me the opportunity to go to college, to take risks, and to pursue work that excited me. The sacrifices he made gave me opportunities he never could have imagined. Now, as a parent, I know this is what we all hope for our children and the next generation: that they will grow up to work smarter, not harder, and earn more while becoming more of what they truly aspire to be.
As we celebrate Labor Day, take a minute to reflect how you can borrow a page from your parents’ or grandparents’ playbook. You might just find an unexpected source of inspiration, guidance and gratitude.