Remember to Work hard. Pay attention. Ask questions.
When I was a kid, my dad would drop off me and my sisters at school most mornings. On our way there, we’d listen to the local news and would sometimes chat about the day ahead. But when we got to the drop-off spot, Dad would turn to us and utter this statement: “Work hard, pay attention, ask questions.” We’d roll our eyes with an “Ok Dad,” climb out of the car and be on our way for the day. Fortunately, the phrase stuck with me and has helped me frame my thinking both personally and professionally over the years. Let’s break it down.
This statement seems self-explanatory, but when you stop and reflect on it, it opens a larger conversation. When I think about working hard, I imagine myself doing grueling, backbreaking labor. And while that’s not necessarily untrue, it paints a very narrow picture of what it means to do hard work. Hard work is about the level of effort we’re willing to put into something both physically and mentally. It’s also about our diligence, persistence, and thinking of better ways to efficiently complete our tasks. Perhaps another way of saying this is the commonly used phrase: work smarter. A few ways to accomplish this include strategic thinking, collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving. Working hard is about achieving goals and getting it done, but it’s also about how you uncover ways to get there faster with improved quality while demonstrating flexibility and innovation.
We all need to listen and observe—so much of what we do depends on our relationships and the environments around us. Situational awareness is critical on every level of human existence from basic survival (ahem… don’t text and drive) to completing work tasks successfully. To do this, we need to tune in and gather the input necessary to help paint the big picture that’s evolving around us and accomplish our goals successfully. In addition to getting the information you need from employers, teammates, and clients, you’ll often gain unintended insights, find efficiencies, and build relationships, which are invaluable. When you put everything together, you’ll be able to track and monitor, review data and results, etc. to help inform and confirm your thinking and decisions. This holds true for almost everything from choosing the best ice cream to improving technological performances.
Perhaps the most important and human thing of all is our capacity to be curious and wonder at the world around us. From almost the moment we learn to communicate, we begin questioning everything. We want to know things, especially the things that we don’t know. What’s the meaning of life? Is it really 42? Probably not, but it’s worth exploring. Asking questions is all about growth. This is where you challenge your assumptions (what you believe to be true). Test the limits of your thinking, personally and professionally, by exploring the world around you to discover new ideas and perspectives and uncover new possibilities and insights.
Ultimately, these three things are deeply intertwined. Asking questions helps you pay attention better by turning you into an active listener. It helps you deepen relationships and encourages you (and others) to dig deeper into the stories around you. When you have more information to analyze, it leads you down a path to uncover ideas and insights. Armed with that knowledge and the possibilities, hard work leads you down a path of problem solving and innovation that enables you to execute at a high level with ever greater results.