Why You Aren’t “Just Lucky To Have A Job.”

Over the last 8 years I have been working with young artists on developing their careers. Many times they get stuck somewhere in the process and their hope turns to bitterness, “I’m just lucky to have a job.” I’ve heard this sad phrase uttered and muttered as some kind of self-fulfilling, defeatist mantra. Its wrong. If you are any good, any employer should be so lucky as to have you. The whole sentiment of the benevolent, single-sided employer is a twisted idea that has much more to do with our own crippled national ambition than it does our current downturned economy. (Though we most certainly should feel lucky for the opportunity to work, but that is another post.)

Watching Larry Smith’s TEDx Talk, Why You Will Never Have a Great Career, really reminded me how much of our work environment is a direct reflection of our own drive to innovate and demonstrate our merit in the workplace. Simply put, we are as valuable as we want to be. In our work. In our lives.

I’ve seen this ever since my first job, as a lowly video store clerk in 90’s suburban Connecticut. Those who brought a sense of themselves to their work, people with ideas, passion and excitement always moved onward and upward. The rest of the staff seemed to stand on the sidelines and toss grenades into the fray; complaining about why they didn’t get a raise or how some other employer offered better benefits or hours. Those same people always shrank the most when push came to shove. Never speaking up, “Oh well, I’m lucky to have a job I guess.”

And this is the issue, we are too complacent to see that it is our output that wins. No matter where we are in our careers you must care enough about your legacy to not be discouraged. Nobody owes you anything, yet you owe yourself everything. You must feel confident and proud of your work, so that you know you are the value in the proposition.

Making great and joyful work is all that matters, the reward comes in time and to scale. If you aren’t interested in the work, if you don’t want to actually move the needle, if you are too comfortable to try and fail at something new. Then maybe you truly are, “just lucky to have a job.”

David Lewis is the Director of Career and Alumni Services at McNally Smith College of Music and the founder of Riot Act Media. He lives in Roseville, MN with his wife and two awesome boys.


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