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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

The Best Work Advice

The best work advice I ever received was that I should work less.

Anny hired me at Starbucks back in 2004, and she was an incredible manager. Brilliant, but humble. Personable and well-liked. Results-driven. Tough, but fair. She had a great sense of humour. And she truly cared about people.

I used to work a lot of hours back in my Starbucks days. I was young and single, very career-focused, and fueled by a LOT of free coffee. I didn't really have any outside hobbies anyway, so I figured, "Hey, why not work?"

Anny used to see how much I worked, and would often look me in the eyes, smile, and say in her heavy Quebecois accent, "David... get a girlfriend." (Did I mention Anny wasn't exactly politically-correct? It was part of her immense charm.)

Working at Starbucks was great... but it wasn't always great. And back then, work was all I had. When things at work were good, my life was amazing. And when things at work weren't so good, I was absolutely, positively miserable.

One day during a one-to-one meeting, Anny commented that I had been looking particularly unhappy lately, and asked me what was wrong. And so I told her: I was increasingly frustrated with the company for not acknowledging and rewarding all my hard work with a promotion.

She stopped me at that point, looked me in the eye, and bluntly asked a question you wouldn't expect to hear from your manager: "David, do you think working all of these hours is going to get you promoted?"

I remember looking at her, confused. Um... yes, that's exactly what I thought.

No, she went on to tell me, "Nobody cares how much you work."

Her point was that people did their best work when they were calm, focused, motivated, and happy... and by putting everything I had into work, which I often couldn't control, I wasn't any of those things.

"Get a girlfriend! Join a sports team, or a club. Do something -- anything -- outside of work so when things aren't perfect here, you still have other things that make you happy. It will make you even better at your job. And it will give you something to talk about at parties other than work!"

Soon after that conversation, I decided to get my MBA. While I was in school part-time, it was okay if the company didn't have the money to send me on yet another training course: I was learning outside of work.

I got elected to my Condominium's Board of Directors. After that, it was okay that not all of my projects were high-level, strategic initiatives (which is what I liked best): I was using my leadership skills to make the place I lived a better place to live.

I became involved with Room to Read -- a global not-for-profit dedicated to educating the world's children -- by founding the Toronto Chapter of the organization. After that, it was okay if some of the projects I needed to complete were routine or mundane: in my "off-hours", I was literally helping to make the world a better place.

I even found myself a girlfriend!*

I was very, very busy for the next two years. I didn't sleep much, and it was a very good thing I worked for a coffee company.

But those were perhaps two of the most satisfying years of my career to date.

Anny was right, as she usually was: working less, paradoxically, made me better at my job.

It's perhaps no coincidence I was promoted about a year after my conversation with Anny... and it's almost certain I wouldn't have been had I not had a manager who gave me some candid, unconventional, much-needed advice.

I've taken it to heart ever since.

These days, work is only one of the many things I do. I teach. I write. I spend time advising start-ups and mentoring young marketers. I try to make time to exercise at least a few times each week. And I spend as much time as I can with my wife and four children trying to be the best husband and father I can be.

Without question, it can be exhausting.

But it all makes me a better person... and I wouldn't have it any other way.

- dp

* In case you're wondering, today is our 11th wedding anniversary. :)


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