My editor asked me to come up with a list of things that people should know when they're 22, which is shorthand for being just out of college. I thought about this for a long time and I'm convinced there's one piece of wisdom that I consider essential:
Never work long hours for anybody except yourself.
I can understand putting in long hours if you're building a business or doing something that you truly love (in which case, it's not really work). But working long hours and sacrificing your personal life so somebody else can get rich -- that's just plain stupid.
I think it's both hilarious and sad when, for example, people take Elon Musk seriously when he says that his employees should work 80 hours a week. I don't know the specifics of Musk's career but I seriously doubt that he's worked 80 hours a week for anybody but himself.
Of course, it's true that many corporate cultures demand long work hours and see them as a sign of whether or not you are committed to the company's success. If that's the case, you should learn how to work for yourself when you're being paid by somebody else.
One of the best ways to do this is to develop your side hustle on company time, with the goal of turning it into your own business. While this sounds screamingly unethical, remember that the organization is asking you to work hours of unpaid overtime.
Another way to work for yourself while being employed in someone else's company is to spend as much time as possible developing the skills you'll need to start your own business, even if that means your current employer is less successful.
Again, this might seem unethical, but the employer-employee relationship is purely transactional. Your goal is to be paid as much as possible for your time. Your employer's goal is to make you do as much work as possible for the least compensation possible.
Now, you may think that this advice, if followed, will ruin your chances of promotion. Turns out, the exact opposite is the case. One of the best ways to get stuck in a dead-end job is to get really good at it and work a lot of unpaid overtime doing it.
Seriously, most managers really don't work all that hard. A lot of them just hole up in their offices and don't do anything. And then there's the managers who think they're working when they're wandering around, looking over people's shoulders.
Look, I understand that there are times when you need to work long hours, even when it seriously intrudes on your personal life. But it doesn't make sense to ever do that unless you're actually working for yourself. Otherwise, you're sacrificing for nothing.
Unless you have a significant piece of the action, such as founder's stock, you are absolutely insane to put more than an obligatory amount of time into your job. If the office culture conflates long hours with work accomplished, master the art of looking busy when you're actually relaxing.
You have absolutely no obligation to the company that you're working for other than doing the work you're being paid for that day. You are fooling yourself if you think that by hanging around when you're being abused, you're somehow going to get a good reference. Trust me, if they're treating you crappy where you work, you are definitely not going to get a good review.
Start your own business if you've got the stomach for it.
I suppose that stating this in this venue is like the proverbial carrying coals to Newcastle, but no one makes real money without being either the owner of a business or so highly placed that they might as well be an owner. Entrepreneurism is not for everybody; and people who don't want to start their own businesses deserve a living wage.
That being said, it's a big mistake to let fear and a false desire for security keep you from taking the big leap and starting your own business. I never met anyone who started their own business who regretted it, even if it failed. Some go back into the regular workforce, but the experience that they had leads them to understand better what's going on. If you have to, get your feet wet with a side hustle.
Never listen to advice from baby boomers.