Early on in my career, I hired a sales rep named Ethan. Ethan was a bright, likable dude, but he consistently underperformed. After about a year of struggle, he asked me for a one-on-one to discuss how he could improve.
During our talk, Ethan commented that he considered himself equal to my top sales rep. It blew me away. In my mind, they were worlds apart.
I told Ethan that if he was serious about bettering himself, and open to feedback, I would write him an email explaining my position. He agreed, and I sat down that evening and came up with 13 things that were holding him back:
1. He treated his work like a job instead of a career.
A job is what you do to pay the bills this month. A career is what you choose to spend your life on. It's the difference between a fling and a love story.
2. He was ambivalent about his craft.
Ethan didn't set out intentionally to have a career in sales. He fell into it. Once he started that path, however, he failed to adapt to it psychologically and ideologically and instead did the bare minimum to survive.
3. He wouldn't commit at a blood-giving level.
Ask yourself what you'd be willing to bleed for. I mean this literally. Your family? Your friends? Your country or a cause? Great employees suffer for their careers.
4. He had a middling work ethic.
Great employees arrive at the office early and leave late. They do whatever it takes to accomplish their objectives. They eat lunch at their desk if they have to. Ethan, in contrast, counted the hours until it was time to go home.
5. Financial success was a fantasy.
Ethan was driven just enough to make money to survive on, versus making money to get ahead and really afford security and comfort for his family. It isn't enough to simply want money--you have to pursue it like a bat out of hell.
6. He wasn't serious about life.
It's easy to float through life without realizing it. We have our favorite video games, our favorite shows--we become masters of killing time. For a great employee, killing time is akin to murder.
7. His persona was sloppy.
Great employees have carefully crafted professional personas. Ethan had a definite slacker vibe, so much so that it struck you in person and over the phone.
8. He played fast and loose with the rules.
Great employees don't need company rules, because the minimum they demand of themselves exceeds company demands. Ethan followed company rules at a level that would keep him from getting fired.
9. He expected too little of himself.
I expected more of Ethan than he expected of himself. Great employees expect more of themselves than their bosses do.
10. He failed to burn the midnight oil.
Great employees regularly sharpen their minds and expand their skillsets outside of company hours. The second Ethan left the building, he did his best to forget the company existed.
11. He was passionless.
Great employees have passion for their work; Ethan only tolerated it. Passion reveals itself in the little things. If you're in sales, for example, and you stop dialing at 4:30 because you're afraid a successful call will keep you on the phone till 5:15, it's a pretty safe bet you're lacking in the passion department.
12. He had no personal vision.
Great employees craft a personal vision, then align that vision with their company's vision. Ethan didn't have a personal vision, so that any kind of alignment with the company's was impossible.
13. He didn't see himself as an owner.
Great employees develop an ownership mentality toward the company they work for. Ethan refused to see himself as anything but a paycheck. There was no urgency in his performance; no sense that his choices mattered.
I didn't know it until much later, but my 13 points rocked Ethan's world. He accepted my email as it was intended--a serious effort to help him increase his happiness--and took its message to heart.
Years later, he told me it changed his life. He left sales to follow his passion, and now owns a thriving business. If you find yourself struggling to find meaning and joy in your work, take a good hard look inward. The answers you're seeking are probably closer than you think.