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Managing Monday: The Easiest Thing You Can Do To Kick Start Your Career

February 25, 2013

Managing Monday is Alicia’s weekly career advice series.  Check back every Monday for stories on how you can further your career and follow your dreams.  If you have story ideas for this series, email Alicia.

I spent this past weekend in Milwaukee, WI after speaking at Marquette University School of Law on Friday.  I was asked to speak at Marquette by my former (and favorite) law professor, Matthew Parlow.  Professor Parlow was my favorite professor for several reasons.  First, his passion for teaching is obvious.  Second, because of that passion, he was one of the most energetic teachers I ever had.  Third, he was more than a lecturer.  He was someone who knew if we were going through personal battles and did his best to help us address them.  He was someone who stayed in his office all hours of the day to ensure that we fully understood the law and were prepared to be the best lawyers we could be.  To put it simply, he was dedicated.

Outside of marking up our term papers and revisiting our final examinations to show us what we did well and what we could improve on, Professor Parlow taught my classmates and I one very important lesson in our first year of law school.  It is one that I have held onto and one that has proven invaluable.

The lesson?  A simple one:  Don’t feel entitled.

Save for doctors, lawyers undergo one of the greatest amounts of education to obtain their career.  As such, many lawyers come out of law school with a feeling of entitlement.  “I worked hard to get here, so I deserve some fancy career.  And I deserve said fancy career without working any harder than I already have.”

This feeling of entitlement is a dream killer.  If you want your career to sink upon graduating from law school, hold on to this feeling of entitlement.  You will get nowhere with it and it will drop you like a cement anchor.

Why is that?  It’s because everyone who has earned their successful place in life got there through hard work.  Entitlement and handouts only get you so far.  They may open the door for you and get you behind a desk.  However, they will not keep you behind the desk and in all honesty, will likely shut the door behind you.

At 28-years-old, I am lucky to know a large group of young people who are working hard to make their dreams come true.  I call many of these people “friends.”  While we all come from different backgrounds–some of us from low-income families, others born with silver spoons–one thing is consistent:  we have never walked into the opportunities we’re in without hard work.

What is the opposite of entitlement?  The opposite of entitlement is hard work.  When you are beginning your careers, you have to be willing to roll your sleeves up and take anything that is handed to you.  You have to put on a face of happy willingness to serve the needs of your employer (within reason, of course).  You must have the attitude of a Chick-fil-A employee. By that I mean, when your employer asks you for something, your response is that of a Chick-fil-A employee:  “My pleasure.”

A non-entitled attitude is one who will do anything (again, within reason and ethically) to make their dreams come true.  A non-entitled person works for free.  A non-entitled person takes reasoned and ethical risks that entitled people would never take.  A non-entitled person is the person who employers know they can rely upon.

One of my best friends has a big job interview today.  I emailed a friend I know at the company to ask if she had any advice ahead of my friend’s interview.  I laughed when she literally emailed me back and gave me one piece of advice:

“One piece of advice that I received that I would definitely pass along is to downplay the whole lawyer thing. I know it sounds crazy and totally counter intuitive. There are only two of us in a department of about 20. The other one worked her way up from associate but I’m told that she was overheard venting to coworkers about not being promoted fast enough, especially considering that she’s a LAWYER. That’s the kind of entitlement that our boss doesn’t have the patience for.”

I’m grateful that during my first year of law school, Professor Parlow taught me the important lesson of working my way to the top, rather than feeling entitled enough to get to the top.  This lesson has opened more doors for me than any sense of entitlement ever would have.

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