Be Successful by Doing What Others Aren’t Willing To Do

Have you ever heard the quote from Jerry Rice about doing what others won’t do?

Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.

I find that’s a powerful quote that’s true both in work and in money. Dave Ramsey says something similar when he talks about living like no one else, so you can live like no one else. Basically, you need to stand out and be different in order to accomplish what most people never will.

Don’t Be Average

Many of us know or have read about the scary financial statistics of the so-called “average” American. Here’s the top five that come to mind:

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In order to be successful at money, reach debt freedom, or become financially independent, you need to be comfortable with being different.

Most people look for the external trappings of wealth to decide who to emulate. They look at someone elses house, car, granite countertops, fancy clothes, expensive haircut, and elaborate vacations. They decide that the people who exhibit these characteristics must be wealthy, because they spend a lot of money. Why do they think this? Because it’s all they can see. Because they were trained that way by their friends, family, and the media. Because they can’t see when that so-called “wealth” results in a near zero-or negative-net worth. They don’t see the money fights, the paycheck-to-paycheck stress, or the games played when one credit card is declined and another must be used.

To reach financial independence, you must buck that system and stop looking at the external trappings of wealth. As Dr. Thomas Stanley says, you don’t want to imitate the “glittering rich”, who are often not nearly as rich as you might think. Who’s really become wealthy?  Who’s already reached financial independence? Study them. Discover their values and behavior. If what you want is to be financially independent, you need to learn to live like financially independent people do. You have to reject the “normal” view of the rich and look behind the curtain to see the “real rich”. The people who have their money in a bank account, investment account, or real estate property – their wealth isn’t hanging around their neck or driving around on four wheels.

Look at things differently. Instead of seeing a fancy, expensive new car as something to strive for, you want to look at the reality of having that car. It’s a rapidly depreciating asset that you drive to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a gas hog and repairs are expensive. And how’s that monthly payment? Is it enough to do something else, something you want more than to get from Point A to Point B in a more fancy way?

That’s not to say that having a fancy car is wrong, or bad – it’s certainly not. I know plenty of people with awesome cars who love them, for whom the trade-off in time and money to pay for the car is worth it. But I also know many others who feel stuck in their car, or like they were forced to buy it. People who would rather not have that payment, those expensive repairs, or all that gas. For those people, looking deeper into what drove the purchase-and what alternatives are available – would be wise.

If most people aren’t willing to consider a used car, or a more practical one-maybe you should. If most people upgrade their house when they get the big promotion, perhaps you should stay put. If most people would redo their kitchen with their bonus, instead you can use it to reach financial freedom. Rather than a fancy vacation, you could take a fun but less costly one. Think about all your choices, and instead of doing what your friends/family/media want you to do, go ahead and make a different choice in alignment with your goals.

To become financially independent, you need to be willing to do what others aren’t willing to do .Then you can achieve what others aren’t able to achieve.

Doing What Others Won’t – Work

This same principle can be applied to success at your workplace. When you look around at your co-workers, especially those older than you who’ve been in the same jobs forever, what do you usually see?

I know what I see. Complacency. Not standing out in any way. Plenty of “not my job”, and a reluctance to adapt to change. Complaining – about changes that have come their way, about the latest assignment from the boss, about the customer, or about other teams in the company.  Someone who rolls in late, rolls out early, and frequently works from home (that should be “works” in quotation marks, because no one knows what they’re doing).

I never see someone that has kept an attitude of adaptability and learning. Someone who spends time studying the overall company, trying to make sure they understand the business and how the company makes month. A person who takes courses like Toastmasters to try and enhance their public speaking skills, and then seeks out opportunities at work to use those skills. Someone who works from home infrequently, or while they’re remote are fully active and reachable at all times.

Believe it or not, you can stand out at work just by doing a few simple things – because others don’t do these consistently. Here are ten basic ideas that you can use to transform your career – no matter what your job is.

  1. Come in on time, or a bit early – and leave on time, or a bit late. And if you need to come in late or leave early, drop a note to your team to give them a heads up
  2. If you’re working from home, be clear on your availability. Don’t just disappear for a few hours when you have an appointment.
  3. Start and end meetings on time. After a minute of chit-chat to connect with your coworkers and catch up, be sure to keep meeting conversations on track. Bring the conversation back to the meeting purpose if you drift off topic
  4. Learn how to speak in public and in front of large groups
  5. Spend a few hours every quarter listening to your companies earnings call and reading its financial statements. Learn how your overall company makes money and how your role/project supports that
    • Sources to help you: Morningstar, Yahoo Finance, SEC’s EDGAR system, and your company’s public website, the “Investor Relations” page
    • FYI, this is also a great thing to do before a job interview
  6. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. If you can’t do something, or you’ll be late, just communicate it clearly ahead of time.
    • Don’t just not respond, or miss deadlines, and then make excuses
    • Also don’t miss a key deadline, blow it in front of the business, then in a meeting show me “how busy” you are with meetings. I have more meetings than you, buddy, and I don’t miss deadlines. And if I need to delay, I’m clearly communicating that in advance. I’m not just showing up at the meeting with my work undone. Um, not that this is based on a true situation or anything
  7. Keep up on your e-mails. I’m sick of people telling me they’re “behind on e-mails,” or “get so many emails”, and that’s their excuse for missing key communications and do-to items. Look, we all get a ton of e-mails – get over yourself. Research e-mail organization systems and try a few until you find one that works for you
  8. Be more than just a worker bee. Perhaps you think your working 16 hour days, including your midnight emails, are endearing and show that you’re “such a hard worker”. I find it disgusting, and so do many of your co-workers and other bosses. Guess what? If I can do in 8 hours what you take 16 to do, I just think you’re disorganized or wasting time.
    • Ever hear the saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? Same is true of people who let work become their life. All work and nothing outside of work makes for a dull, unhappy, not well rounded person. You don’t want to be laid off at 45, and have nothing else in your life but work.
    • Protip – you can create the perception that you work all the time simply by working in a focused way all day long while you’re at work. For some reason people think I work 50-60 hour weeks, but I don’t. I’m just massively efficient during the time that I’m working.
  9. Volunteer for the extra assignments, and never tell someone that something is not your job.
    • By volunteering for work outside your everyday (whether it’s a new committee at work, or a club, or something else), you stand out and get to know different people from around the company.
    • By not playing the “not my job” game, you might have the opportunity to try to do something new. At a minimum, if it’s really not something you can do, help the person asking you find out whose job it is or how it might get done.
  10. Be part of change. Embracing the change, having intelligent discussions about it, helping to figure out how your department or role should function after it, bringing in facts about why something might not be optimal – those will make you stand out
    • Sure, maybe you’re tired of constant re-organizations, or your department keeps making changes that you think don’t make sense. That’s fine. Complain to your spouse and friends over a beer. But at work, figure out a way to be part of driving the change instead of just letting it happen to you
    • Complaining about it to your coworkers, pushing back on your boss without facts to back you up, continuing to do something the old way because it’s more comfortable-those will make you stand out in the wrong way

If financial independence is your goal, why should you care about success at work? Well, first you might be like me where FI is your goal, not RE. Right now I don’t have a specific RE goal, but I think being FI would make me more successful at work. Why? It’s hard to want to rock the boat, or take on a risky project, when you know that your family of five depends on you to be the breadwinner.

My favorite example of this was found in Your Money Or Your Life, one of the four books that changed my financial life. A scene that always stood out to me was when one of the people is approaching the crossover point, where their income from investments is nearly enough to cover their living expenses. He comes home from work excited and invigorated, because he’s “bulletproof!”. It no longer matters what others want. He can do what he thinks is right, propose risky ideas, and have heated discussions with the bigwigs-because he doesn’t need the job.

That’s the position I want to be in. I want to have success at work so I can earn more, influence more change, and help more people. The more I earn, the faster I’ll reach financial independence. Then I can make an even bigger impact, simply because I can’t be bought. I’ve met too many people who are dependent on their jobs to support a high-flying lifestyle, are stuck doing things they don’t want to do, taking no risks, and just exemplify “the fat many in the red BMW convertible” from the Tim Ferris book Four Hour Workweek. Unhealthy, unhappy, but stuck supporting a lifestyle they don’t even really want. They do things they don’t want to do at work, simply to come home to a life they don’t want to be leading. That’s not a healthy, fulfilling life to me.

I Want To Hear From You!

Where in your work, money, or life have you done what others weren’t willing to do – and reaped the benefits? Was it immediate, or was it months-or years-down the line? Let me know in the comments!

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Note – here’s the infographic sources:

22 thoughts on “Be Successful by Doing What Others Aren’t Willing To Do”

  1. Great reminders about going the extra mile. But you’re right, being willing to do just a few extra things at work or in life will definitely set you apart.

    Your Money or Your Life has been on my reading list forever. I need to get to that. Maybe that’ll be my extra mile this week. Great post!

    1. Glad I helped inspire you to give “Your Money Or Your Life” a read! I really loved some of the perspectives that book gave on looking differently at the way you trade time for money.

  2. The Grounded Engineer

    I like your 10 ideas on how to transform your career.

    In my career, I’ve worked smarter, not necessarily harder. I still am one of the first people into the office, but I’m not always the last one at the office. Since leaving my engineering job and going more into technical sales, I’ve from account development and then into covering key accounts. Now I cover key accounts and manage four people, all in a few years. And like you, I completed my Master’s while working full-time!

    1. Great work! Working smarter and not harder is definitely a key, one that I thought about writing about in the future. I’m also usually the first one in the office, and sometimes the last one, but the “last one” can mean leaving at 5 PM. I don’t work crazy hours and I don’t work weekends, but I accomplish more than many people do working much more than me. The key is to be focused while you’re at work, and not get caught up in the things that don’t matter.

  3. About 3 1/2 years ago, I had the choice between buying a new car or becoming a 1 car family (family of 4). We decided to become a 1 car family and I’ve been riding my bike to work. One of the best decisions of my life.

    1. Love it! I wish I could ride my bike to work-it’s unfortunately a 45 minute drive from my house. When I reach FI I’ve given serious thought to finding a closer work option where I could walk or bike. There’s not too many options here, but there are a few!

  4. Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    I think another aspect of doing what others won’t at work is (respectfully) challenging or disagreeing with the higher ups when they are wrong or off in some way. If you are willing to show some push back and can back up your reasoning, this will make you stand out.

    In most bureaucratic setups the person on the ground floor has more information on the details of issues than the person at the top. At the same time, most people are afraid to challenge the person at the top because they are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to risk making the big boss angry.

    If you can be different from others in the personal finance space it will open up this new area where you can be different from others at work. You will show the higher ups your command and knowledge of the situation and will stand out from your coworkers.

    1. That’s a great point Matt. That “I’m bulletproof!” concept I mentioned in the article was just so powerful to me. He was essentially saying that nothing could phase him, and he could challenge those higher up the ladder without fear of retribution.

  5. Hey Mom, LOVE this post!! The concept of doing what others aren’t willing to do is SO powerful, couldn’t agree more!!

    In my career, I’ve gone “above and beyond” many, many times (more notably early in my career, which led to rapid advancement). From a Personal Finance perspective, I’ve always been a “Stealth Wealth / Millionaire Next Door” type.

    Both have proven to be tremendous levers in our move toward an early retirement (planned June 2018, at Age 55).

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Fritz! I’m glad to hear you’ve seen the same concept play out in your own career and finances. I’ve noticed that it’s a pattern – the more you volunteer and put yourself out there, the more you get back in return

  6. I think it’s always good to question what “most people” are doing, even if they are making good choices. Those are their choices and not necessarily the best fit for me. Here’s my personal finance example. We had savings that we could’ve used for a down payment on a house, but we were never sure we even wanted a house, it was just a strong social pull. “Everybody was doing it.” Then an opportunity came along to invest in some land and commercial real estate. It’s turned out to be the best investment I’ve made, but at the time it was uncertain. Sometimes you need to go against the grain.

    My second example is personal. Rather than get a job right out of grad school, I wanted to fulfill my dream of learning French. So I went to France, alone, for 6 months, and took immersion classes. That language skill translated (get it?) into, basically, my dream career. Bottom line is we need to live the lives we prefer, not someone else’s expectations.

  7. jumpstartfromscratch

    There is a lot of advice here that I would have described as “Don’t be as dumb as everyone else.” Spending $1300 per year on credit card interest. Borrowing $30,000 for a car and having a $500 payment every single month. It amazes me how many of the people all around me continually do these things. Your title as always is more elegant that I would ever write.

  8. Great ideas for excelling in the workplace! Just read a book called “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead” that talked about some similar concepts. I agree–don’t spend 60-70 hours a week working and get nothing done. That’s a pet peeve of mine as well. People who equate time spent at work with a good job don’t understand efficiency, but your boss can. And yes, as our family’s net worth increases, I feel like we’ve become much less panicked about money day-to-day, and much more willing to take more risks in the job front.

    1. I’ll need to try and find that book – sounds interesting! I know way too many people who work long hours and accomplish little or nothing. Sometimes they fool others, but most times they don’t.

  9. Terrific list of advice! A big thing for me has been continuous learning, both at work and outside of work, which is something I think the average person doesn’t do enough of. This has prepared me for opportunities and allowed me to grow a great deal.

  10. Great points Chief Mom Officer. Honestly some of what you mentioned is what bugs me the most about work. I know people at my employer that a smarter and harder working even then me, but they’ll never get ahead because they are unwilling to step outside their current job. Wasted talent…

      1. Fantastic article! I’ve been thinking about our next car in this way. I want something I can pay cash for so it doesn’t suck the life out of my finances.

        I’ve always enjoyed going against the crowd, but specifically doing it to get ahead is a nice twist.

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