Take The Grunt Work

Calcutta girl who fled home & marriage at 17 returns as millionaire US innovator

I worked for four years with Pauling till he died in 1994. It’s a funny story how I met him. He was 90 years old then, sitting in the laboratory with a cap on, when I went up to him and said: “Sir, I have a 4.0 GPA with straight ‘A’s. What does it take for a student to work in your lab?”

He looked up and said: “Well, one has to have dark skin, dark hair and marry me!” So I asked him: “When?” He started laughing. He told me that he didn’t have much work there but needed someone to clean the petri dishes. So I told him: “I will clean the petri dishes. I would just be happy to be around you.”

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

How many people would have been insulted to be offered cleaning petri dishes?

“But you don’t understand! Look at my grades! How can you ask me to do such shit work? I want to do something that matters!”

That is why you fail.

Would you have been willing to join Facebook if it meant being their janitor? Hell, look at the guy who painted their wall. Look at his payday!

The point of being Facebook’s janitor is that you’re now part of Facebook.

Once you’re part of something, it’s up to you to move up to something better.

Andrew Carnegie began in the world of work by shoveling coal into a damn oven. When he got his first office job, it was like ascending to heaven to him. He was one of the few people who honed his telegraphy skills so that he could understand the Morse by ear. When there was a train wreck that threatened to cost his employer a lot of money, he sent out unauthorized cables under his boss’s name to get things moving again.

He had initiative.

I’ve read all the stories — starting back in the early 1980s! — of people who sit at home dispatching resume after resume and getting nowhere. The world is a damned hard nut to crack.

But too many people look for a perfect fit — or only labor they are willing to do.

Sometimes it’s the shit work that actually leads to something.

Ask that awesome woman. Ask Andrew Carnegie. Ask everyone else who started low. Ask this guy who wound up rich even though he had no desire to ever sell groceries as a career.

Take the shit work. Be in something. In is always better than out.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Take The Grunt Work

  1. Brandon

    “Take the shit work. Be in something. In is always better than out.”

    I’ve read a lot of your posts – this might be the best one yet.

  2. Mike – post of the month, this one! I never cease to be amazed, when hiring people, to hear so many of them say, “I got this business (or whatever) degree and believe I should be a manager.” No experience, just a piece of paper.

    We used to hire business school graduates to work in our sales department in Asia. I would tell them they would start by working as sales reps, cold-calling factories to sell magazine advertising under the supervision of a local manager, and their progress from there would depend on the results they achieved. That filtered out more than a half of the applicants who had sat in b-school classes learning via the case study method. Their teachers had said to them, “You’re the CEO / CFO / whatever of this Fortune 500 company with this problem; tell me how you solve it.” They graduated with the notion, they would start as a member of senior management!

    It always took a year or two before those who took the job sorted themselves out: most didn’t make it because they had no persistence and couldn’t grasp that their degree was no more than a piece of paper which allowed them to get an interview. To those ones, the world “owed” them because they managed to graduate. The ones who did survive the real world and lost their sense of entitlement were the ones who said, “if this is what it takes, I’ll not only do it, I’ll do it better than anyone around me.”

    We promoted on merit, and merit alone. You did whatever work was needed, including grunt work. We grew a 14-person business to well over 1,000 people and were able to pay them very well, both in dollars and in job satisfaction.

    I got my start in publishing as a “volunteer” reporter on a newspaper, “paid” in an occasional byline. Worked my tail off, got respect for that, and got a salary. Made managing editor in two years. My degrees were never even discussed.

  3. I cannot overstate how much one learns doing grunt work.

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