No work is ever wasted

It is in the doing of the work that you develop the hard skills that will set you free.

As a young lawyer working as a judge’s associate, I would spend hours preparing for a trial. I would meticulously read every written statement, and trawl through all of the evidence. I would prepare a draft statement of facts and I would read, and mark up for the judge, all of the relevant case law and legislation.

And then the trial day arrives and the plaintiff’s barrister announces that the trial has settled. A win for the parties who have avoided the angst of a trial, a win for the justice system that has avoided the unnecessary costs of a trial, but a win for me? All of that work is lost!

I would enter my judge’s chambers whinging about all of the wasted work I had done preparing for the trial. His consistent response was:

“No work is ever wasted”

A comment that annoyed me every time.

Fast forward ten years, to where I am working at a professional services firm and coaching ambitious junior professionals . Common complaints are “I do the same thing all the time”, “I don’t think my work has any impact”, “when can I progress?”. All valid complaints from junior professionals who almost exclusively work on the same thing every day and at times perceive their management team to swan between meetings and expect juniors to do all the real work.

And what I find myself telling them is, “no work is ever wasted”.

I say this not simply to pass on the pain that I felt when I was in their position, but because I now believe it to be true. It is in the doing of that seemingly “wasted work”, that you are actually building your hard skills. By preparing for many more trials than actually ran, I was building my capability to sift through masses of information and to distill that information into key points. The rate at which I did that work allowed me to shift the task from something I can do, to a core skill that is part of my unique value proposition. It is a skill that I use every day in analysing business problems and developing business strategy.

Perhaps those junior professionals will progress in their current roles. They will then be in a position to effectively train and manage the work of more junior staff. Perhaps those juniors will move onto other businesses where they will likely find that their training means that they have a unique skill that others in that business don’t possess. And if those junior professionals have have developed enough hard skills through the journey, when they do get to management positions, they will be confident in their ability to perform in those roles.

As you progress in your career there is less emphasis on hard skills and a greater emphasis on your soft skills in being able to manage people and stakeholders. However, if you don’t have enough of the hard skills under your belt when you get there, you will unlikely feel that you have the confidence to back yourself and your management capabilities.

Don’t ever turn away from an opportunity to get really good at something, even if no one ever sees the work that you produce. As you progress in your career, you will always be thankful for the skills you are building right now.


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