Laura Hunt, central character in the 1944 film noir classic "Laura," is that rarest of heroines: a highly successful professional woman in New York City just before World War II. Inexplicably, she falls in love with an unemployed "male beauty in distress," the scion of a once-wealthy family who has survived by charming older women with money. She determines to help him make something of himself, but working for a living is foreign.
"What about lunch?" he suggests. "Beautiful lunches, day after day after day?"
"What about work?" Laura replies. "Beautiful work, day after day after day."
A few months ago, I gave up the editorship of Arkansas Business after 22 years. I'm still working for Arkansas Business Publishing Group, but less than full time. Let me tell you some things I have learned from nearly 40 years of beautiful work, day after day:
You are not your job or your title.
This was (or is) true in your first entry-level position or if you are the CEO of a company you built from the ground up. In the best situations, you can shape your job to take advantage of your personal strengths and to minimize your weaknesses. In the best situations, you will enjoy the work and the people you work with. But even in the best situations, your job will always be a job. Don't let it become your identity or the source of your self-worth.
Don't stay where you are miserable.
My father helped me get through my first year at my first post-college job by reminding me of the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11: "…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." You will have bad days at every job, but some jobs are a poor fit and some workplaces are toxic. If every day is a bad day because of external factors you can't change, start looking for a better job.
If you are lucky enough to have a long and fulfilling career, it will be because you learned new tricks — new processes, new approaches, new technology, new skills. Embracing change will add to your contentment — and your marketability.
Make saving a priority.
Chances are there is already something you regret buying, but you will never regret saving. Money in an emergency fund means the unidentified expense that is looming — and trust me, it is coming — will be an inconvenience rather than a financial disaster. Disciplined saving for retirement will make you "work optional" earlier. And don't delay: There is no substitute for time when it comes to building financial security.
Chart your own path.
Don’t let the decisions others are making be more than data points in the mix when making your own decisions, because no one else is working with the exact same factors. Our personal decisions — marrying, starting a family, personal finance — shouldn’t be determined by what others are doing. It’s also true in career decisions. Other people’s paths are just that — their paths. Your beautiful path is your own.