Advice on Being Successful in Your Job, from the 1940s

1940'sWe were recently excited to come across a “Secretary’s Guide and Office Worker’s Manual” which was published in 1944.  It is packed full of useful advice for secretaries and office workers of the time, with the slogan “Get Ahead; Improve Yourself; Earn More Money”.

What we found interesting was that the advice given in the manual regarding career advancement has not changed over the intervening 60 years.  The basic principles of being successful in your job still exist today.  So although technology may have radically changed the way we work, social attitudes have not.

Here is one of our favourite articles from the manual:

Success in Your Job

There are people who get ahead without pushing and without making a fuss.  They do their work smoothly and easily.  Obstacles are unable to hold them back for long.  Promotion comes to them naturally.  They take new responsibilities in stride.  It seems as if fortune were always smiling on them.

Those are the people who know the secret of getting along with their work.

It is possible for a person to fight his job without being aware of the fact.  He may think he is putting forth a great deal of effort, more than should be required of him.  Actually, he grudges every particle of energy he is forced to expend.  Old assignments bore him.  New assignments seem like an imposition.  He is irritated by his co-workers and superiors.  Everything rasps his nerves.  As a result, he goes down to business each morning feeling like a man who is about to meet an old enemy.

Yet there is nothing fundamentally lacking in such a person.  Watch him when he is busy with a hobby, or conversing with a friend, or reading a book on some favourite subject, or otherwise amusing himself.  At such times he seems a different person.  His face lights up.  He forgets himself and the fatigue that weighed on him during working hours.  Ideas come to him thick and fast.  If something happens to interest him especially, he is willing to sit up half the night discussing it or working on it.  His mind and body begin to function as they intended to, as they are always capable of functioning.

No, there is nothing fundamentally lacking in such a person – but there is something vitally wrong in the relationship between him and his job.  It is as if he had built a wall between his job and his true self.

Work, of course, is not the same thing as play.  There are many jobs which have disagreeable, arduous and boresome aspects.  But – and here is the important thing – all jobs have some interesting aspects.  There are friendships with fellow employees and superiors to be cemented and extended.  There are opportunities to increase efficiency, make improvements in technique.  Finally, if a person looks beyond the seemingly narrow limits of his own special job, a whole new world opens up for him.  He begins to learn the work of those around and above him.  He increases his knowledge of the business as a whole.  He sees his own job as one unit in a mighty chain of productive activity, and because of this broader vision his job acquires a new glamour.

The enterprising and successful individual gets into his job, lets it take hold of him.  He does not dole out energy like a miser.  He does not isolate himself from his fellow workers.  He tackles his work as if it were an exciting game (and it is an exciting game for those who know the secret).  He does more than he is told.  He gives his interests free rein.  Whenever he gets the chance, he satisfies his curiosity about other aspects of the business.  He is genuinely loyal for the simple reason that he really likes his work.  He can’t help working smoothly, since his alert, forward-looking attitude makes it easy for him to forget petty irritations and grievances.  He studies his own job in relation to those of others.  As a result he is ready, like the understudy of a theatrical star, to step into a bigger part whenever the time arrives.

When an opportunity for advancement is open, the boss is on the lookout for someone who can competently perform the more responsible job, and he naturally turns to the person in whom he has confidence.  The enterprising and forward-looking individual builds himself a reputation for ability, integrity and dependability.  He qualifies himself through study, experience and application, so that he is better prepared to go ahead and fill the better job.

Such a person is truly alive.  Beyond all else, he knows the deep satisfaction of using the energy that is in him and giving freely and eagerly of himself, the rich happiness of effort well spent that makes life worth living.