It’s incredibly easy to follow the status quo. It’s easy to do what our bosses tell us without asking them—or ourselves—“why.” It’s easy to go along with a strategy without wondering whether things could be done more effectively or efficiently. And it’s easy to let workplace issues linger without doing very much to address them.
But we have to try harder to do the difficult work. This was the theme of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent commencement speech at Duke University. Amidst his powerful words about “being fearless” and standing up for what’s right was a crucial career lesson that just has to be repeated:
Be the last to accept the excuse that says that’s just how things are done here…Be the last people to accept it and the first to change it.
Yes, Cook was referring to the big picture—how people and society should address issues such as climate change, gun violence, and sexual harassment in the workplace.
But it’s also important advice for us to remember in our individual, daily work lives. Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean they can’t, or shouldn’t, change. In fact, the only way you (and your team and company) will grow is by constantly questioning how things are done and whether they can be improved.
And, like Cook says, you should be the first one to speak up and try to make change, whether it’s tackling a broken process or poor communication, or something bigger like gender inequality. (Of course, make sure you’re speaking up at the right time and in the right way—this article and this one can help.)
If everyone sat around waiting for someone else to make things better, nothing would get done. So even when it’s intimidating, completely out of your comfort zone, and beyond your job description—but ultimately feels right—challenge yourself to do it anyway.
It’ll be harder than following the status quo. But the best things you’ll do in your career will rarely be the easiest.
Want to watch some more inspiring commencement speeches? Check out:
- L.L. Bean’s CEO and President Stephen Smith explaining the importance of slowing down in your career.
- Oprah’s words of wisdom to the class of 2018 at USC Annenberg.
- Hillary Clinton explaining the importance of resilience in your career to Yale graduates.