The Sledgehammer Effect - Words to Live By...Or Not

by O'Donnell, J.T. Monday, November 17, 2008
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In my line of work, I often rely on quotes to get my point across. Why? They get audiences to step outside of their tunnel vision. It’s a way of giving participants the knock upside the head they need to see things differently. When it comes to talking about careers and the workplace, there are plenty of quotes that can deliver the sledgehammer effect. Here are some of my favorites...

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.


I’m not sure who came up with it, but the first time I heard it, something clicked in my head. The idea that we can change a situation by changing our behavior made me realize how much power I have over how my life. The takeaway: it’s up to us to get the results we want. And this realization actually ties to the next one:

Everything in life is a choice.


This was first said to me by my seventh grade music teacher. I honestly don’t remember how we got on the subject, but the conversation was intense. A room full of students all shouted out examples of situations where we didn’t feel we had a choice, ie. do our homework or get in trouble, etc. She pointed out that it was still our choice, it was just that we didn’t like the consequences if we chose not to do the homework. We didn’t do a note of singing that day, but that teacher’s quote sang to me.

Speaking of teachers, here’s a quote I actually created as a teacher myself. I do a lot of work helping college students and young professionals make the transition into the workforce. I open my career strategy course with this:

You are not special, but you are unique. Career success comes to those who brand their uniqueness into something special.


I have great compassion for younger workers. They’ve been told that a college education is their ticket to career success. Sadly, they enter the workforce and find out that they haven’t been properly prepared. School doesn’t teach you how to be a professional. The result is a young person with their confidence rocked to the core, and a case of on-set career crisis. The solution is to help them connect-the-dots and gain back a sense of control over their future. That quote explains how.

And finally, there’s my personal favorite, which comes from my dear old dad, who told me early in life:

How far you go in your career will depend on how much !@#$ you are willing to put up with.


This is so true! You can look at work as a personal sacrifice or an endless opportunity to experience, learn and grow. When you do the latter, success seems to materialize. It’s the attitude that makes the difference in the outcome.

Now please know, there are also quotes I can’t stand. Here’s one that drives me nuts:

You can be anything you want to be.


I get the point of this quote, but people often fail to think of the ramifications of telling people today they can be anything. How do you choose from anything? What happens if you make a wrong choice? It’s like being told to pick a flavor of ice cream in ten seconds from a list of a thousand – what is supposed to be a treat turns out to be stressful. The idea of determining what you want to be when you grow up is outdated. Americans have as many as 9 careers in their lifetimes with an average of 3 jobs in each one. So, putting all your stock in the idea that you are only going to be one thing is misguided. I think the phrase should be reworked to something like this:

You can be anything you’re willing to put the mental and physical effort into becoming.


How’s that? Better?