How to Care About Everything

The biggest part of loving your job is caring about what you do. Being present. It’s on you to stay interested enough to avoid zoning out on conference calls.

Finance doesn’t excite me one bit. Hell, even Economist subscribers don’t spend their time pouring over index funds. Or healthcare reform clauses, government spending, call logs, or utility bills. Yet these are all subjects I became intimately familiar with for my work. And guess what. I learned to love all of them.

The biggest part of loving your job is caring about what you do. Being present. It’s on you to stay interested enough to avoid zoning out on conference calls, or cross off every task but the project itself (a.k.a. that time I cleaned the bathroom to avoid writing user stories).

There are tricks to being present. Focusing directly in front of you. Minimizing interruptions. But the best trick of all? To actually care about the details streaming into your ears.

Here’s how.

Connect the dots

What are you hearing now that can be turned into a “hey did you know?” later at dinner, or a “did you think of this” in your next meeting? You’re exposed to many different people with lots of different interests. Do you work with multiple clients? What are your friends and coworkers doing?

I once worked with a bank that offered tiered customer support – the top spending clients got to talk to the senior-ist of support teams. They still employed a lot of analysts, which kept the experience for everyone else from being awful. But still, the bank knew how to prioritize. At the same time I worked with a startup. Unlike the big bank, the startup’s finances were more strapped. Could the idea behind tiered customer support help these entrepreneurs focus on building logic that benefited their bigger accounts? What about putting the senior engineers on the enterprise features, since these customers would likely be less forgiving of bugs?

Of course, you can’t be giving away the secret sauce – there’s NDA’s for that. But every conversation you have exposes you to new concepts that can help other people in unexpected ways if you can train your brain to make the connections.

The human interest angle

Great reporters know how to find the thread in a story that tugs at your heartstrings, makes you angry, or incites your curiousity to read more. When I started working with hedge funds, I didn’t know that a distinct event like the earthquake in Chile could have a global impact on trading and economy. Chile was the world’s largest producer of copper, and also renowned for its salmon industry. Prices for salmon dinners at home rose as the money went back to Chile’s recovery efforts from the wreckage.

This is why the Whole Foods salmon was more expensive that week!! .. maybe.

Working with defense spending, I found myself staring down sheets and sheets of rounded decimals. Calculations had to be triple checked because an .001 off was a billion dollar mistake! What made it interesting was what the dollars represented. Nuts and bolts. Intelligence systems. Sensors. Propellers. There are thousands of parts that go into a jet plane! And jets are cool.

Still bored? Think of yourself

Forget work for a minute. How does this thing apply to me? I have ideas! And bank accounts, and health insurance, and utility bills! Is there something here that could benefit me?

One of my best friends in college was a medical student. As he went through his years of self-inflicted all-nighters, I listened intently to everything from chief surgeon politics, to worries about bedside manner, to how residents flirt with nurses. I never stepped foot in that world outside of these dinner conversation at Outback over blooming onions. But all of those stories prepped me for my own career: knowing when to be humble and suck it up, minding how I come across regardless of how qualified I am, and… well, the stories about the residents were just fun.

This post was originally written in 2014 and published in January 2015. Here’s why!