What Ron Swanson Can Teach Us About Work

Close up of moustache with curly tips
Sarah Woods

Chief Operations Officer

Sarah Woods

I love Ron Swanson. He is the curmudgeonly straight-shooter from Parks and Recreation that reminds me a lot of my own father. One would think his brusque approach wouldn’t easily translate to working within a digital product development agency such as DockYard, but I believe Ron Swanson’s nuggets of wisdom can be extrapolated not only to DockYard, but to many work environments.

“Give 100%. 110% is impossible. Only idiots recommend that.” [Season 3, Episode 2]

When I interview people, I love the enthusiasm of those promising 110%, but it isn’t possible and certainly isn’t necessary — at least at my company. Do the best work you can do in a reasonable amount of time. A friend of mine once told me a story from earlier in his career. He was reporting to a newly minted manager who was trying to build his reputation and make an impact. The manager wanted my friend to work 60+ hours a week for an undetermined amount of time. In response, my friend said that he should be able to perform his job within 40-50 hours a week and if he was not able to do so either he (my friend) was incompetent and should be terminated, or the expectations were unreasonable and the company needed to hire another individual to shoulder some of the work. Ultimately the manager realized my friend was right and the company provided additional headcount.

I am not suggesting storming into your boss’s office and asking to be fired for the occasional overtime, but it is important to understand the expectations of your role and the company to determine if these align with your goals and lifestyle. Not every company or job will be the right fit, and that’s okay. You will spend a large amount of time at work; it’s important that it’s a good fit.

“I’d wish you the best of luck but I believe luck is a concept created by the weak to explain their failures.” [Season 6, Episode 10]

Your success is almost entirely dependent on you and not luck, which is a good thing. The experience, education, professional skills, knowledge, motivation, and drive that you bring to the table are what advance your career. To attribute your success to luck undermines everything you’ve done to advance your skills, knowledge, and career. There’s an old adage that people make their own luck, and I believe that to be true. Continue to learn, take on stretch assignments, participate in mentorship opportunities, and prepare yourself for the career growth that stems from these activities.

“Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing. Zero stars.” [Season 6: Episode 14]

Be authentic and true to yourself. Pretending to be someone you’re not — at work or otherwise — is exhausting. It is so much easier to be your amazing self every day. Celebrate your uniqueness and realize that it’s part of your competitive advantage to simply be yourself.

“It’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they can go outside and stand in it.” [Season 3: Episode 11]

Walk the talk. It’s one thing to aspire towards something, it’s another to put the effort into doing it. “Someone should…” and “it would be great if someone…” are examples of this. Make that someone you. Choose to lead by example and be the solution, while relishing the opportunity to be part of the bigger picture instead of standing on the outside looking at it.

“Do not waste energy moving unless necessary.” [Season 3, Episode 1]

Don’t confuse being busy with being productive. We’ve all heard “work smarter, not harder” and it’s true. Rely on the information that is already available to you, lean on coworkers who have done similar work, and see if there are things where you can utilize previous work to enhance your own without burning energy unnecessarily. There are a number of aphorisms that boil down to “don’t reinvent the wheel” and you need to find ways to capitalize on processes, products, and knowledge already available to you.

“You are your biggest ally and your worst enemy, at the same time.” [Season 3, Episode 1]

I feel this relates to a number of professional issues.

For instance, studies have shown that people are inherently bad at multitasking. Instead of increased productivity, time is wasted trying to get yourself back on task after addressing another task such as email or an instant message. Creativity and efficiency ultimately suffer and you run the risk of increased errors. People feel more productive, but it’s an illusion that leads to burnout. Dedicate time to focus on one project at a time and give it your best effort and total attention during that allocated time. You will increase quality and efficiency and ultimately avoid rework. Do the job right the first time and you don’t have to use more time and resources in fixing it.

This also relates to your own career development. No one will be as invested in your career growth as you are. Maybe you have an ideal career goal but that opportunity doesn’t yet exist in your company (and maybe it won’t), maybe you want to learn about a totally different department or area of expertise. Use your company’s resources (training, conference attendance, etc.) to upskill, identify a mentor (or a few) within or outside of your company that can provide guidance and leadership, volunteer in local groups to expand your skill set. Look for opportunities, especially those less obvious ones, to expand your professional skill set and learn about other areas you don’t typically have much exposure to during your job. Read, take classes, participate in webinars. Be your own biggest advocate.

“I regret nothing. The end.” [Season 5, Episode 17]

Do your best work, continue to learn and grow, be yourself, and lead by example. No regrets.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering custom software, mobile, and web application development consulting. We provide exceptional professional services in strategy, user experience, design, and full stack engineering using React.js, Ember.js, Ruby, and Elixir. With a nationwide staff, we’ve got consultants in key markets across the U.S., including Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and New York.


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