Work Hard

Summer is here. So are the interns. 

Each year, thanks to your generosity, the Mackinac Center hosts a handful of college students who help us carry out our mission. Mackinac Center interns are fully integrated into the team; they attend events, conduct research, take part in in strategy meetings and assist our scholars. Along the way, we use the engagement to teach them about economics, public policy analysis, classical liberal ideas and good career practices. 

I’m grateful for the men and women who helped me early in my career. (Some of you continue to this day!) A person can acquire qualifications and skills, but I’ve found that certain behaviors produce immense leverage at work and in one’s community. Here are lessons my friends and colleagues have taught me, which I often share with our interns:  

Trust is a fragile resource. Work hard to build it; work even harder to keep it intact. Tell the truth. Keep your commitments. Admit your mistakes. Your network is an appreciating asset, so avoid cancerous office politics. 

Cultivate your curiosity. One should never stop learning. That doesn’t require continued formal education, necessarily, but the willingness to learn should never be suspended. Living with curiosity makes life much more interesting.

Own your responsibilities. “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done. I’m not indispensable, but it’s up to me.” A person who exhibits ownership doesn’t pawn tasks off to others or expect to be bailed out when they fail to do the work. I’ll never forget the day, years ago, when I blamed my missed deadline on a colleague. “I expect you to produce results, not excuses,” said my boss. Lesson learned.

Make them tell you “no.” It’s easy to talk yourself out of something. “I won’t apply for that job because they wouldn’t hire me.” “I won’t ask for that project because someone else is more qualified.” Audacity has a way of creating opportunity.  

Practice candor. Be willing to say what you think, with courtesy. Candor must be based on care for the other person and a commitment to a shared mission. Candor also is a two-way street; you must be willing to receive and respond to feedback. 

Understand how influence works. One can exercise relational influence over others or have role power. The latter is more potent; the former, more effective. 

Learn to write well. Writing is a skill required in the public policy arena, but nearly every occupation would benefit from the discipline of forming an argument and articulating it with clarity. 

Use your own fear to your advantage. If you’re effective, terror is included in the job description. That is, you’ll likely be trying new things, testing assumptions and taking risks. 


The lessons above have been an immeasurable help to me as I grew into my career, and I am happy to pass them on to each new class of students. But artificial barriers like occupational licenses and minimum wage laws often keep today’s young people out of the job market where they can learn them. The consequences of these policies are the antithesis of the “pursuit of happiness,” and I am proud to fight them.