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Top Career Advice from Former Presidents

Written by Peter Jones

Feel like you need a bit of career inspiration? In honor of the upcoming President’s Day, you might enjoy these tidbits from former statesmen, great and… less great. Their advice, however, is uniformly fabulous. So follow in their footsteps and achieve your dreams. Remember, some of these guys got to be the leader of the free world.

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

This tidbit was offered by our first president, George Washington, to his niece in 1791. The emphasis here is on honesty and integrity. The takeaway: don’t be one of those people constantly making excuses for yourself. Only make them if they’re really good and really can honestly get you off the hook. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut and vow to do better next time.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

This nugget is similar, but from Lincoln. And about how to look much smarter by not jumping into the conversation too quickly. If you don’t know enough of what you’re talking about to dazzle or contribute constructively, then sit back and listen until you do. You can’t take back stupid comments. Also, nobody loves the coworker who talks too much. Be like Lincoln and value brevity, directness, smarts.

“If you treat people right they will treat you right… 90 percent of the time.”

This little gem comes from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Keep this in mind when you are networking. The Golden Rule is called that for a reason. Sometimes others won’t respond in kind, but for the most part, they will.

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

This from Thomas Jefferson goes without explanation. We should all do better at following this advice.

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”

Thanks, for the motivation Andrew Jackson. In other words: think before you act, but eventually you have to actually act. Don’t be afraid to jump once you’ve thought through the landing plan a few hundred times.

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

Teddy Roosevelt there. Remember, you can spend a whole lot of time blaming other people for your problems, but you cannot forget to ask yourself what part you had in where you are.

“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow.”

Woodrow Wilson. Teamwork is dreamwork, baby.

“If, when you get a job, you don’t believe you can get to the top in it, it’s the wrong job.”

Reagan said this back in 1942. First, love what you do. Second, believe that it’s important and eventually everyone else will too. And third, don’t take any opportunities that aren’t going to let you soar (with hard work of course) straight to the top. Don’t set yourself up for anything less than total success.

“To those of you [students] who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be President of the United States”

George W. Bush knows that a little hustle and using what connections you have can lead to marvelous results. Just keep your nose down and work hard. A little blind faith in yourself can’t hurt either.

“Worry less about what you want to be and more about what you want to do.”

And from 44, Barack Obama, is this gem. Sometimes it isn’t about being famous or important, it’s about choosing something that you believe in and devoting your career and life to that cause. Make it bigger than yourself and you might just end up doing major things.

About the author

Peter Jones