Kevin Green | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin Green

Background:  

Rare is a nonprofit conservation organization headquartered in Arlington, Va. It works with small-scale industries around the world such as fisheries and organic cotton farmers to protect their natural resources and adopt sustainable practices. Rare has worked in 57 countries and is currently active in six.  

The Mistake:  

Having gone to college and done well, it still left me wanting. It still left me feeling like something was missing from that experience. I wish that I had worked harder to do as well as I possibly could have rather than worked just to do well.  

Having three majors, I didn't often go really deep into a concept or theory that I really wanted to know.  

I approached assignments in college as something that I needed to get done as a deliverable for this class in order to move forward, which is quite different from the experience I had in graduate school where it was a much more innate desire for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. 

To take philosophy for example, I dipped my toes into a couple of courses in things like ethics and logic, and didn't take as many of the 300 or 400 level classes that went deep.   

I was enamored by the fact that you could take a class studying, literally, the love of knowledge, the pursuit of knowledge, the theory of knowledge. But once I signed up for the major, it became much more quantifiable. It became about which credits I had to get and which courses fit into requirements and so little by little that wonderment kind of disappeared from it.   

There are so many competing priorities in college that you often do enough to get that paper written and get a good grade on it, but not enough to write the paper that you are really proud of. 

Doing enough to just get it done is what you end up spending a lot of time doing. Oftentimes you have that same experience in professional life—you're just getting the project done or just getting the report written or just meeting the donor's deliverables, instead of really knocking them hard.   

You can work hard and do well, but the doing well in it of itself is not the most rewarding part. 

The Lesson:  

I think what I have learned is it’s a lot more enjoyable and more fulfilling when you are working hard. I have heard about friends who have gone on to jobs were they don’t actually have nearly as much to do and they really are generally unhappy about that. We think that if we had the opportunity to kind of skate by and not work very hard, but get paid for it that would be a sweet deal. 

What I have found is I am much more fulfilled at the end of the day, and at the end of a year, when I have been really, really busy, and I have worked very hard. Not just busy doing busy work, but worked very hard on some projects that have had some tangible outcomes. It feels much more fulfilling to have had that experience.   

I live on a farm, so I spend time on the weekends working outside, doing labor with my hands, and it's not as much about the outcome at the end of the day, the quality of the vegetable. All of that is important, but what makes you feel good at the end of the day is having worked hard to achieve that outcome ...You can work hard and do well, but the doing well in it of itself is not the most rewarding part. The working hard at the end of the day is what I think is most rewarding.   

Follow Kevin Green on Twitter @kevingreen515 

Photo courtesy of Kevin Green

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