If you are old enough to remember those 1990, early 2000s simple image workplace motivation posters that exploded in popularity, you’ll recognize the phrases in this article.

I’ve assembled some of the most popular that arose from a time when workforce issue motivational books and posters were all the rage. Who can forget the famously popular, “Who Moved My Cheese?”

The point is to examine whether there is value and truth to these sayings or are they hollow platitudes. I will give my perspective and opinion on the winners and losers.

The Losers

1. Fake it till you make it.

It’s catchy because it rhymes, but it’s going to be rough if you think you can fake talent or experience. There’s no faking experience or knowledge. Much better to admit when you don’t know something and learn it through time and effort. This one gets a C+.

2. Never let them see you sweat.

Analyzing the message behind this is complicated. There’s a time and a place to stay calm and cool, but inevitably there will be times when co-workers, bosses, and associates will see you sweat. Never is a long time, and in the course of a career there will be sweaty instances. This one gets a B- for being overly extreme.

3. Go big or go home.

One of my least favorites that is an oversimplification, and frankly, who doesn’t want to go home if you have that choice? I understand the idea that if you aren’t willing to put forth an effort in your work, you may as well not even try, but “going big” to one person is not the same for another. There isn’t really a measurement for “big” that I know of, so it can’t be quantified. That’s why this one gets an F because it’s useless information.

4. There’s no I in team.

As much as I love the previous one, this one always falls flat. Obviously, there’s no letter I in the word team, but in the real workplace, a team is made up of many people, each one an I. This gets a D- for lack of truth and value.

The Winners

5. Change happens.

(This one is from the previously mentioned “Who Moved My Cheese” published in 1998.) It’s simple and to the point. And in its simplicity lies value and truth. The workplace, as in life, is constantly changing. Whether it’s a new supervisor or scope creep on a project, change is constant, and it happens. A+ for truth, value, and simplicity.

6. Nothing worth having comes easy.

There’s no arguing this one. I don’t know of a single thing worth having that comes easy, especially at work. As my mother used to say, “It’s going to be hard, that’s why they call it work.” A+ for truth and value.

7. Work hard, stay humble.

Short and to the point, this is excellent advice for anyone in the workplace. In a perfect world we would all get to work with people who stayed humble and worked hard. And while there are many who have been successful without staying humble, in my opinion the greatest successes in the world have managed to stay humble regardless of their hard work and achievements. B+ for value.

8. Work smarter, not harder.

This one speaks to me and has proved to be true in many instances. Doing busy work isn’t productive, but working smarter involves good planning, forethought, and the ability to get to work efficiently. This one gets A+ for truth and value.

9. Teamwork makes the dream work.

One of my favorites because it rhymes, it’s simple, and it’s clever. If you’ve ever had the privilege and joy to work with an incredible team of people like I have, you’ll never take it for granted and you’ll understand how vital it is to good morale and excellent work. It truly is a dream come true when you have a great team to work with every day. A+ for value and truth.

10. Work and play well with others.

Wouldn’t the workplace and the world be a better place if everyone got along? In the workplace, there isn’t much play, and there certainly is work, but the value of this message is regardless of the location, try to get along with co-workers and people in general. Be a nice person, is never bad advice. This gets a B+ for value.


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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.