Get it right.
Recently I watched a documentary on Canadian small farming (http://tomakeafarm.ca) which I enjoyed (and reminded me why I never wanted to be a farmer.) While harvesting broccoli one farmer says to the other in disgust – look at this: I can’t sell this – as she bemoans the state of the broccoli not having developed as it should have.
Reminded me of the scene in Chef (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chef_(film)) where Chef Carl explains to his son why he can’t serve a Cuban sand which that’s burned. This [cooking] has given me everything I love, he explains, and I love it.
These vignettes, one real, one imagined, serve as illustrations of people committed to what they do, something that we don’t see as often any more. I don’t know if the old days were really any better, so let’s not get nostalgic without cause, but I do know the last restaurant I ate in did not have Chef Carl in the kitchen, and the food was not sourced from Cedar Down Farm.
Character, including pride, is that wonderful attribute requiring us to do our best, to do good work, without being reminded, coached, counseled or having to sign an affirmation that we’ve read our ethics handbook.
Americans love to quote (actually that’s not true, Americans don’t read anymore therefore they’re unable to remember any quotes…) the old chestnut about pride goeth before a fall. That’s nonsense.
Pride in the application of work means doing good work always. Yes Wally, even when no one is watching.
Yet somewhere along the way in the last 15o years or so we’ve convinced ourselves that doing good work – taking pride in what we do whether it’s cropping kale or cracking code – is somehow extraordinary, somehow remarkable.
But it used to be our standard.
We’ve bought into a notion that says mediocre, half-assed, sub-standard work is still work and doing really good work is something rare and uncommon. Really? How did we delude ourselves so? Doing good work is all that matters because work is generally pretty hard ( why do you think they call it work?) so why do any of that if you’re not going to do it well?
I’m not sure if it’s character, environment, the 21st century or all those extra NOx emissions VW let out but we’ve got a screw loose somewhere. Pride in one’s work is essential to success if you define success as continuing affirmation of your efforts. If you define success as making a pile of money before anyone else figures out your shit doesn’t work that’s not success, that’s a VC. They’re different.
But if you aspire to take mental, social and emotional reward from your efforts, from feeling like you made a difference today then you must exude pride in your work and demonstrate character in your behavior. Not because it’s cool to talk about or because it makes you special but because that’s what it means to do good work. To know yourself when you have done a good job and to stand behind it. To know when you can’t sell that broccoli even though you recognize others might.
Pride in one’s work product is not ego or evil. Pride in and of itself may be, but the ability to assess with a critical eye whether your efforts are up to snuff is quite a different thing. We don’t admire pride in work as much as we’re surprised by it because in modern times we’ve become numbed to the average.
But if you don’t want to live an average life, you cannot do average work.
Take some pride in yourself.