Pride of Workmanship

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I knew a young woman who was an indifferent student through high school, the kind of girl who gets lectured endlessly by school counselors who knew she could do better. Her early employment history after college was more of the same. She did what people told her to do, but not much more.

At some point she began working in the office of a company that tried to match temporary workers with jobs offered by companies who didn’t want the trouble of finding, compensating and training temp workers. Like so many companies, it was badly run. Upper management was clumsy, rewarding the wrong workers and failing to produce sound policies. And yet, like many badly run companies, this one did well enough to keep making a modest profit and thus could continue functioning as a business.

Then something strange happened. As that business grew, it assigned two young women, including my friend, to head up a new branch office. While neither of them had distinguished herself in earlier assignments, this was different. Both women had been paying attention to the shortcomings of their business and had thoughts about how they might do better. The two women threw themselves into an effort to run their office in an exemplary way. They did not expect their model to lift up the whole business, and in fact it did not. They didn’t expect their excellence to be identified and rewarded, and in fact it was not. And yet they experienced the rare joy of managing the only effective office in an organization that continued to limp along with shoddy practices.

Good things happen when people take pride in their work. We all have known workers who slacked off whenever possible, but we have also encountered workers who set a high personal standard for excellence. A persistent mystery in business management is exactly how some workers demand a high level of work from themselves. Studies show that the level of compensation is not the critical factor. What seems more important is pride, pride of workmanship.

When I edited a small magazine I worked with writers and photographers who were badly compensated. My magazine paid so little for articles that we couldn’t demand outstanding work from contributors. Some contributors, acknowledging that we paid poorly, sold us articles that were slick and poorly written. And yet some contributors gave us good articles in spite of our amateurish payment programs.

My own work became an example. I realized that I was the untrained editor of a very badly run publication. All of us on the magazine’s staff were ignorant about making magazines. Most of us tried to do our jobs well, but the business was a sort of clown show because had never been trained and now were badly led. 

And yet I came to understand that, with all its obvious faults, this was my magazine. Whether it was wretched or entertaining, I was the single person ultimately responsible for the quality of each issue. I began rewriting bad articles, trying to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Our readers never guessed how hard I had worked to salvage shoddy original copy. It didn’t matter to me whose name was on a story. What mattered was that each article should be as funny, interesting or educational as possible.  We continued to print pictures upside down, print captions riddled with misspellings and make all sorts of factual errors. But more and more, almost in spite of ourselves, we began putting out a magazine that people really liked. Our readers were on our side, hoping desperately that a magazine like ours would triumph over the amateurism, disorganization and lack of resources that continued to plague us.

Later, when I became a freelance writer/photographer, I discovered how easy it was to write articles that were marginally better than average for that field of journalism. That is, I could knock off a slick article in two hours that looked pretty good, even if it was pretentious and lacking merit. That could have encouraged me to be lazy, and yet the opposite happened. I came to value the fact it was my name on an article. I took that to be a promise that I would do the very best work I was capable of, in spite of how meager my reward might be. The longer I worked as a freelancer, the higher my standards became. It became increasingly important to put out articles I was proud of.

How did you acquire the standards you hold yourself to in your work? Have they evolved over time? Did anyone serve as a model for you of doing the job well? What gives you pride in your work?

97 thoughts on “Pride of Workmanship”

  1. What a very good subject Steve, which I think will mirror the thinking of all the Baboons. For yourself, I gained the impression early on that you have a strong work ethic.

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      1. Damn! Did I? I was going to leave him out of it altogether, he’s been up there nagging me long enough now.
        Really, I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture. Four of us have a strong work ethic which has often come out in funny ways. Maybe Angelina does too. It’s hard to tell. Dad didn’t really encourage us, perhaps, though it wasn’t hard to tell if he disapproved of your efforts. We’re all capable of extended periods of leisure and extended periods without it. Dad couldn’t handle leisure at all. But in his case, it was just that he needed to be busy. He spent untold hours in his time off, sculpting, carving, or occasionally painting. Or making pottery. He lost interest as soon as a piece was finished and could happily throw much of it away. I couldn’t do that. And I couldn’t impress people with my hard work in that way, when my wife worked dawn to dusk keeping house.
        So really I want to outdo Dad. I want the little I do to count.

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        1. Your comment, brought to mind my late potter friends, Ken Olson and Mike Mikkelsen. They were best friends, admired each other’s work, yet were complete opposites in many ways.

          Ken came to pottery during a midlife crisis in his late forties, after a successful career in advertising. He was a one-time collaborator of Buckminster Fuller. He was ambitious and worked extremely hard at whatever he did, and cranked out more pottery than any potter I knew.

          Mike, on the other hand, was an artist who dabbled in all sorts of pursuits throughout his life. He was a teacher, a painter, a sculptor, a potter, and an inventor. He owned and ran a SAAB dealership for some years, restored old cars, and salvaged and restored wrecked cars. He too was driven and worked ceaselessly until Parkinson’s got the better of him.

          Though very little of Mike’s work was perfect, or even finished, he would rather destroy it than have it in circulation. He couldn’t bear the thought of his creative work that didn’t meet his standards being out there with his name on it. Yet, he’d happily sell you a restored car that he knew had issues.

          In contrast, most of Ken’s pottery was perfect with exacting attention paid to every detail. Yet, at his sales there would always be a rack of “seconds,” pottery where the glaze hadn’t turned out the way he wanted it, or some other obvious flaw. He would never destroy his own work, too much of a businessman for that.

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        2. It’s partly that I can’t stand waste, PJ. If all else failed, I’d use a painting or carving for firewood. Pottery and sculpture could be hardcore for my next building job.

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        3. Reminds me now, of when we shifted Mum for the last time. Yell at me if I told this before, I did tell someone recently. Some time after Dad died, we moved her from her isolated cottage, into South Molton, the small town where she felt most at home now. We took stacks of Dad’s sculpts, most of them not very old. He’d just kept churning them out. We put them in the loft over her second floor flat, and none of us ever went up there again. She finally tired of the stairs, and we moved her to a ground floor flat across the square, where she died two weeks later. Those sculpts may still be up there, it’s 16 years now.

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  2. I can’t remember any occasion of not trying to do my best on any task I attempted to which I attached my name or reputation. (Within reason, of course. I don’t strive for the perfect lawn, don’t scrape every flake of snow off the driveway, don’t make every paint job dripless and with perfect edges on windows and trim, etc.)

    I suppose my parents instilled that ethic in me, but I don’t remember getting lectures or admonishments. I was always encouraged to “do my best” when I went off to school or competed in a sport, but it wasn’t a mantra. My folks were pretty cool that way. They led more by example and quiet suggestion rather than harping and nagging or making grand pronouncements.

    To me, the pursuit of excellence in things that matter, and throughout life in general, is one of the best reasons to wake up every day. I celebrate and appreciate excellence wherever I see it–sports, food, entertainment, business, community events, organizations (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern MN leaps to mind. They’re consistently rated one of the top two or three BBBS chapters in the nation!)

    That’s why my writing career slogs along at what most would call a money-losing pace. I don’t write just to get another book out there and make some sales. I’m leaving a legacy that will theoretically last “forever” because of computers and digitization. So tomorrow, next month, or when I’m long dead, if anyone reads one of my books, I want them to read the best book I could have written at the time I published it. One of the highest praises I can receive is, “That was a damn good story, well-written.”

    There’s no chance I’ll get anywhere near the level of the greatest writers ever, but being the best I can be and writing the best books I can write is reward enough.

    Chris in Owatonna

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    1. Well said, Chris. This is the answer I expected from you. I had guessed that you had parents who intelligently motivated you to do your best. Your thoughts about the differences between nagging a kid to do well and modeling doing well are just right!

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      1. I heard an interesting radio show on the ability to analyze writers analytics and how they write presenting X number of ideas an extra number of words as their signature

        Agatha Christie was the writer that they chose modeled the discussion around and the fact that she wrote 84 books in the first 78 roll very similar in form and the last six used 1/2 the number of words and 1/2 the number of concepts per story versus the first 78

        The point being made was that she had developed Alzheimer’s and still had a brain that could write a story but didn’t have the tools to do it in the same eloquent fashion she had before

        That should motivate your Chris to hurry up and get your stuff done before your brain keeps you from being able to get to it

        I hope not to leave a mess for my wife and children to clean up on the day that I drop but I do have projects that I start and lots of loose ends that exist running alongside me as I go through this life

        Quality smarty get out of my way I’ve got stuff to do

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        1. No, Tim said he had them when I mentioned torque wrenches. Quality machines, though his are a bit later than the ones you rode, probably nude.

          Did you think I’d made a mistake about motorcycles?

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  3. dead guys can write blog posts

    thanks steve welcome back

    nice job on making this side of human nature be the thought of the day

    I believe that you were hardwired at birth to either do a great job or a crappy job and that the details are environmental such as how hard or easy your parent is on you in excepting or driving you to do more

    I think a parent can expect you to do more but whether you do or not is completely up to that little module inside your brain that determines self motivation

    Some people get by doing minimum at work and some people do their best regardless

    I can think of lots of examples call people whore not only didn’t do the most that they could do but tried to figure out what the minimum expected was and did that ever exceed the minimum

    In some cases that because if you do more than the minimum the expectations rise and it’s harder to do more than the minimum than it used to do simply the minimum and by getting by with less you have more time and energy to spend on things that you enjoy rather than giving up your one on someone else’s to do list

    I remember when I was in high school working at the man France Ave., Drive and there was a guy who would write papers for you to turn in at school and he would offer an a paper. a b paper or a C paper for different pay

    i had a friend who took him up on it and his paper was written go unemotionally and boringly that i was surprised it got the prepaid a and was worth the $10

    i had a work associate who found places to hide so he couldn’t be discovered doing nothing for notable amounts of time daily

    i am a person whose brain works non stop on solutions and appreciate the opportunity to plug them in and that is in many ways the desired reward, just to perform for self satisfaction

    i don’t think you can drive excellence into a lazy soul or mediocre efforts out of a rock star but the question of how that is determined is a miracle from the heart of existence

    i have two grandsons ages 3 and 1
    ari is 3 and came into this world ready for the best possible day in every regard he wakes up ready to tackle the challenges he desire he dreams up and is a presence to be reckoned with
    denver is so contemplative that he is invisible. he approaches every facet of life with a smile and a quiet confidence that he will get the most out of the moment
    he is the gentle giant approach where ari is the tasmanian whirling dervish

    it’s hard wired and you can encourage or squash the drive but the core is there to be dealt with

    all my business relationships are and or have been like marrying into a new dysfunctional family and having to learn the rules that make it work or not work depending on the framework involved

    life’s choices are not so much how to perform but where

    find the correct hole for your square peg and you’re happy
    keep trying to fit it in that round slot and frustration is certain

    my whipped out posts are what i can do

    i used to get praised or lambasted by teachers for either screwed up punctuation or creativity depending on the lens they viewed the world through

    i remember one teacher who complimented my ability at expounding in interesting ways about whatever subject she assigned but failed me fo being late and having not used semi colons where appropriate

    she quit teaching and went into being a marriage counselor after she went through her divorce and dealt with her personal dragons

    another teacher gave me a’s and said if i ever wanted to sit down and explain all the intricacies of the points in my papers he would be available for that

    i made him my advisor. what a motivating encouraging path he offered

    it still applies today

    what i’m doing and where i’m headed are how my days roll currently

    i am making plans for transition to a slower pace of brain involvement but not in the near future

    that’s question number 1
    what were the other 3 questions ?

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  4. Curiously, I think my lack of formal training in any of the employments I had after college was instrumental in my forming my own standards of excellence.

    I left graduate school to take an entry-level job at an advertising agency when I realized that my only likely prospects for employment in that track would be as a teacher to other art students. An endless closed loop. Besides, I was married by then and really needed to be bringing in some income.

    As an art major and an English minor, I had the basic skill set but no specific training in advertising methods or practices or marketing principles or anything actually germane to the job. I had to observe what others did, analyze how I would approach the problem differently and develop my own philosophy. If I had trained in advertising, I might have come to the job saddled with the standards of my instructors. Instead, I had the perspective of an outsider and that allowed me to sidestep some of the self-imposed constraints I perceived in my co-workers.

    When I was for a time in a supervisory position with a staff of about five men and women, I regarded my role to be one where I would do what I could to make it possible for my people to do the best work they could.
    Sometimes that meant interceding between them and the meddling of upper management. In my own performance reviews, the one criticism I would get is that I fraternized too much with the staff. Management had a hierarchical view of the corporate structure where they were the most important and levels of importance descended down the corporate ladder. I took the view thar everyone was either essential or redundant. (There were a few redundant employees. They were all children of upper management.) It took everyone working unimpeded at the best of their ability to produce the results that kept the company in the black. Upper management couldn’t do it alone, or at all for that matter. Management and I were never going to philosophically agree, so I moved out of management. I was in truth better suited to being a sort of jack-of-all-trades within the company, designing packaging and publications, writing copy for promotions, writing and producing advertising for radio and television, art directing photography in the studio and on occasion building props for the photographers.

    When I left the company to embark on freelance employment, naturally I took my own standards with me but also I was now in the position of representing my own work directly to the clients. In agencies, the work is presented to the client by account executives, often without the presence of the designer or writer. While that makes the creative person uncomfortably dependent on the astuteness of the account person, it also affords a level of insulation that can foster some slackness on the part of the creative. Knowing that you are going to have to represent yourself sharpens your attention.

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    1. You say so much I want to respond to, Bill. For me, the most intriguing thing about you is your “perspective as an outsider.” You are always thinking for yourself, not to be contrary, but because that suits you.

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    2. I doubt any of you noticed, but in describing my work history I was careful not to use the word “career”. In my mind, a career is intentional, something you perhaps train for and something that becomes part of your self identity once you achieve it.

      I never set out to work in advertising and got my first job as something of a fluke. Despite the fact that I worked in that general field for the remainder of my working life, I never joined to any professional organizations related to the field, never participated in any of the competitions (ad people like to give themselves rewards), never strived to be recognized, and my job was never a significant part of my self identity. It was just a viable path of least resistance, one that matched my skill set, but never anything I felt impelled to glorify by calling it a career.

      What does this have to do with the question, “Where do I get my standards?” Advertising and communication in general has its fashions and those who band together in professional circles are especially prone to reflect those fashions. I have always taken an assignment, whether it’s a graphic design or a piece of writing, as a problem to solve. It has objectives to achieve and criteria to meet. If it’s a writing project, it needs a specific voice and a memorable point of view. If it’s a design, it needs freshness and intuitive communication in addition to its aesthetic qualities. Often I have to experiment with possibilities but I know when I see it that I’ve solved the problem. I’m not inured to the current fashion trends in communication but I try not to let it impose on my solutions.

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    3. I had a similar experience. Not really qualified for some jobs I took on. The outside point of view was sometimes a strength. On the whole I wished I had been trained for two of them. I carried myself through some things because I had a strong liberal arts education, which is dying in American education. “Why do I have to do this? I am not going to be a writer, why do I have to take a writing course? Arts are impractical, why should I study them? “

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  5. You make several points, tim. I’m going to respectfully differ with one of them. I don’t believe we are necessarily “hard wired” to do good or mediocre work. I was an indifferent student, or worse, through junior high, high school and one year of college. I had not been challenged to do well by my parents, whom I now understand were already challenged by their own issues and not especially invested in how I did.

    Putting it another way, I was a C student most of the time, partly because I didn’t think I was better than that. Now and then a teacher motivated me to do better, but I went to college with serious misgivings about whether I was smart enough to handle that level of work. My freshman year was pretty ugly, but then I made a new commitment to my work and began learning that I should expect way more from myself than I had been doing. I worked hard to finally realize that I should expect myself to do well.

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    1. I was an indifferent student as well, though not because I didn’t think I was better than that but because I didn’t think about it at all. I didn’t have a plan or a direction to motivate me. In classes, when I liked the teacher I did well and when I didn’t I didn’t

      Somehow, other people saw things in me that I didn’t and they kept pushing me into opportunities I didn’t seem to merit. I was recommended for “accelerated” classes in junior high school, which meant that a group of us would skip seventh grade, essentially. I wasn’t a standout in accelerated classes either but I held my own. Despite my mediocre grades, I had scholarship offers. Not great ones, but still… I easily tested out of freshman English at the University.

      The point of all this is to ponder, what did those teachers see in me that I wasn’t seeing myself?

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      1. Not all, but many of my fellow accelerated students were in the habit of breezing through school because the expectations were so low they didn’t have to work at it. It’s difficult to develop high standards for yourself when you are surrounded by low standards. A lot of those students had trouble when they got to college, not because they were incapable but because they had never developed work practices.

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        1. My brilliant son struggled in college and early n his software design career because he had zero study skills. I was the teacher he had most in HS and tried to something about it but there was little I could do about it. Being a programmer means a great deal of study. Now he knows how to, but as he says, it is studying for a very practical purpose.

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        2. Clyde being gifted can be a terrible fate. If things come too easily, one doesn’t learn to grub and sweat and work to get a good result. My favorite example is Jazz Age wizard Bix Beiderbecke. He was supremely gifted, which allowed Bix to quickly pick up what others struggled to do. In his case, it also meant he never learned to read sheet music because he could fake it so well after hearing a piece. That ultimately contributed to his sad, alcoholic death.

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  6. Adeline Ann: my mother was a very hard working farm wife, which she had to be considering the old fashioned sustance farming we did. She was in charge of the 3-4 acres of gardens necessary in that poor, clayley, rocky soil. But she always pushed at it because she loved watching things grow, and she had the gift. She added fruit trees and raspberry canes and tried new cultivars. Then she canned and froze the results with attention to detail. Cleo is a very hard worker, also meticulous, which she knows she learned at her mother’s side. Then in the evening after all that work she sat and braided rugs or sewed quilts, in which every stitch was important. If not perfect, she pulled it out. How many billions of stitches did she sew in those quilts, always hand stitched, every part of it. I walked the gardens with her many evenings, an almost daily ritual, to observe growth and plan hoer coming days. In the evening I watched her stitch with such great care something that was really only practical, it seemed to me. From that I learned about hard work and caring about what you do and expressing yourself in artscrafts.

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  7. Looie: my father was nothing but hard work. He enterred the work force at age 13 and quickly proved he could work as hard as most men. The auctioneer took him into their family for a couple years. My father gave his earnings to his widowed mother. One of the boys in that family, was slow moving and slap dash, a nonexampler for my father. Everywhere he went, he worked hard and watched the details. In 57-58 the economy took a dip, but on the Range it went into the dumpster. The local rural power company got a grant to hire men to clear the right-of-ways. They received poor wages. My father worked in one crew that included two of my teachers. One worked just fine, and praised my father to me the next school, but was confused asbout how my father trimmed the right-of-way back to a straight line. No rogue branch was left sticking in the right-of-way. Another teacher, later a nemesis of mine, also worked there and sat around much of the time. He said he worked to the level of pay. My father told him you take the job you do the job. That teacher complained about that for the rest of the time I knew him, which was many years. You can guess what sort of teacher he was.
    This all was a lesson learned. Seeing him through other eyes told me a great deal.

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  8. Other things: many of my classmates got paid for good grades or the honor roll, which seemed wrong to me, but I could not see why. Something in my parents modeling. But my mother explained it. If I made the honor roll she baked a lemon merringe pie, shared with the whole family. Not just for me. Cleo received something of the kind but I do not remember what. My mother around then would say they were not going to pay us for good grades, for which we never asked, because being a student was our job and doing the job right was its own reward. That was what I knew was wrong with paying for grades but could not explain.
    For my first paying job I worked at a summer camp in manintenance. One of my jobs was to tend to the pit toilets off a ways from the buildings. They were used on weekends by people who came to camp, sometimes parents, mostly not. One Friday the camp manager and the head maintenance man checked on those toilets. The manager, which he did not know I overheard, went into a rage aobut how carelessly I had swept out the toilets. He grabbed a broom and made sure every leaf and needle and dust ball was swept not out the door but into a dustpan to be thrown off in the woods. Those toilets sort of became a standard for me. My whole life when I was tempted to cut corners, I remebered the toiletsd off in the woods. Not always heeding the lesson, I am ashamed to admit.

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      1. Snort! You obviously haven’t spent your whole life putting down flooring, Wes. Lots of interesting nooks and crannies in your brain. Glad you’re giving us a glimpse of them.

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    1. The problem with paying a student for good grades is that it externalizes their standards. The same is true, to a certain extent, with that internalized voice of a father or mother or teacher. Externalized standards don’t necessarily stick with a person. Better, I would say, that you set your standards high because that’s who you are.

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    2. I was always a very driven student with top grades. My middle sister was the opposite and it was a struggle to get her through school. She now says that she has dyslexia but of course we didn’t even know what it was when she was growing up. Anyway in an effort to try to motivate her to work harder my parents set up a payment schedule for her grades. The better the grades the more money the bigger the payoff. They felt to be fair that they should offer me the same deal. With mostly honors grades and a few extra classes, I made quite a bit of money every grading period. But while I took the money and ran, they didn’t really need to do it. I never went after grades for money.

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      1. One of my vivid memories involves graduating from first grade. Parents had been invited to observe the last class of the year to see how their spawn performed. I remember mom being chagrined, and giving me the evil eye, that I needed to borrow a pencil from a classmate, the point was broken off of all of mine. I made up for it by being the best reader in the class. I got straight A’s. As reward, dad and I walked hand in hand down to Kjørups so I could choose whatever “pålæg” (toppings for openfaced sandwiches) I wanted on my lunch for the following day’s class outing. I chose a fresh tomato and mackerel salad. Never had a prouder moment, or a better reward.

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  9. I gained my work experience on my Dad’s dime. Lots of ugly work but he had the knack of what could now be called a Jedi mind trick to customers. “The job is good. The job is good. It will look better in a few weeks.”
    I knew better and learned from every job and every fellow employee. An honest post-analysis of how the job could have been better was helpful. Also setting aside thinking “It’s good enough” helped me take responsibility. Some situations were out of my control ie poor quality material, salesperson giving the customer impossible expectations, ridiculous time frame. Experience taught me to handle those problems in advance and on occasion refuse to execute the work until remedies were discussed and WRITTEN DOWN! It’s interesting how often people will “learn to live with it” when they put their signature on paper.
    Pride came when contractors expressed delight in seeing me on their job.

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  10. I had wonderful professors in graduate school who were meticulous in their practice of psychology and had very high expectations for themselves and for us students.

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    1. Renee, I assume my question means something very different to you and Jacque. You both work at relieving the pain of your clients. That means someone conscientious, like the two of you are, has no end of motivation to do the job well. Or that would be my guess.

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  11. My ranching friend, Larry, once described how he fixed a leaky innertube. The process he described was more interesting than I could have guessed it would be. He kept mentioning little details of the job, noting that he did them but not everyone did. Example: sanding the innertube to roughen up the surface so it can accept the adhesive better.

    When Larry was done, I said something like, “Gee, Larry, it sounds like you are more careful with the little details than most guys would be.” I instantly knew my comment was dumb. I had inadvertently put Larry in the position of someone bragging about how he worked. Larry said, “Naaaw, it’s not that I do anything better. I’m just too lazy to do the job poorly and then have to do it all over again.”

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    1. Steve, last tube I mended, I sanded the tube as usual. Two punctures, both of them still leaked. Turned out it was the new tube of glue, I’m not used to repairs failing. I remembered someone that would put glue on both surfaces and let it dry. Then put glue on the patch in the normal way, and stick it on. I did that and both patches are holding. Did Larry do that?

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    2. My all-time favorite product name was Monkey Grip. Monkey Grip tire (tyre) patch kits came in a can with a grater top so you could rough up the surface before gluing on the patch.

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      1. We did get kits like that in England, and at our tyre place the kits have a little bit of bent metal, more in the nature of an insult than a usable item. The kits with the poor glue.
        I don’t like puncture kits, you run out of one thing but have too many of another.

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  12. My standards did evolve in a way I can’t quite define. I always believed in doing the job I was being paid to do. And the job I wasn’t being paid to do. But when I became a Samaritan volunteer in 1987,some extra dimension was added. I think it was partly the knowledge that you weren’t there if you didn’t want to do the job. You didn’t have to look on a new hand with suspicion about their willingness to actually work. They were there only out of a desire to do that job. Though it was very common not to have realised they had that desire. I didn’t.
    One thing that came home to me was: if you’ve undertaken to do something for no pay, you’ve made it very difficult for people to complain if you don’t show up. So show up and save that difficulty.
    A guy I’d never met, but had heard about his casual attitude to the necessary rules, Kevin, didn’t show up for his shift with me. I called him up, and he’d forgotten, and was about to board a train or bus from somewhere. Sorry, he said, as in, oh well, that’s life. I said I’m sorry too. Really upset him with my intolerant, un Samaritan tone. He resigned right then and never came back. Good.

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    1. A train or bus FOR somewhere.

      You’ll have gathered I’m absent minded. I and many others forgot a duty once or twice. We’d be mortified and move heaven and earth to make amends, usually to the sound of tolerant, forgiving laughter from the abandoned, lone volunteer on the other end of the line. We didn’t take it lightly, the way Kevin did.

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  13. I begin to think the process by which we acquire standards is more complicated than I’d expected. It is far more complicated than just having a dad who criticizes bad work and praises good work. When I got into writing, I slowly acquired a sense of people who wrote well and people who were lazy. The more I wrote, the stronger I became committed to doing the work well even though I knew the tricks that would let me sell an article that never should have seen the light of day.

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      1. It was a two-step process. I became an editor in June of 1974, so at that time I thought of myself as a professional writer/photographer/editor in outdoor journalism.

        Sometime in 1986 I had an identity crisis. I suddenly realized how superficial and sloppy my work up to that point had been. I made a big effort to raise my quality standards in 1987. Still workin’ on it!

        Liked by 4 people

        1. By the way, you said you had a chance to check out hell. Did you have a look at the other place? Or couldn’t you get in? I kind of asked you before, but you were conspicuously silent.

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        2. I wanted to check out the other place. But at the gate they kept asking if I had an account with them already and what was my password. I had to chuck that whole project.

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  14. Bill mentioned being an indifferent student. I just got 19/24 on the rock and mineral identification lab test. About what I figured I’d get. When I start stressing out about a test I remind myself this was supposed to just be for fun; nothing is riding on this (except my pride). So it’s OK. And look: I DID know 19 of them!

    We get students working in the shop (Pre-covid), the ones we like ask questions if they’re stuck, admit if they need help, and do a good job in a way I don’t have to double check what they’re doing. We try to keep them around as long as possible. But how do they learn that?

    I think working with my dad and knowing we had to finish a job, plus how we took care of the cattle before we took care of ourselves was an influence on me. Plus one of my theater mentors always said not to ‘half-ass’ the job, because you won’t have the time to fix it later, those are the things I keep in mind especially when I find myself ‘half assing’ it… there’s Thom scolding me.

    And yet sometimes I know we just get tired… So and so was a really good designer! But he got tired at the end… That new guy; he’s got a lot of energy! Yep, he’ll slow down eventually…

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I worked three years as an academic adviser who mainly helped young college students sign up for appropriate classes. Interesting work. The first thing we learned in the training program is that virtually NO kid put much of an effort into classwork in high school.

    We’d get these little folders when we first met a freshman student. If I glanced at the folder and said, “Hmmm. Doesn’t look like you worked very hard in high school.”

    And the kid would be almost relieved that his or her secret was out. “Oh, god no! I didn’t work at all! But, believe me, I know college is gonna be different. I’m prepared to work really hard now!”

    In three years, I never encountered even one student who would claim they had done their best in high school.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Were you one of those guys we were supposed to consult before we waited in line to hopefully get the punch cards that would represent our place in classes for the next quarter?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. A big part of our job was helping kids take classes that would let them meet the standards for graduation. The funniest part of that was teaching kids who hated science how they could meet the science requirement. The secret was Carlos Kaufmanis’ course on astrology. While it qualified as a science class, it had appeal and drama not found in other science classes.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I happen to have attended a couple of his lectures, and he was wonderful, and I think in this case it’s an important distinction to make. Not poking at you.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. The point with Kaufmanis’ class was that it was a non-mathematics science, not a class for students who hated science. I took that class.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. The registration system was so ungainly in those days. You waited in a long line to see Steve or one of his counterparts to get his approval on your prospective classes. Then you stood in another line to get the punch cards that represented those classes. Your place in the registration process was determined by lottery, which meant that unless you got an early position, the cards for all the popular classes would be gone, whereupon you would scramble to get cards for alternative choices from the students working to hand out the cards. The classes you ended up with seldom resembled the classes the counselor approved. Fortunately, one didn’t have to get a second approval or that could have become an endless cycle.

        After experiencing that kabuki dance of getting approval once too many times, I just had my friend John Marshall sign my prospective class choices. He had a good authoritative signature and the students handing out cards didn’t know or care who the counselors were.

        That worked splendidly until, for some reason I can’t recall, I had to pay a second visit to an actual counselor, who did know the identities of the other counselors. He accused me of forgery and I pointed out that John Marshall did indeed sign the card. I had to go to the head of the art department for a mea culpa but I wasn’t sorry, then or now.

        After that I visited the professors teaching the classes I wanted to take and got their assurance that they’d let me in if the class closed. Every class usually had a drop out or two.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Few of the valedictorians I taught worked their hardest at school.
        Not the same but a parallel. The year my son graduated from HS and went to the U, a friend bragged that Gustavus Adolphus enrolled more National Merit Scholars than the U. I happened to have a report. GA enrolled one that year and the U enrolled 55.

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        1. I think that’s right. I’ve always been a quick learner, but I was not a good student. I’d pay close attention in class, and could memorize what the teachers’ lectured about, so I rarely opened a book. If there was a test question that hadn’t been covered in a lecture, I was in trouble. I was in college before it dawned on me that learning, not getting good grades, was the point of getting an education. That made a profound difference in my study habits.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. What I’ve learned from the online classes, (depending on the teacher and how hard his tests are) I can skim through the online information, answer all the questions, get an ‘A’ in the class, and not retain or learn anything.
          For some students, it’s only about getting the piece of paper at the end of 4 years. It’s really not about learning.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. PJ, I always recognised the difference between learning and good grades, though wasn’t interested in either. I didn’t get good grades in my final exams, not surprising as I sat there and did nothing except stare at Miss Simpson’s legs. I was endlessly told how I’d regret deliberately failing, but I never needed those grades and never once regretted it.

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    2. I have always had a difficult relationship with “doing my best“. I’ve mentioned before that I had an ugly experience in fifth and sixth grade with a teacher who was convinced I could do better even though I was doing work that top level and she dinged me for it on report cards repeatedly. It made me very angry. Add to that a father who was constantly looking for my next challenge for me. No matter how well I did at something, his comments were always about what’s next on the horizon. This has lead me many times to the thought “if you’re not working hard, does that mean you’re not doing your best?” I rarely work hard. I didn’t work hard in high school and got top grades I didn’t work hard in college and got top grades. I’ve always worked hard at my jobs and gotten high ratings and customer compliments and raises at the top of the bar but I rarely feel like I work hard at any of that.

      And it absolutely doesn’t bother me. I knew a woman once who’s motto was “ done is better than perfect”. That resonated to me at the time and still does to this day.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it’s really important to be able to distinguish between “good enough” and “perfect,” and to prioritize where you apply your efforts. For a few things nothing less than “perfect” will do; most things fall in the “good enough” category.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Today’s questions are interesting to ponder. Thanks, Steve.

    Like Bill, I don’t really think of myself as having had a career, although I have no doubt used that word to describe my work history. I was just going with the flow, doing the best I could in whatever job I was in. One thing that became increasingly clear over the years, was that the work of managing people was more lucrative than just doing the work, so promotions tended to push me in that direction. Unfortunately, it was also the aspect of my job I liked the least. Fortunately, there were some creative aspects to all of my jobs that I found both challenging, fun, and rewarding.

    I sometimes say, and not entirely in jest, that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. By that I mean I have yet to discover if there’s one thing I’m so passionate about, and that gives me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, that I’ll happily toil away in that pursuit for the rest of my life. At this stage of the game, I realize that there’s a very real possibility, or more likely a probability, that I’ll go to my grave without getting an answer. I will say this, though, it’s nice to have reached the point in my life that I can take money out of the equation. For too long I labored at work I didn’t enjoy to achieve a modicum of financial security.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. My parents both worked hard all of their lives. Though I don’t recall either of them ever complaining about their jobs, I can’t imagine that either of them got a great deal of satisfaction from their work. I don’t think they expected to. Work to them was a necessity; you did what you had to do to take care of your family. And their expectation was that their kids would do the same. My mom was extremely unhappy when I started flitting about without career path in mind. What was going to become of me? I think that mindset was prevalent among the working class. Perhaps it still is?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My parents too didn’t like with my happy go lucky lifestyle. Which I think someone told me didn’t sound happy, and didn’t sound lucky. Took the words out of my mouth.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Interesting day, Steve! Only have time to read about half of the above – maybe later…

    My folks were good role models, and I guess it was just assumed that my sister and I would always do our best, and do well. I’m sometimes a bit of a perfectionist, and this can bog me down. These days, I do like to be recognized for having given it my all, whether or not it turns out perfect in everyone else’s eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. My dad had an interesting experience. As a kid, he felt he was an outsider in his own family, mainly because his dad was so consistently negative in comments about him. He decided he must be lazy because he hated doing chores. Then his father got so ill he had to be institutionalized. Without his dad’s income, there wasn’t enough money in the family to feed everyone. My dad was selected to go to a little old fashioned river town to join his mother’s sister. Her name was Latetia, so she was “Aunt Let” to him.

    Dad showed up as a skinny kid of six who didn’t know anything about work. He was immediately plunked into the staff of a small working farm, doing such things as chopping wood, hauling water, weeding the garden and helping with the harvest.

    There were two shocks in that. Not knowing how to do things, he flailed inefficiently at his tasks until he caught on to the technique. The bigger shock was learning what it was like to be a participant in a loving family. Aunt Let was a loving woman who didn’t harp on his shortcomings. To his amazement, dad learned that work could be rewarding if you felt loved and needed.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I’d like to throw in a slightly new perspective. Reading all the comments today makes me think there is something wonderful about the creative impulse. If you are creative, having high standards is not a challenge because the work itself keeps talking to you. It will grumble that it isn’t right, and then grumble some more and then, miraculously, the work will give you a little kiss and tell you that you’ve done what you meant to do. You aren’t working for your own standards or for money or for praise, you’re working in the service of a deep need to accomplish something. And that seems to happen magically all by itself . . . at least sometimes.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. It’s four am and I should be sleeping, I have a job tomorrow ( because I failed my exams at school).
    But I’ll try and explain what makes me take a pride in my work.
    And it’s pretty much what Steve says. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Including put the apostrophes in in these sloppy, texting times.
    And it’s also, as Larry and Ben say : Do it once and do it right.
    I don’t always succeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. In my opinion,find some interesting things in your free time ,may be u can got much more good ideas,we deal with the problems everyday,but work is not everything of our life,加油思密达

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