“Don’t start vast projects
with half-vast ideas.”
I bought that sign to put on my boss’s whiteboard in 1983.
My experience of the world, of my family, of that job was having to clean up after other people who hadn’t thought through their choices, people who didn’t even have a commitment to quality and excellence.
The value of rigour, precision and discipline is something I had to come to early. I needed those tools to defend myself in a difficult world, a world where home and gender were minefields.
The cost of that focus is clear to me, of course. I know that I am less likely to just take a flyer, to throw caution to the wind, to just do it. I know that I learned to hate the routine bullshit make-work where you learned to service the machine with helpings of mediocre crap.
When Nike said “Just Do It,” though, their star athletes never thought that meant “Just do it half-assed because no one will really care.” Doing it and doing it better were part of the same message, using smarts and repetition to create a practice which keeps you getting bigger, better, best.
A responsibility to others for increasing excellence is at the heart of professionalism. To me, being a pro is one of the highest compliments, valuing mastery and power in your contribution to the community.
This isn’t the approach of all, I know. Good enough is good enough. Nobody likes a show off. You have to stay in beginners mind. Life’s too short for not goofing off. Indulge yourself, it’s later than you think.
I have real difficulty with small thoughts, small talk and small responsibility. I don’t understand how you can live without burning for something, the kind of hair-on-fire drive that keeps you focused on getting better, on purging impurities.
You cannot have this drive in all areas of your life, of course. Focus is always required. But when I went to hire, I would look for someone who knew excellence, who had good practice, knowing that skill set could help them approach another task as a pro. Someone who settled for mediocrity, even if they had more direct experience, would likely do the same again.
For me, the fun of the world is in the creation of beauty. It doesn’t matter if that is beautiful plumbing or beautiful theology, the struggle to make more beauty is the burning essence. To dissipate is impotent, small vision, small thoughts, small expectations, small heart. Routine crap is still routine crap, no matter how much of it you can crank out day after day.
Being present in the moment is where quality and joy come from. That mini-mart employee who hears the ice machine empty and refills it without being told to is present, working a small job with pride and grace, not just with a vacant mind and an eye on the clock. Life: You must be present to win.
My difficulty with amateur bullshit is at the heart of my separation from the world. I need to be intensely focused in my practice, even if that separates me from the small habits of nice routine thought. I just have never known how not to be present, how not to see deeply, how not to make connections and think sharply, even if I know that makes me too hip for the room, too overwhelming, means that other people won’t get the joke.
When someone gives me the gift of smart and honest feedback, I take it and use it to reset my view. This does make mean I have a visceral and sensitive approach to the world, not easily sloughing shit, but it also means that I am quite, quite, quite present.
I know how to give other people smart and honest feedback in a witty and gracious way. I offer them positive comments based on my experience, new ways to see the world that might let them get better at what they do.
Usually, though, they don’t really give a shit about what I share because they just don’t have time, attention, focus or mindshare to be able to care about quality. If they did it half-assed they did it for a reason and don’t really want to be called on it. It was the best that they thought they can do at the time and that’s enough.
People grow and heal in their own way and in their own time. If they are not yet ready to move beyond where they are now, they are not yet ready to see and take responsibility in a new way, even if that means they continue to make messes that other people around them have to clean up.
I love working together with people to make a better world. I hate being the harridan who sees where things are shit and just has to keep their mouth shut because others just aren’t willing or ready to be more clear and more disciplined. To me, that is the experience of eating that shit and that has been much of my experience of interacting with other people.
I have real trouble with amateur bullshit, when people do things the easy way but not the cowboy way. I know that most people who pull this shit don’t want to hear any flak, because if they wanted to do it better, they would have. They are sure that others don’t understand their challenges or priorities so feedback from them can be dismissed.
Learning to tolerate the American way of stupidity is a very important part of me getting back onto the grid, getting back in the swing of the market. People are who they are, they bring what they can bring, they are doing “the best that they can” and one must learn to accept that. Being sick of amateur bullshit means you avoid engagement and that never leads to finding the jewel in the haystack, in finding the 10% of everything that isn’t crap.
I know that my deep pain about amateur bullshit and how it erases thoughtfulness & emotion, how it forces others to clean up the mess or watch a car crash is a block to my own possibilities.
But geez, come on!