I live by little mantras or mottos that evolve out of the pattern of what I’m learning in life during a particular season. I always try to nail down how these mantras evolve, but the truth is that they just pop up without me actively seeking them out. I notice certain themes in my life recurring, I notice what I tend to think about often, and a mantra ends up growing out of that.
I work at a pharmacy right now. It’s a part-time thing; something I do for money, to get out of the house, and also because I enjoy it. Before writing, one of my career goals for years was to become an occupational therapist. That didn’t happen for a lot of reasons, but working in the pharmacy gives me an opportunity to learn about health and wellness in a super practical way.
This is what I have learned: do your best in every job you are given. Even if you hate it, strive to learn as much as you can from your work, and strive to be the best you can possibly be at that job. Make it work for you in a positive way rather than allowing it to simply be just “work.” Make friends with the people you work with, ask questions, go the extra mile, own your mistakes. I promise that this will benefit you in the future.
One of the pharmacists that I work with is a woman who I really admire. When I think about people who excel at their work, she comes to mind right away. She is somehow able to make a space for customers and patients that is completely focused on them. She treats every call, every consult, every question as an opportunity to educate, enlighten and help the person. She has learned the art of welcome and how to integrate it alongside knowledge to create this amazing space of teaching and friendship in a pharmacy. When I work with her, I always have my ears open because I always learn something from her.
I’m trying to do this in my own life as well. How can I work with excellence today? is a question that I’ve found myself asking consistently. This question, for me, is grounding. It eliminates the distraction of what everyone else is doing and forces me to focus on what I can do with what I have at this time. This can be as simple as giving my full attention to a conversation, or being thorough with my tasks at work, or making time to write because I know that consistently practicing makes me better at it.
If you are someone creative and you are frustrated that your work isn’t at the level of excellence (yet) that you see in your head, I get it. I’ve actually been in this space for a while. It makes me not want to share my work on a lot of days. This is a quote, though, from Ira Glass, (host of This American Life and a successful radio talent), that has stuck with me. I think that, for those of us who make things (which is actually most people), this is really important to keep in mind:
“Nobody tells this to people who begin- I wish someone had told me this. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is this gap.
For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.
We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know- it’s normal.” -Ira Glass
Sometimes we tell each other that nobody is really watching you. We say that everyone is so self-absorbed in their own little bubbles that they don’t really care that much about what you do. While this is true to a certain extent, people actually are noticing what you do, whether or not they are really conscious of this.
This is what I mean: I got a text last night from a friend who said that watching me live my life gives her hope. First of all, this humbled me. It also both inspired me and reinforced this sense of responsibility I’m developing to work with excellence in every part of my life. You don’t even need to be doing something spectacular to be inspiring someone else or helping them. Sometimes, just because you are taking risks or sharing your idea or showing up to work with a smile, you’re quietly inspiring others to keep going. You might not know until later, or you may never know: the point is that some people need your gifts, your talent and your spirit. And you will need someone else’s gifts, talent, or spirit at some point in your life too.
So work with excellence, even if you don’t get the applause or the likes or the encouragement right away. Maybe the ones who are the most encouraged by you are too afraid or insecure or tired to reach out and let you know right now. Eventually, though, if you consistently leave a trail of excellent work (whether that is in your career, hobbies, relationships, school, etc), people will probably start to stand up and notice, and you’ll have a great track record behind you to offer them.
Excellence doesn’t always mean total perfection- it means investing yourself into doing the best work you can do at this time. Sometimes you’ll mess up, but I think it’s the way you problem solve and the way you own your mistakes that sets you up for greater success in the future. Sometimes you’re not doing the work you truly want to do because it isn’t possible yet. Again, I think you can make almost anything work for you by taking the posture of a student and trying to learn as much as you can from the season you are in or the task at hand or the people around you. Be willing, be honest, be patient, be teachable. Do good work.
It will take you far.