Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the best way for me to approach my work, in the day-to-day and long-term.
Why do I do the work I do? Who do I work for? When should I be satified, and when should I push myself? How do I know when I’m doing the right kind of projects for myself?
I’ve jumped around a lot between different perspectives from which I like to approach my day-to-day work, but I’ve found one that resonates with me the most:
Do work that you are proud of, and work until you’re proud of what you’ve created.
I’m a big fan of the famous Ira Glass quote, on taste, and doing good work:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. 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 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 its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.
In the well-known snippet from an old interview with the famed radio show host, Ira talks about the taste that creatives have when they begin their work. He observes that for almost everyone, when they start out, the work they make doesn’t live up to the expectations — there’s a gap between the quality of the work and the ambitions of the creator. And that’s natural.
And he argues that the gap can only be closed by creating more, and producing “a volume of work” until the work catches up to the vision of the creator, and the gap is felt less and less.
But my favorite part of the quote is the way he begins:
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 years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not…
… and this taste, he argues, is what makes and breaks creatives.
I’ve found that that’s a good place to start, whether you’re doing creative work, or you’re doing more analytical work. I like to think I do both; in areas like software development and marketing, a lot of the work is analytical, reasoned. But in design, for example, there’s much more room for creativity, and more room for mistakes and missteps. But no matter where on the spectrum you work, we all have a taste, a bar set within us, for where we want to be.
And I think a good way of measuring and critiquing our approach to work, what we produce and what we take on, is to lean on that taste, and to ask ourselves, am I proud of the work that I’m doing, and the direction in which I’m moving forward?
And before marking any project as finished, am I proud of what I’ve made?
I find that this always sets the best tone for myself, and guides me in the right direction.
Whether you’re working right now, or studying to become something more, lean on your taste. Do work that you’re proud of, and hold that closer to your heart than the criticism and the praise. Let your taste decide what you want to take on, and how you go about it.
Do work that makes you proud, even if it isn’t perfect. Thanks for reading.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Starting a company is the most educational thing I’ve done.
Have a comment or response? You can email me.