Recently, a former student contacted me. She was organizing a high school reunion which included several of my former pupils. She provided the time, date and location of the gathering, then asked if I’d care to attend. I was flattered, naturally, but more touched by her closing comment. She thanked me for working hard to make her a better student.
“What a lovely compliment,” I thought. Nonetheless, her understanding was far from the truth. Yes, I did work hard. But not for her. Not exactly. I worked hard for myself. And I did it out of self-pride.
My father, a man of German heritage, was a perfectionist at tasks both large and small. Most of his life, he worked as a mechanic. I’d venture he was among the best mechanics in town, if I can make anything of his many satisfied clients.
Even dishwashing challenged him. Each evening, I’d wait patiently with a dish towel in hand while he’d shine to a mirror’s brilliance our steel frying pan.
Being young and impressionable, his outlook rubbed off on me. I can clean a toilet with the same gusto I apply to writing a short story. Both involve pride. But it’s more complicated than that. Along the way, a person learns the art of perfection, the shot cuts and strategies for doing a better job. That education is pride’s reward.
When people talk about a passion for their work, they mean they like what they do. Lucky the person who enjoys his labors. Most of us don’t. We work to pay the rent. Even so, pleasure can be found in the most menial task, if we chose to become its master… if we decide no one in the city, the country or the planet shall do a better job. At that moment, whether we are kitchen workers or bus drivers, we become artists. At least, that’s what my father taught me.
Morten T. Hansen made a study of worker’s attitudes. (“Work,” by Morten T. Hansen, Money, May, 2018, pg. 18.) His conclusion was that “nearly every industry or occupation boasted of at least some people who reported having lots of passion and purpose” in their work. He calls the attribute “energy.” It’s really self-pride.
“Energy” sounds less braggadocio, I suppose. But I see no need to be modest. There’s a difference between self-pride and being an egotist. Wanting to do your very best benefits others most of the time, as it did, apparently, for my students. That I cared about them was a bonus.