When my daughter began to draw as a little girl, I noticed something amazing about her. Drawing was not just something she did to pass the time or entertain herself. She was truly at work when she had those crayons in her hands. Her lip would curl up and her head would tilt side to side. I would say words that usually got a very attentive response and she would still be in her zone. I’m talking words like “hey I got cookies” yes – we love cookies here. Nope she would just nod and say mmmhmm. She has come a long way since her first refrigerator ready sketches but one thing has not changed. She is a good worker and every time she takes on a new art project she reminds me of exactly what that means.
The thing is, if you are truly working in your calling, no matter what you do, it is an art. That is to say, you find a beauty in it that speaks to you spiritually. If the work you do is not your art, skip this post and use the ten minutes I just saved for you as time to reflect on what you love and how you experience flow. Hey, if you have an extra 10 minutes, check this out. For those of you creating art everyday at work, stay here with me for a bit, please. I just want to share what I have learned.
Ok another story…Last week my mom called at around 8:30 am – usually not a great time to talk because I’m on my way out the door. She was surprised when I answered in my “still in the bed” voice. So mom says “wow, you’re getting a little extra rest?” “Yup”, I told her. “I’ll be at it from 9:30am to 9:30pm today so I figured I would sleep in a little.” And then she asked me something very profound. Mom asked “Well, did you get your GOOD WORKER AWARD?” Me: Pause, laugh “nah mama, not yet.” Mom: “Ok baby, well I’m sure it’s in the mail.” What she was really talking about was the good hard worker award.
I had been working as hard as I could. Unfortunately, this did not mean as much as I thought it did either to me or the people around me. When my daughter starts a project, sure she will work hard on it but working hard is not where her happiness comes from and believe me, no one here is happy to see her spend hours and hours on a piece. She tries a new brush or shading. She switches the angle of focus. She tries a new color. She also belongs to a community of artists who share certain works so that they can build on each other’s originals. My artist daughter is a good worker and guess what, she is not waiting on any award. No one should.
The secret is, there is no medal coming for the hard work we do. Sure, you may get one that says that’s what it is for but I would venture to guess even those awards don’t quite capture what you have done and that the folks giving them out really have no clue how many hours you really worked on something. All the trophies, medals and plaques in the world will not bring you satisfaction. And while you do need to put in hours to get great at your work, it is the greatness that is valuable to you and those around you. That’s why the MacArthur Fellows aren’t dubbed “Hard Worker Grants” but rather “Genius Grants”. It’s the genius, the ideas, the artistry, the striving for flow that we love.
From this young lady, I learned to do my work with thoughtfulness and diligence, not just hours. I learned to really look at what I had set forward and be able to ask for real critique. I learned to look for the places where I could push myself to enhance my work with a new technique or new perspective. I learned to accept when hours and hours on a project still turned out not-so-good work. Most importantly, I learned that my mom’s ironic comment was correct, that good worker award isn’t coming because I spent hours on a project or in the classroom with my students. The good worker award is in the good work itself. When I get a picture of a student at graduation, I get my good worker award. When a student says “Ms. T that is a really cool idea and I found one you might like too” that is my good worker award. When someone reads a piece I wrote and then writes to me “I think you might like this book by C.S. Lewis” – good worker award.
It is possible that no one will ever read this post. It is possible that I will read it in a year, a day or a month and want to delete it, add to it or make some editorial changes. But the time I spent writing it has gone by without me even noticing or wanting to get up for a cookie. That is flow. That is me working like my artist daughter. That is the good worker award. Get yours.