In one of my high school classrooms our teacher had a huge banner with just one word on it: EXCELLENCE.
Those giant green & yellow felt letters have been logged in my brain ever since, and today I just have a ton of admiration and respect for anyone who’s really good at what they do.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton
Ira Glass and This American Life
Jeff Bezos and Amazon
Casey Neistat’s vlog
(Some of this depends on personal taste of course, but there’s no question that each of these are loved by their audience. These people have mastered their craft, as evidenced by their successful work year after year after year.)
Personally the closest I’ve come to anything like this was learning to speak Spanish.
I lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for ~2 years. When I landed I didn’t speak a word of the language but after I’d been there 6 months you could drop me off anywhere and I’d be fine. After a full year it felt like I had a superpower.
I’d get compliments on my acento mexicano and the variety of slang I’d taken the time to learn, and the locals noticed. It’s not everyday a white American goes to the poorest state in Mexico and learns their language and their idioms.
The point here is that being good at Spanish felt good for its own sake. I didn’t need to be using it to make money or trying to achieve some other goal. Being good was achievement enough.1
I forget this constantly and need reminders. And I’m not sure I’d even believe it unless I’d (kind of) experienced it once.
But it’s totally worth the work. Even if there’s no other carrot at the end other than being able to look at yourself in the mirror and say “dang, I’m freaking good at what I do.”
I think this is what some people in tech mean when they say the best developers program on the weekends. The point isn’t that they’re harder workers, but that they enjoy their craft so much they do it in whatever free time they have available.↩