Tuesday, June 05, 2012

What I Wish I'd Heard At Graduation, Part 6: Only Worry About the Quality of Your Own Work

In any situation, there’s always going to be someone doing a better job than everybody else.  You should be that person.  But you need to accept the fact that, even if you are the best, you will not advance right away. Four things will happen first:
  1. Other people will pocket the extra value that your work creates, for a while, without giving you any extra credit. That’s fine.
  2. They might even steal credit for your work, for a while. That’s fine.
  3. They will also try to get you to do their work, without credit. That’s inevitable, so do it if you can. 
  4. People who are embarrassed by your work will order you to water your quality down.  That’s not fine.  Humbly defer their requests. 
Do you have a bad boss?  Good for you! That’s a great opportunity.  Take your boss’s job.  Of course, in the mean time, you’ll have to work extra hard to please a dud, but that’s okay, because you’re also showing your boss’s boss that you deserve your boss’s job. 

But what if your boss’s boss doesn’t notice for a long time?  And what if your infuriating boss just takes credit for your output?  That’s fine.  Let him.  Don’t worry about working without recognition, because it’s impossible: someone is always noticing.  Even if it’s just your fellow co-workers.  Even if it’s just the customers. 

Of course, if you’ve been outperforming your boss for a year, and there’s been no reward, it might be time for a new job, but guess what?  You’ll be in a great position to get one.  You’ll find that there are a lot of people around you who will give you a recommendation. Ask those admiring co-workers if they know anybody else looking for a person in your position who’s looking to advance.  Or ask those customers who liked you if they know of any other opportunities. 

The point is: don’t do what I did, over and over again, in these situations.  Don’t say to yourself, “This supervisor is terrible, and nobody seems to care, so why do a good job?  I might as well slack off.”  That’s the best way to ensure one of two things: either you’ll have to work for that same bad boss forever, or you’ll leave and be unable to get another job because no one from your old job will recommend you. Work experience that doesnt include a recommendation is a liability, not an asset.

This is the hardest thing in the world to do: Only worry about the quality of your own contribution.  It’s so easy to think: “My good work will be wasted if everybody else around me is doing bad work, so why not redirect my energies to pointing out that their work needs to be better?”  No.  Nobody wants to hear your criticism. Be aware of who around you is doing good work and bad work, but don’t point it out to anybody. If you make a stink, you’ll just stink up the place. 

Quality is a beacon, even if that beacon is temporarily covered in mud. If no one around you is doing good work, then don’t compare yourself to them.  Compare yourself to the people you’d rather be working with and try to meet their level of quality, even if no one around you seems to appreciate that.  

Here’s the good news, If you have a bad boss, that boss will probably be fired soon, and another boss will come in who might appreciate you.  Never assume that the bad situation is going to continue.  Things change all the time.  You may be unappreciated today, but if a shake-up happened tomorrow, would you rise to the top?  Why not?   Worry about that instead of plotting a coup.  You don’t need to plot a coup.  Shake-ups happen.  Everything will be different in a year, especially in this economy. 

So how do you shine brighter than your co-workers?  We’ll get to that tomorrow…


j.s. said...

I'm not sure this office job analogy is all that useful for the film industry. I mean, isn't the beauty and the horror of it that you have a different boss (or bosses) each time out of the gate? And the only ones you even get a chance to work with again are the ones with which you were in some way simpatico? So in a way, it's actually easier at any level to bide your time humbly doing good work on scripts because you'll almost never be stuck with a bad boss for more than a season.

Matt Bird said...

Yes, this one applies more to day jobs, but of course the best job in screenwriting is a TV staff job, where you're right back into dealing with these issues, as in an example I'll mention tomorrow...