Most kids become shrewd entrepreneurs at a young age—I was no exception. I learned young that bargaining my way out of things seldom worked, but it didn’t hurt to see if I could get a reward for completing the assigned task.
Can you husk the corn for dinner?
Write a history paper about the pilgrims.
Will you go cut the grass?
Inevitably, my reply was something along the lines of, “What do I get if I do?” It’s humbling (and slightly mortifying) to admit my attitude of entitlement, even as a child. Thankfully, my wise mother was not easily susceptible to the old pull-the-wool-over-her-eyes-with-a-desperate-hungry-look trick. One time out of 50, she would grant me some incentive—which apparently gave me hope to keep asking—but the other 49 times, her answer to my, “What do I get if I do this?” was always the same.
Young, ignorant, and more interested in material gain than building character, I didn’t usually appreciate that reply. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to understand the value of this perspective.
It’s very easy or do well on something when the reward is tangible. Every bride diets before her wedding, because she’s rewarded by fitting into her dress extra-nicely. Star athletes play well so they can sign multi-million dollar contracts. Ballerinas practice hard so they don’t trip and fall over during the performance when 2,000 people are watching.
But what about those things that no one sees? What if I’m committed to working hard on something for days and weeks and years and it never seems to matter and no one seems to notice? What’s in it for me when I do my best then?
The satisfaction of a job well done.
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well whether you get rewarded or not. Recognition and incentive aren’t the only rewards. There’s also experience and character.
If it’s worth doing, it doesn’t matter who notices it’s good or even if it makes you rich. Maybe you’ll be the only one who notices and you’ll be broke till you die. But you’ll know that it was really good, and it’s better to die content with your work than chafing because you didn’t try.
And if it’s worth doing, you might as well do your best at it—because if you’re going to do it either way, why not make it great? Then maybe, just maybe, if you’re very lucky, someday someone might stumble across your painting or your book or your innovative plumbing methods, and you might strike it rich and famous.
But they probably won’t—and maybe that’s okay too. Because you’ll still have the satisfaction of . . . well. You know.