Eliminating Complacency

by Mar 1, 2019Writing0 comments

I recently was watching one of Anthony Bourdain’s final interviews and a moment early in the conversation struck a chord with me. Here’s the quote of him discussing his and his collaborators’ penchant for creative risk:

“I detest competent, workmanlike storytelling,”

For further context you only need to listen to the first 2 minutes 40 seconds of the video linked below. He also dives a little deeper at 6 minutes (the whole thing is great really)

Later on in the in the interview he elaborates further by saying:

“A powerful reaction, in one way or the other, is infinitely preferable to me than pleasing everybody.”

His statements of hatred toward “competent” work left me wondering what areas of my life I’m settling for “good enough” or have adopted a complacent attitude. The following is my reflections on how I can eliminate competent work from my craft, writing:

How can I eliminate competent or good enough work?

First, what are the conditions that are ripe for making competent work? Also, what does the end result look like?

1. Waiting until the last minute. Anytime I do that I try to put out anything passable. Since I procrastinated I naturally don’t have time for a second editing pass or to look at it with fresh eyes.

2. It doesn’t have a “wow factor”. It’s missing case studies, statistics, visuals, good analogies, or great storytelling.

3. It serves me instead of the end user. It serves my wallet or my client’s wallet. It could be useful, but not as useful as it could be.

4. It’s mirage content. It’s predominantly spun from other sources instead of having more original or unique aspects. To get those require me to do my own studies, purchase research, do outreach for quotes, learn graphic design, or take my own photos.

5. I’m not super proud of my end work. Subsequently, I don’t share it with friends and family. I don’t share it on social media. I don’t promote it.

6. It doesn’t rank well. Typically, the goal of my writing is to rank well on search engine results (SEO) to get exposure for myself, my client, or my friend I’m helping.

7. It doesn’t get me as much engagement. There’s little to no comments and very few shares. People don’t naturally share it or link to it. It doesn’t get more subscribers.

8. I can’t charge more for it. Nothing else needs to be said here. People won’t pay well for mediocre or competent work and if they do they won’t for long.

9. It attempts to please everyone. It doesn’t ruffle feathers. I don’t feel a bit nervous putting it out into the world. It’s safe and safe is boring.

10. I don’t feel fulfilled. I don’t feel challenged. It doesn’t leave me excited for my next article.

Possible Solutions To Eradicating Competent Work

Maybe it’s unrealistic to think all work will be remarkable, but writing this out definitely has me reflecting.

Why can’t I put out more work that is remarkable?

Maybe not 100% of my work will end up this way, but I can definitely tip the scales to get closer and closer.

Life is short. With my finite time I want to do work that I can be proud of and want to showcase to the world. Who wouldn’t?

So what can I do?

One possible solution to finding a path away from mediocrity and procrastination is saying no more often. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, sums it up nicely:

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

To make that process easier I will rate all decisions from 1 – 10.

The kicker is that I can’t choose 7. The number 7 is a cop out. It means you haven’t thought hard enough. You’re taking the easy route.

Anything 8 – 10 is a resounding “HELL YEAH

Anything 6 or lower is a hard no.

Saying no to more things leaves time to put out better content, be a better guitar player, be a better husband, you name it. It’s when I feel spread thin that I procrastinate. It’s when I procrastinate that I don’t give my full effort. Perhaps it really is that simple. If you stop trying to please everyone and stop saying yes to everyone you’ll get more done.

In the end, people don’t fail in various aspects of their life because they pursue too many bad ideas. They fail because they say yes to too many “kinda cool ideas”.

I’ll leave you with a quote that really hit me hard last year. So hard I ended up framing it and putting it above my desk at home:

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” — Epictetus

What areas of your life or work are you putting in “good enough” work? Share with me in the comments below: