I got an interesting call from our oldest daughter Gabby last night. Gabby is about five weeks into her Freshman year of college and she was struggling with studying. She said that she kept telling herself she’d start in 30 minutes, but after doing that several times, over 4 hours had gone by. I could relate. I have this struggle often — getting started is hard.
This prompted a great conversation. In high school, Gabby knew grades mattered to be accepted into an excellent college. But, now, she asked, “Why do college grades matter?”
(Frankly, I think she’s still burnt out from dozens of all-nighters in high school and wasn’t excited about digging into multivariate calculus. Who can blame her? But, we went on.)
I’d told her that grades matter to get her first job. Sure, that’s true, but it’s the wrong answer.
What matters the most? Doing work that we can be proud of. Trying our hardest. That’s what matters. Gabby needs to study to do her absolute best. All of us do. And, doing our best work is one of the hardest things to do.
It’s a constant struggle to do our best work. Life has a way of pulling us from it.
Once I was about to make a bad move on one of the most important projects of my life. As our team was starting work on our book proposal, we got connected to Amy Hiett, the COO of a company called The Table Group. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re the consulting and training arm of best-selling author Patrick Lencioni and his organizational health concepts. They do exceptional work.
We felt fortunate that Amy would take our call. My colleague Darla and I prepared as you’d expect, using our GrowBIG® Dynamic Meeting Prep process. Darla and I were ready, called in early, and were excited to learn from Amy when she popped on the bridge line, right on time.
We started with some pleasantries and got to business. “We want to write a best-selling book,” we told her. “And since you’ve done that multiple times with Pat, we want to pick your brain on how you did it.”
Instead of giving us the checklist we hoped for, or the secrets to success when writing a New York Times best-seller, Amy threw us for a loop. She asked, “Why do you want to write a best- selling book?”
I initially thought that was obvious, but after 15 minutes of back and forth, Amy enlightened us. She taught us that trying to write a best-selling book would push us to write a bad book, one that wouldn’t be authentic. Instead, she gave us very strong advice I’ll never forget: Write a book you can be proud of.
Before the call with Amy, we were aiming to please people who pick the best-selling lists: people we don’t know using a process few understand. We were more worried about selling and marketing than creating a great product that could enrich lives. Amy’s advice was to write an insightful book based on our unique ideas, our processes, showcasing our clients’ amazing success.
Creating something we could be proud of pulled the control back to us. It took away the worry. Oddly, it made the project easier to figure out, and more fun to create. We just had to please ourselves.
After we finished the call with Amy, Darla and I called each other to debrief. Wow! That was a trip to the mountain top. That was wisdom. In thirty minutes, Amy changed our entire direction, our entire approach, our entire attitude about writing a book.
I now try to consistently apply the lesson we learned from Amy to the rest of my life. I think of three questions:
- Did I choose to do the most important thing, instead of letting the less important thing choose me?
- For that task, was I fully present, giving my all into making the product, the interaction, or the experience truly exceptional?
- Did I do this until the task was completed, ignoring the many distractions of today’s world?
We have opportunities to impact people every day. We’re designers of experiences all day long: a client interaction, a hard workout, an end of day review with my wife before dinner. They are worth our attention, focus, and best effort.
Doing our best work is difficult. The world pulls us to the less important. It tries to distract us. And, when it’s over, the world responds with its grade, including many things outside of our control.
What was the grade? What did the client think? How many likes did we get?
But only one grade matters.
Did I do something I can be proud of?