This has been bugging me a lot lately -- probably because I so often find myself having to deal with it. "It" is the issue of incompetence. Now, before you start rolling your eyes and thinking I think I'm better than anyone else ("just the ones I'm better than," as a certain Captain would say), hear me out. What I'm talking about here is willful incompetence. Or, more passively, the simple lack of enough give-a-damn to do one's job correctly.
As much as we like to think of ourselves as wonderful and unique human beings (and we are), the cold truth is that, whether you're an actor, an astronaut, or even a fry cook, your identity -- and your reputation -- is tied up in the work you do. If I suck at my job, my reputation suffers. I'm not saying I don't make mistakes. I'm saying that, when I do, it's a lot of ground to try to regain in the eyes of those who noticed.
To your parents and your girlfriend, you may be Timmy or Johnny or Bill. To the rest of the people with whom you come into contact, though, you're just another idiot who can't make a latte.
Or, you could be "the very helpful person at (insert business here), who smiled and seemed to know what s/he was talking about/doing."
I experience a lot of this willful incompetence at my real job. From third-party agencies who simply stopped trying decades ago to vendors who are simply unwilling to take the extra few seconds to do a job right the first time, it's easy to wonder when things in our industry started to go so wrong. I'm not saying I'm a shining example of self-motivation by any standard, but compared to some of these individuals, I'm Henry freakin' Ford.
See, to me, having a job in this economy is enough motivation to try as hard as I can to do my job well. That I'd someday like to get paid more for the work I do is motivation enough to push myself and try to excel. I guess I have a hard time understanding the mental processes of somebody -- let alone entire companies of people -- who would happily stamp their name on third-rate crap and send it off to a client... not just once, but several times a week.
Are you not in the least concerned that, as both a client and a peer (as I also do similar work as part of my job), you've done nothing but reveal yourself to me as somebody with whom, had I the choice, I would never -- ever -- do business? Are you not worried at all about your reputation in the industry that puts food on your table?
I've made mention before of what a big fan I am of trying to excel. Mediocrity makes me angry, because it is almost always avoidable. But sometimes, it's not even about excellence. It would just be nice, sometimes, to know that people still have at least a little pride in their work.
By the way, as this is also a writing and publishing blog, this will all be tied in. At some point this week, I'll be doing a post on self-publishing, and shopping publishers. Keep this post in mind until then.