Lessons from Neil Gaiman: Don't be an ass. Beat deadlines. Do quality work.
If there's one motto that rules our household, it's this: Don't be an ass.
Ask my kids.
They'll tell you that the #1 lesson that they've heard from their mom over the past many years is: "Don't be an ass."
I figure that part of the job of being their mother is to teach them important concepts, right? I mean I only have them for 18 years and there are just a few key concepts that I know if they digest and understand ... those key concepts will get them through life. First and foremost of those concetps is that they ought not treat people like crap. Especially people who they think don't matter. Because trust me: nobody doesn't matter. (That's a double negative so I'll say it again: nobody doesn't matter.) I've seen it time and time again ... if you are an ass to someone who you think doesn't matter ... trust me ... you'll eventually find out that they do matter ... and karma will come and bite your ass for thinking that they don't.
There are people in this world who are only nice to people who they view as the few important ones "at the top." And for the rest of the people that these people regard as being in the middle or at the bottom, they kick around and mistreat ... like secretaries, assistants, bus boys, junior editors ... non-CEO types who they think they have a license to be an ass to. But little do they know that it's the secretary, the bus boy, the office assistant, the junior editor ... who make up the team, the culture, the commuinty ... the ones who invest the actual sweat equity to getting the work done ... and when you kick and mistreat these "underlings," you wrecklessly kick your very own future, and you construct your very own bad karma. And the thing about karma ... is that it always comes around.
If you were to ask my kids, they'd say that in addition to the "Don't be an ass" motto, the other two lessons I've been preaching to them for years in terms of how I think they should behave as professionals in the future is to: BEAT DEADLINES and DO QUALITY WORK.
Why beat deadlines? Well, let me tell you ... ever since I can remember ... in junior high, high school, college, graduate school, if someone told me that something was due on a certain date, I forced myself to put myself on a deadline that was like 1 month beofre that certain date. Just in case. Like what if I got ill? Or what if my notes got lost or if my computer crashed? I always figured that by building the extra 1 month extra cushion, I could recover from all the "what ifs" and still meet my deadlines.
Why do quality work? Well ... there's a friend who asked me not too long ago what I would want my professional community to think about me in terms of me and my work. My answer to that question was without a doubt that I want people to know that I produce Quality. Quality with a capital Q. Even if I'm not the most popular, even if I'm not the fanciest, even if I'm not the richest ... at the end of the day, if anyone ever thought that my work was shoddy, or sloppy, or somehow lacking in quality, it would kill me. It would destroy me. To me, to be regarded as someone who does quality work ... well ... that's everything. It reflects work that is thorough and work that is not shallow. On my gravestone, all I want is a Q. Q for quality. In my opinion, those who don't care about quality are the ones who typically are kicking around the underlings.
SWITCHING GEARS ...
So there's this writer. You may have heard of him. Neil Gaiman is his name. Genius writer he is. And one of the thrills for my daughter (Monica) earlier this year was that Neil came to speak to her writing group at Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA). Here's a blurry photo of Monica posing with Neil. And you know what? Along with giving a quality talk about being a good writer, Neil was lovely ... to Monica, and all the other students who were simply out of their minds to have the opportunity to meet one of the best writers of our time. Yep ... he was definitely the opposite of an ass to these kids. He was a class act all the way.
Just a few days ago, I watched the commencement speech that Neil delivered to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia ... It was an AMAZING, INSPIRING, TRUTH-FILLED speech. Filled with treasures and gems that I know will benefit not only the graduating class that got to hear the speech live and in person, but a whole bunch of other people like you, me, Monica, and others who have had the chance to ponder his words through the wonders of Youtube and the Internet.
Of course one of the most important things he said in the speech is about how the answer to life in many ways, is to make good art. In other words, Art Saves. Here's what he said about that:
... whatever you do, you have one thing that's unique: you have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many people that I've known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times, and it gets you through the other ones. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong ... in life, and in love, and in business and in friendship and in health ... and when things get tough, this is what you should do: make good art ... husband runs off with a politician: make good art ... leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor: make good art ... IRS on your trail: make good art ... cat exploded: make good art ... someone on the Internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or eveil or it's all been done before: make good art ... do what only you can do best: make good art. Make it on the bad days. Make it on the good days too.
There are other important gems in the speech but for me, the major gems (aside from his point about making good art) was about the three key ingredients related to work. Here's what he said about that:
... you get work however you get work. But people keep working in a freelance world ... and more and more of today's world is freelance ... because their work is good, and because they're easy to get along with, and because they deliver their work on time.
In other words:
- Don't be an ass.
- Beat deadlines.
- Do quality work.
It's not rocket science. And with just a little bit of planning and thought, it is possible to be a person who is pleasant, does quality work, and turns in their work on time. But because there are so few who do all three, once you become a person who can do all three, you become head and shoulders above the rest.
SHIFTING GEARS (again) ...
I can't wait to see the new film version of Les Miserables starring Anne Hathaway coming this December. My favorite musical of all-time. So many amazing characters and messages in it, right? One of the messages is by the character Gavroche ... an underestimated and mistreated young boy who sings the song about the importance of not thinking that anyone is a nobody:
Little people fight, we may look easy pickings but we've got some bite!
So never kick a dog because he's just a pup
We'll fight like twenty armies and we won't give up
So you'd better run for cover when the pup grows up
I agree with Neil. I agree with Gavroche. To get work, to keep work, and to sleep well at night, you gotta do quality work, you gotta turn your work in on time, and most of all, you gotta be decent to everybody. Because there is nobody that doesn't matter.
Here's the full Neil Gaiman commencement speech. Hope you'll watch it: