After reading my previous post on deadlines, one of the students in my senior seminar expressed disappointment that I hadn’t mentioned her name among those who have been posting regularly to our class blog. She was the first student to post, she noted, and has posted every week. She added that she had put her disappointment aside to concentrate on catching up on her missed work — and on getting her name off our weekly “Work Owed” chart.
That got me thinking about the importance of learning to live without much praise.
I remembered when I was a young reporter on the business desk at New York Newsday — so young, it seems to me now! I was 29 or 30 at the time of the incident I’m recalling; certainly I was old enough to know better, and I knew that at the time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’d been at the paper for about a year, maybe a little more. I was meeting with my assignment editor, Steve Zipay. I don’t recall what made me say this, but I clearly remember complaining to him, “No one ever tells me I’m doing a good job.”
He fixed me with a mildly exasperated yet kindly look. “Barbara,” he said, “at this level, no one’s going to tell you you’re doing a good job.”
It’s assumed that you’re going to do a good job, he went on. Occasionally, someone may remark on it, and if you do something really terrific, you may get some brief recognition. But day to day appreciation? No. People are going to tell you what they need. Everyone is busy, and everyone is thinking about the next thing that has to get done, the next deadline.
It was a lesson that stuck with me, obviously.
Most of my students are already working, but not at jobs that mean much to them. When they get a job that serves their passion and reflects their training, they may be hoping for more recognition than they expect now, from the assistant manager at the store, say. Keep that hope in check, I want to tell them. The reason for working at something you’re passionate about is that the work is its own reward.
Recognition comes in other ways. Extra responsibility. A tougher assignment. Eventually, perhaps, an award or a promotion. But day to day, the motivated worker finds satisfaction in the work. In teaching these seniors, I’d better be as demanding, and as frugal with praise, as the overworked editors at their first jobs will be.