Steps to achieve perfection in our jobs
Updated: Jun 12
“Atlas Shrugged” is a landmark novel of the American author, Ayn Rand. It is a mammoth story of few men and women who have deep faith in themselves and their skills. They live for no one and expect no one to live for them.
In the early part of the novel, there is a small incident which I would like to talk about. A young man named Francisco comes to spend his summer holidays with his friends the Taggart family who own the biggest railways in North America. Mrs Taggart is quite disturbed to find out that young Francisco is often spending the nights outside and returning late in the mornings. She obviously feels responsible for the young man and sends one of her servants to investigate on Francisco’s movements. The servant returns and reports to Mrs Taggart that the young man is working as a call boy at one of the offices of Taggart Transcontinental She is shocked because Francisco’s father was the owner of the largest copper mines in the world. She summons Francisco.
“Francisco”, she asks, “what would your father say about this if he knew?”
The young man looks straight into Mrs Taggart’s eyes and says, “Ma’am my father will ask me only one thing – how well did you do the job”
Fascinating isn’t it? Though he was the son of the richest copper baron in the world, Francisco did not think it was below his stature to work as a call boy in a railway. And his father was not concerned of what job he did but how well did he do it.
It is not the nature of job we are doing, but how well we are doing it.
There are different kinds of jobs in this world – from exciting, to dangerous, to mundane, to difficult and boring.
Boring? Are there any jobs which are boring?
In my view there is no job which is boring, but it is our attitude towards that job which makes it boring.
In most parts of the world Monday mornings are a curse for many. After the weekend relaxation, getting out of the bed to go to work is something few people dread about. “Oh God, its Monday again and I have to get to work”, is the mantra that goes around the head of these people. Have we ever considered the millions of people who do not have a job would give anything to exchange places with these people? We need to be grateful that we have a job and something to wake up to on a Monday morning.
We can work on our attitude to change the way we look at our job and make the job interesting and meaningful. The shift we need to work on is to rethink about our job and the benefits of the job. The benefit of a job is not just the monthly pay cheque that we get. The benefit of a job is the addition of the skills and learning that we acquire over the period we are in the job. A job can become interesting when we focus on the end objective that our job achieves rather than looking at it in isolation.
An airline janitor has two choices of looking at the job of cleaning up the aircraft after the trip is made. One way of thinking will be to make it a dull and mundane activity of collecting the trash from the seats, cleaning and wiping, disinfecting the toilets, etc. The other way of looking at is to imagine the pleasure and happiness the airline passengers have when they enter the aircraft after its cleaned up. Some of us can testify to this – the smell of sweet fragrance and the feeling of freshness that you experience when you enter the aircraft. Don’t we automatically, mentally think of the persons who cleaned up the aircraft and appreciate the airline for such great welcome? If the airline janitor can do the job with this focus in the mind, then the job is no longer a drudgery.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about how happiness happens in us. According to him, “happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended private by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy”
He talks about the “flow” in our lives when we get so immersed in the flow that we do not realize how the time passes. It is the same flow we experience when we spend time with our loved ones, when engrossed in a movie or a book, or talking to some special people. This is when “time flies”.
This is the flow that we need to get into our jobs. We need to get involved in the job, understand the bigger picture of what the job contributes to the overall objective and do a good job of it.
Perfection: Perfection in a job comes with experience and focus. Perfection is expected every time. We should not have a situation where we can compromise to say that this job, can have some levels of imperfection on some of the days. “After all we are all human beings, mistakes do happen”, I am sure we have heard that an umpteen number of times.
Mistakes are likely to happen in the early stages of learning of the job. This is the reason very often the junior employees are put as an understudy or an apprentice under senior colleagues to learn the job so that the mistakes are either avoided or reduced. But as the time progresses and when we get perfect in the job the mistakes diminish and eventually should vanish.
Can you imagine a situation when a cardiac surgeon is operating on you and cuts the wrong blood vessel and later justifying “mistakes do happen’! When we expect the surgeon to do a perfect job, the pilot to have a perfect landing, the engineer to do a perfect design, why should there be a compromise of our jobs?
We all need to work on our attitude and skills to ensure that we transform ourselves from doing “a job” to doing “the job”
What can be done to make “a job” transform to “the job”?
Here are five practical steps that we can try out in our professions
1. Be grateful : Every morning when we swipe your access card to enter the office, or sign the attendance register, or when logging into our domain, let’s say a silent prayer to our favorite God that we are thankful for this opportunity to work. We have something to get up and come to on a Monday morning compared to the millions who are looking at the ceiling lying in their beds because they have nowhere to go.
2. Learning Mode: Switch on the learning mode in our brain and turn it to “Always”. Let us look at every day as an opportunity to learn new things or learn to do things which we have learnt, much better and more efficiently. Every interaction with our colleagues, bosses and associates is an opportunity to learn and to practice and be perfect.
3. Pass on the “smile” infection: No amount of Botox or make up can give the beauty and attractiveness that a smile on our face can bring. Even with the perfect make up if we find someone is not smiling, the make up has lost its relevant. Why is that we smile our best when posing for a photograph or a selfie? Because we know that smile is what makes us beautiful. A smile is also infectious. It can pass from person to person without any effort. A smile can also psychologically make you happy and assist you to get into the “flow”
4. Aim for perfection: Every job we undertake must be done to the perfection it demands. Perfection is the requirement everywhere – in nature and in our lives. There cannot be a room for imperfection. The manner we conduct our job, our lives, the way we speak, we write and even in our thinking there must be perfection. Perfection comes from practice. Even Tiger Woods puts in hours of practice everyday despite being perfect in his chosen career.
5. Work with the end in mind: The job we are doing is a part of the bigger picture. The jigsaw puzzle is not complete until every big or tiny part is put in its proper place. No job is small or insignificant. Every job contributes to the overall objectives set out by the organisation. The job satisfaction is higher when we look at the bigger picture.
Let’s aim to live every day, not exist every day.