Work Like Nobody is Watching

How many of us have heard of Percy Julian, Sullivan Fortner, or Dr. John & Professor Ava Fujimotto-Strait?

Well, if we are not Chemists, Jazz enthusiasts, or Geologists, that likelihood is slim.

Yet is the work done by those previously mentioned null and void due to our ignorance of them? Of course not! Cortisone and hydrocortisone synthesis would not be possible without Mr. Julian. Beautiful harmonies and passionately crafted music would not exist without Mr. Fortner. And we would not have expanded anthropological and geological understandings of Hawaii if not for Dr. John & Professor Fujimotto-Strait!

Something that fascinates me is that regardless of my knowledge of their work, it will continue to matter. Thankfully, those doing great work know that. They and others like them understand the power of individual contribution; with this understanding, they have/will continue to strive towards influencing others to produce work that matters. I believe this is a point to be grateful for, to be inspired by, and hope to one day say that it also applies to my life.

In last month’s post, which can be considered Part One, and which you can read here, I offered a metric by which to measure the contribution and status of those in our communities and organizations. I did so because I believe that these two values correlate if they are defined and outlined as I put them. This month, I am proposing that what makes people great, and consequently, their work has less to do with how widespread and famous they are (read: their status). Instead, what makes the greats great is the level in which they have dug deeper and offered more (read: contributed) to a higher degree than the rest. These individuals mentioned at the start and their related interests fall into the niche groups I discussed previously. These often “Low Status/High Contribution” groups are full of passionate people who know of the likes of Mr. Julian, Mr. Fortner, and Dr. John & Professor Fujimotto-Strait. They and many of us who belong to specialized groups of interest understand the importance of others who are doing work that matters, those who have our attention.

When considering how the respected among us got there, one way to become impactful is by consistently creating quality outcomes/products. We can do this by utilizing our emotional labor, channeling, and expending a new kind of effort that lacks physical form. When we do this, we build up a reputation and responsibility, which we must continue to uphold. We do that by creating more quality work, reinforcing the notion that increased emotional input results in higher impacting outcomes. This formation of habit allows us to more easily expend emotional labor granting us more creative freedom and authority over time.

It is vital to remember that there are people whom we will never hear about, doing work that is so groundbreaking it will change the world. Most importantly, we cannot forget that could be us; only if we recognize that the price of admission towards a life filled with passion and impact is relinquishing the idea that notoriety and recognition should follow. In a system designed to reward obscenity and uselessness with clicks and fabricated attention, we cannot fall victim to the fear of anonymity. This fear will stop us from ever writing, making, and doing what the world needs us to do.

Seth Godin describes this in part when he speaks about a Minimum Viable Audience. According to Mr. Godin, the Minimum Viable Audience is “The smallest group that could sustain you in your work…” This audience is as he says “[how] just about every brand you care about, just about every organization that matters to you – this is how they got there. By focusing on just a few and ignoring the non-believers, the uninvolved, and the average.”

When we begin down the path towards creating, what matters is not whether others will partake in our work. As an example, before I began writing this piece, I knew none of those mentioned at the start. Yet, when I asked my friends and colleagues who inspired them, I quickly became aware not only of their work but of the nuanced truths mentioned throughout this piece.

As I reflect on my creative habits and on my habits of partaking in others’ creative work, I take comfort in the fact that their contribution exists without my knowledge of them. This fact fills me with hope, reinvigorating my desire to create and contribute. However, I know that I can only do so by focusing on what is within my control. Your awareness of me is out of my control, but my ability to be vulnerable and reach out to my Minimum Viable Audience is totally within my power. This fact is one that I find solace in; I hope that you too find rest and freedom within this.

In sum, please, find the work that lights a fire inside of you and do it. Remember that notoriety in and of itself means very little, and a lack thereof should not inhibit your ability to contribute with abandon. Take solace in the fact that there are those changing the world right under your nose, using that thought as fuel to be among that group. Lastly, never forget, often, we are more inspired by the individuals who have contributed more than by those who are attributed with more.

With that, I hope y’all have a Happy New Year. May we enter a new season with intention, never settling for what is average. 

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