Author/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech last year to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia has many great moments about life as an artist and the art of life, which made it a much-referred and much-watched video online. But his insight that keeps coming back to me is not about how artists make or get work, but about they keep getting work over time. Says he:
People keep working, in a freelance world…because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
The same is true if you’re a staff member, a manager, a chief executive, an academic, or a board member.
Exceptional, enjoyable, reliable…pick two. Sometimes that means cutting yourself some slack when you can’t hit all three, knowing that two might get you by. Sometimes that means continuing to stretch for the trifecta when you’ve accomplished two. Because, honestly, good work is hard to come by. And once you’ve got it, don’t you want to have it again, and again, and again?