I had a good night at work last night. Not a perfect night, mind you, just a good night. And while riding home through quiet streets (I’m a pretty devoted bicycle commuter) I started to think about what made it a good night.
Now regular readers will recall that my current ‘job’ is playing piano and keyboards (and a bit of trumpet) for a crazy circus/cabaret/dinner theatre show called Palazzo. So when I say I had a good night, it means I was happy with my playing, and with how I presented myself and contributed to the music and the show.
So I got to thinking, what goes into that? In a nutshell, I need to feel that I’m basically ‘good enough’ for the job I’m paid to do, or the project I’ve taken on. Maybe a bit more than good enough, but at least that. I am not the kind of person that is able to be happy with myself or my work if I feel like I’m struggling and not really delivering the goods.
Since I grew up around a lot of scientists and generally like to systematize things, let’s break it down. What are the specific requirements of ‘good enough’ – or of ‘feeling successful’, as a wise colleague used to call it?
Well, I’ve come up with four which seem to determine it for me in my current line of work, and as usual I suspect they may apply more broadly…
making the grade
First, on a basic, mechanical, technical level, I like to feel like I’m cutting the mustard. In fact, I like to have a bit of breathing room… not that I don’t like being challenged by my work, far from it, but I like to be fundamentally up for those challenges. I don’t get a lot of calls to play Rachmaninoff concertos with major orchestras, but if I did I would probably turn them down, as I don’t like to feel like I’m way out of my depth.
However, for my current gig I have to say I do meet at least the minimum requirements, and last night I was playing pretty solidly. On a really good night I’m probably overdelivering, which is even better, but here’s the thing: it’s not only your best days that count, and we can’t always be in top form, no matter how hard we may try. And on a rough day, you have to maintain a bottom line that is still ‘good enough’.
spicing the sauce
What’s ingredient number two? For me, it’s bringing something else to the table, something more intuitive, organic, sometimes even inspired. Of course, this is harder to quantify, but it’s tremendously important to my feeling of well-being in my work. Being technically, mechanically ‘good enough’, while essential, is not sufficient in and of itself. I have to be finding at least a little magic here and there.
How much magic is ‘good enough’? I guess this depends on the gig; my current work does not strictly speaking demand that much, and they’ve certainly had bands that don’t deliver much on this level at all. However, I think (and my bandmates happily seem to agree) that overdelivering on this is the way to go, because a) we’re in the entertainment business, and energy is what translates and makes people happy and excited and happy to tell their friends; and b) magic is its own reward.
Did I weave enough magic on the keys last night to make myself and the audience my colleagues and fellow musicians happy? I think I did. So that’s good.
Third up is professionalism. This is an area where, for me, there can be no compromises. I like to add an adjective: consummate. In an odd way, I think it’s a beautiful concept: consummate professionalism. Not just solid, reliable, dependable, but something more: impeccable.
There’s not so much to say about this, as I figure everyone knows what it means, more or less – and if you have to ask, you’ll probably never know. Every job or gig or project has its own subtly different professional requirements, but meeting them impeccably is a requirement for me to feel like I’m doing well and having a good night. Only impeccable is ‘good enough’ here.
not being a jerk
Finally, within all of that, there’s a final requirement: While meeting the technical and professional standards I’ve set myself, while bringing a bit of magic to the table, I also need to be relaxed, social, team-spirited, and above all to have fun. I think it’s probably possible to meet the first three requirements without this, but for myself I know it wouldn’t be worth it if it weren’t fun.
Of course it can be a bit of a delicate balancing act at times, and sometimes there are stresses and strains that make finding that balance difficult. We can’t perfectly control our environment or ourselves. We can’t be perfect, and striving for perfection will only make us crazy, and/or bitter, and/or exhausted, and/or boring. Not my cup of tea!
However, I believe that trying to make sure we’re ‘good enough’ with regards to these Four Requirements will count for a lot in any group or work environment, especially (given that this is mostly what I have experience with and what this blog is about) a creative or entertainment-oriented one.
So, did I miss any? What makes you feel like you’ve had a good day or night at your work? Please leave your thoughts in the comments area below…
p.s. here’s a picture I snapped on my ride home – film buffs might recognize the site…