Thursday 4 October 2007

This work is not important

We’ve heard this often.

Another one we hear, somewhat less often, is: “We’re doing it for billing. Don’t get involved.”

The second is downright idiotic. Unless we are doing charity, we all work for money. For billing.

By that logic, only those who work for charity can get emotionally involved.

Ironically, they’re the ones who can’t get too involved. Because they frequently have to make very hard choices. About who should get aid first and who’ll have to wait. They have to take enormously risky decisions, on whether A will work or B. Because if A doesn’t work, it’ll be too late for B.

So it’s they, not we, who have to harden their hearts. It’s they, not we, who have to be ‘professional’. It’s they, not we, who have to keep one eye on the money at all times. If they go wrong, other people lose lives; if we go wrong, people – we – at most, lose jobs.

That said, working for money shouldn’t be shameful. It doesn’t mean ‘disgrace of talent’. Maybe communists think like that. Are we communists? If we aren’t, why should we feel so bad about being paid for an honest day’s work, more so when the day so often drags out into the evening and night?

Getting money is not a good enough reason for not taking our work, and, by extension, ourselves, seriously. Perhaps a prostitute shouldn’t hope for much because she’s getting paid. The same logic needn’t apply to us, unless we wish so.

Also, there’s an important difference between her work and ours. Sex is normally not bought; our work is always bought.

There is nothing wrong in selling it. And there is no reason why professional pride should come as a free gift with that sale.

Anyway, let us return to the title: This work is not important to him.

Let’s rethink this one by asking three questions.

First, what is his – the client’s – salary? Is it not, as a minimum, 50% more than yours, even when he has the same experience as you? If the work was not important, why is his company paying him so much to get it done? Why are more and more companies adding direct marketing and CRM managers and paying them far more than agencies pay their employees?

Ok, client companies often have very different economies than agencies, so some comparisons will be erroneous and misleading. Still, the client’s employer is paying him to get work out of you. That should be good enough for you to believe that your work is important.

Second, what will happen if you, that is, the agency, goofs up? Will he, that is, the client company, say, “It’s alright, don’t bother”? Or will he bite your head off? He’ll do the latter.

Possibly people react badly when anything they pay for goes wrong, regardless of whether it’s important or not. Yet, we may suspect that whatever you’re doing is important enough for the client to be bothered.

Third, how does it matter if the work is important to him or not?

It’s very important to you. It’s your job. It’s your source of livelihood.

A restaurant is not important to you. Even your favourite restaurant isn’t. If it shuts down tomorrow, very little will change in your life. You’ll find some other favourite restaurant, and, perhaps, remember the old one once in a while.

But the restaurant is very important to its owner, to its waiters and cooks and cleaners. To its suppliers. To its creditors.

For them it does matter whether it’s doing well or badly.

Or take your maid. Her work is unimportant. If she doesn’t show up one day, you can do the work yourself. Or not do it at all. If she works sloppily, or is absent too often, you can easily replace her.

But her work is very important to her.

One wage less may be the difference between a full stomach and hunger. Or keeping her children in school and dooming them to a life as bleak as her own. She better take her work very seriously.

Just as I must take my work, and myself, seriously. Regardless of its worth to my client, to the economy, to humanity, and to history of the universe.

None of them are responsible for me.

Only I am.

Besides, if it has to be done, why not do it well? If you’re going to spend lots of time and energy doing this job, and you can’t immediately switch to saving the world, why not save your spirit by taking your work seriously.

Look at it this way: If you take up an account where your client feels your work is not important, you’re looking for trouble; but if you think your work is not important, you’re staring at disaster.

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