I’m a student, which means (almost by definition) that I don’t have everything in my life figured out yet. Should I “follow my dream,” or just do something that I’m good at and don’t hate? Should I follow through with getting a 4–7 year University degree, or devote all that time and energy to pursuing a career more directly? I wish I had the answer to these questions and more and could give you advice. Since I don’t, in this series of posts, I’ll happily confine myself to sharing a few life-insights that I’ve picked up along my journey which I’ve found particularly valuable, and that I hope you will, too. Today, I’d like to write about something I’ve learned from experience about pride and productivity.
A friend of mine, reading Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, recently commented: “Howard Roark could have been the richest, most successful architect in Manhattan if he put his skills towards making the kind of buildings everyone wanted.” My friend’s point was not to say that Roark should have done this, but rather that, Roark’s priority couldn’t have been money, since he could have achieved it so easily had he acted differently. It’s true that Roark’s priority wasn’t money. But I don’t believe that Roark would have become the richest, most successful architect in Manhattan had he made the kind of buildings “everyone wanted.”
Something I’ve learned working as an artist (in my case, a video editor and graphic designer), is that productivity is inextricably linked with pride. The pride that I take in my finished product—or my vision of what that finished product will be—is the fuel that keeps my productivity going. When I’m working on a video-project that I think is going to turn out great, I lose track of all time and lose sight of everything else that is competing for my attention. I have what feels like one-hundred percent of my energy, focus, and creativity working for me on that project.
On the other hand, if I’m working on a project that I know I won’t be proud of—for instance, if there’s something wrong with the raw footage that I’m working with, ensuring that the final video will look sub-par—I find myself taking twice as long to finish. I feel lethargic towards my task. My productivity is dead. Even if it’s a high-budget client and the monetary reward is high, I just can’t work at my usual level. Any little distraction that could take my mind off of it—like replying to a text or an email or organizing a drawer that hasn’t been opened in months—becomes more appealing to me than the project at hand.
I’ve often heard people say, with a certain amount of chagrin, “I’m just a lazy person,” or “I could never do the work you do. I can’t stay focused that long!” While I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for feeling that way, I wonder if a major one isn’t the fact that these people are in a career or doing work that they don’t take pride in.
If Roark weren’t designing the kinds of buildings that he loved and took such immense pride in, I doubt that he could have maintained his productivity and unique talent for architecture.
Now, I won’t conclude this post by advising you to “follow your dream” with the tenacity of a Howard Roark, because I’m not in any position to do so myself. But I will encourage you to pursue something that you can take pride in—and the more pride the better—because I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to be good at what you do otherwise. What may seem like the more ‘practical’ career alternative could turn out to be the far less practical alternative when one of your greatest money-making resources—your productivity—is no longer at your disposal.
Posts in the Life section are intended to allow our readers to discuss how they understand the principles of Objectivism and apply them in their own lives.